Americans Deserve Better than the Heartland Institute’s Climate “Experts”

, Research Director, Center for Science and Democracy | June 6, 2017, 11:32 am EDT
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This post is a part of a series on The Paris Climate Agreement

Last Thursday, President Trump held a press conference in the White House Rose Garden—a setting where many past presidents have given great speeches, announced new initiatives, and held special events to honor or protect great Americans. President Trump did none of these things.

Instead he announced his intent for the US to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord—the first ever global agreement to address climate change, signed by nearly every country on Earth.

Presidents typically invite guests to such events, including people who will benefit from the policy move, those who worked closely on it, or honorary guests who inspired the move in the first place.  So who did President Trump invite? A cadre of industry-tied lobbyists and others who have peddled climate disinformation for years.

Americans deserve better.

Thorny issues in the Rose Garden

Among those in the Rose Garden were representatives from the Heartland Institute—a marginalized climate denial group made infamous for its billboards that likened those who accept climate science (i.e. now the majority of Americans) with the Unabomber.

Heartland’s president, Joe Bast, was there. To illuminate just how outrageous that is, consider this excerpt from my colleague Elliott Negin:

Bast, Heartland’s president, is hardly an expert on climate science. He has tried to pass himself off as an economist, but he doesn’t even have an undergraduate degree.

Bast’s slide show presented such patently false claims as: “There is no scientific consensus on the human role in climate change” and “The [U.N.] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) … is not a credible source of science or economics.” Bast urged ALEC legislators to “oppose carbon taxes,” “repeal renewable power mandates,” and “oppose Obama’s plan to regulate CO2 as a pollutant,” despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority and responsibility to do so under the Clean Air Act.

Another attendee to the Rose Garden was the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell, who headed President Trump’s transition team and has a long history of sowing doubt and spreading misinformation on climate change. Notably, Ebell was a member of the American Petroleum Institute’s “Global Climate Science Communications Team,” which developed a plan to deceive the public into thinking climate change was highly uncertainty. The plan read, “Victory will be achieved when average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom’.”

A tired list of long discredited “experts”

In the aftermath of President Trump’s Paris announcement, the Heartland Institute sent a message to the media, taking credit for the pullout from the Paris Agreement and sharing a list of ‘experts’ to the media. The message said:

President Trump yesterday made the bold and correct decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. He offered sound economic arguments for exiting the accord, but the scientific justifications for getting out are just as strong.

The Heartland Institute – a national free-market think tank based in Illinois – has done more to promote the work of scientists skeptical of catastrophic man-caused global warming than any other organization. Below is a list of more than 200 scientists, economists, and policy experts who can make the scientific case for the United States exiting the Paris Climate Accord.

To be clear, the Heartland Institute is claiming credit for a move expected to have devastating consequences for people around the globe now and in the future. The media availability list was a laundry list of anyone known to spread misinformation on climate science or obstruct efforts to get meaningful policy actions.

This list included such notable disinformers as:

In short, the list was a who’s who of climate denial—a tired list of long discredited ‘experts’ whose arguments couldn’t hold water at an actual scientific conference. In fact, the list closely parallels a letter by “300 scientists” calling on President Trump to leave Paris – which my colleague Brenda Ekwurzel debunked and John Abraham at the Guardian took down with a scathing look at the signers.

A frightening reality in the Rose Garden

The idea that these individuals now have the ear of the President of the United States is a disgrace for the nation and a frightening reality for the world.

We deserve better. No matter our policy preferences, we can agree that our decision makers should make informed decisions. They can do this best when they hear from experts who are respected in their field.

Policy decisions are complex and science of course isn’t the only input that goes into leaders’ decisions. But our political leaders should have access the best available scientific information when making those tough policy choices.

Last week’s announcement in the Rose Garden is the latest example revealing just how far the president is from this basic concept. This builds on the administration’s dismissal of scientists on a federal advisory committee at the EPA and Department of Justice, and the delay and review of 200 advisory committee’s meetings at the Department of the Interior.

President Trump never promised us a rose garden, but it’d be great if he at least could leave us a habitable planet for future generations.


Posted in: Global Warming, Science and Democracy, Scientific Integrity Tags: , , , , , ,

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  • RDWebster

    I have submitted to this organization (UCS) essentially the same questions posed below in the hope that explanations will be forthcoming.

    As a scientist (mathematician) with more than a 60-year fascination with meteorology, climatology, geology, and astronomy, I am well-acquainted with The Scientific Method and how it is used to accept, refine, or reject hypotheses & theories. It is a classical approach to investigating the plausibility/applicability of hypotheses and theories and often used to refine theories built upon a shaky foundation.

    I am deeply concerned that the theory underlying the claim that human activity is having an influence on climate change (namely, that changes in atmospheric CO2 are a significant force for climate change) has never endured scrutiny using The Scientific Method and, indeed, appears to suffer some fatal flaws that would doom its acceptance as a valid theory.

