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

June 6, 2017
Gretchen Goldman
Research Director, Center for Science & Democracy

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.