Misinformation about climate science is a dangerous thing. Scientists have been telling policymakers for years that climate change poses serious threats to our health and economic well-being. But too many polluting corporations have pursued a strategy of delay and denial to protect their near-term bottom lines rather than the public interest.
One of the strategies these companies use to influence climate policy is to fund front groups that can fight for the corporation’s preferred policy without having the corporation’s name attached to sometimes underhanded activities.
One of the most extreme climate front groups is the Heartland Institute, a free-market organization that has rarely met a government rule it likes. From fighting the science linking second-hand smoke to cancer to denying the risks associated with human-induced climate change, the Heartland Institute goes out of its way to muddy the waters.
Recently, for instance, the Heartland Institute hosted a conference at which one of its policy advisors said, “Warm is good for people, and it’s particularly good for people as they get older. The people that warm spells kill are already moribund.” He further asserted that only extreme cold caused extra deaths.
But we know that extreme heat can kill and will get worse as the climate warms. Higher temperatures also allow ground-level ozone, a chief component of smog, to form more easily. And higher temperatures drive more extreme rainfall events, which can cause flooding and associated public health risks.
His statement came on the heels of a recent billboard campaign the group launched comparing people who accept what scientists say about climate change to the Unabomber.
This sort of misleading and reckless rhetoric has no place in our democracy. Accordingly, following the billboard campaign, 20 corporations that supported Heartland withdrew their funding.
Many of the companies that left were from the insurance industry, which recognizes that climate change threatens their bottom line as it drives more extreme weather. And they withdrew from the Heartland Institute despite the fact that they weren’t directly funding the organization’s work on climate change.
That’s why it’s curious that Pfizer, one of America’s largest and most respected pharmaceutical companies, has supported the Heartland Institute.
Pfizer says that “as a science-based health care company, [it] has long recognized the risks posed by global climate change, such as more severe weather events and potential adverse impacts on human health.”
When Forecast the Facts, a group that has been pushing Heartland funders to walk away from the organization, asked Pfizer about this apparent contradiction, a representative from the company wrote back and said:
“We do not agree with the Heartland Institute’s position on climate change. Pfizer supports groups such as the Heartland Institute in specific health care policy issues (including vaccines and follow on biologics), and is also a member of several industry and trade groups that represent our industry and the business community at large. Our company and its stakeholders derive significant benefits from our involvement with these organizations, which help advance our business objectives related to healthcare policy.”
Based on the science, which Pfizer’s own statement on climate change recognizes, it’s clear that a bright-line distinction between health care and climate policy is a false one, just like the distinction between insurance and climate policy.
Is this really the sort of group Pfizer wants to support if it calls itself a “science-based health care company?” Pfizer’s continued support for the Heartland Institute brings the depth of their commitment to addressing climate change into question. And their tolerance for Heartland’s grossly inaccurate claims about climate change and public health undercuts their desire to be seen as a science-based corporation.
Given this disconnect, we are calling on two doctors who are on Pfizer’s Board of Directors—Drs. Dennis Ausiello and Helen H. Hobbs—to use their influence to ensure that Pfizer stops supporting the Heartland Institute. Doctors understand that we need to make public health decisions based on the best available science. The same holds true for decisions about climate change.
You can help us by emailing both doctors. And be sure to tell your friend on Twitter and Facebook that they can help, too.
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