    The geologic and ice core proxy records of atmospheric CO2 and global average temperature are more likely to refute than support the underlying theory that atmospheric CO2 is a climate change force.

    This problem is far more important than debating the merits of The Heartland Institute’s scientists.

    A few examples of these theory-busting anomalies that require explanation:

    1. Over just the past 650,000 years of ice age/interglacial cycles, the proxy record clearly reveals atmospheric CO2 RESPONDS to climate change, it does not drive it.

    Analysis of ice core data show climate changes BEFORE atmospheric CO2 by an average of 800 years. The reason for this is the obvious response by Earth’s oceans that cover 70% of the planet’s surface. Oceans are the greatest source and sink of atmospheric CO2. Warmer oceans emit relatively more CO2 to the atmosphere than they absorb; colder oceans absorb relatively more CO2 from the atmosphere than they emit. This CO2 emission/absorption cycle of oceans is responsible for the dramatic changes in atmospheric CO2 during interglacials of ice age cycles.

    If we are to believe CO2 changes caused interglacial temperature changes, then there must be some explanation of how those changes in temperature could precede the changes in CO2 as evidenced by the ice core data. In addition, a valid rationale must be provided that explains the cause of CO2’s dramatic changes that are presumed to have caused the interglacial cycles, if one rejects the ice core data analysis that shows CO2 changes lagged temperature changes by an average of 800 years.

    On what basis does this anomaly (interglacial temperature changes preceding atmospheric CO2 changes) not reject the hypothesis (theory) that changes in atmospheric CO2 are a significant climate change force?

    2. There is a much more massive anomaly that spanned the extremely cold ice era between 470 million years ago and 420 million years ago. The geologic proxy record shows global average temperature plunged 10˚C during that ice era and while temperatures were plunging, atmospheric CO2 ROSE nearly 500 ppmv to 4500 ppmv at the depth of the cold; then, as the ice era ended and temperatures rose 10˚C, atmospheric CO2 FELL nearly 1500 ppmv to 3000 ppmv! According to current theory, that would be impossible and is precisely the opposite of what the theory predicts. Such theory-rejecting anomalies must be explained or the theory has to be refined or rejected.

    The late French climatologist, Dr. Marcel Leroux, performed a thorough analysis of the major factors causing climate change. He published his findings in “Global Warming – Myth or Reality/The erring ways of climatology” (2005) in which he concluded: “The climate has not evolved in the past because of greenhouse gases, and there is consequently no scientific reason for it to evolve because of greenhouse gases either now or, a fortiori, in the future.” Having concluded “The greenhouse effect is not the cause of climate change”, Leroux identified possible causes of climate change as “well-established orbital parameters on the palaeoclimatic scale, with climate consequences slowed by the inertial effect of glacial accumulations”, “solar activity”, geothermal “volcanism and its associated aerosols (and especially sulphates)”, and, “far at the rear, the greenhouse effect, and in particular that caused by water vapour, the extent of its influence being unknown”.

    Finally, it seems highly unlikely that CO2 could be a significant climate change force when the correlation coefficient with global average temperature over the past 550 million years is calculated to be a mere 0.29 (virtually uncorrelated).

    Two final observations worth noting:

    1. Modern humans have never known Earth’s typical climate that has prevailed for 90% of the past 3.5 billion years. During Earth’s typical (natural) climate, global average temperatures are approximately 7.5˚C warmer than at present and there is no permanent ice at sea level anywhere on the planet.

    2. Perhaps even more instructive is that global average temperature has remained within a 10˚C range for the past 3.5 billion years. That suggests a complex process that is self-correcting on both the warm and cold ends.

    These climate characteristics together with the significant anomalies between human-caused-climate-change theory and the proxy records as revealed by ice core and geologic data, make it extremely difficult to support the belief that human activity burning fossil fuels that contribute small amounts to a trace atmospheric gas are responsible for any discernible climate change.

    These concerns are only enhanced by the fact that we really know far too little about natural climate change to predict when the current ice era will end, when the current ice epoch will end, when the current interglacial will end (with a new ice age cycle). It is impossible to determine what contribution, if any, human activity is making to current climate change if we cannot determine what portion of current change is natural and what factors are causing that change. It is unfortunate that relatively little effort has been made to understand the causes and extent of natural climate change over the past 60-70 years that must be known before we can entertain any ideas of the existence of any human component on top of natural change.

    I would appreciate responsive answers to these theory-controverting questions that plague this issue for me.

    Such answers are far more important to me than whether The Heartland Institute’s scientists are competent to address this issue.

    Thank you.

    • Heartland’s president, Joe Bast, was there. To illuminate just how outrageous that is, consider this excerpt from my colleague Elliott Negin:

    • President Trump never promised us a rose garden, but it’d be great if he at least could leave us a habitable planet for future generations.