Why I Won’t Be Speaking at the Heartland Conference

May 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm

This morning I cancelled a non-refundable return flight from to Toronto to Chicago. The following explains why:

A few weeks ago I was invited to take part in a debate at a conference sponsored by the Heartland Institute. The topic of the debate was:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Is it still a credible voice in the climate change debate?

Having just written a book-length exposé about that organization, I accepted this invitation. I had intended to argue that the IPCC is an international embarrassment. Much of what it has told the public about its own personnel – and about how its reports are prepared – is nonsense.

Writing The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert was like fact-checking a pathological liar’s resumé. One by one, I worked my way down a list of IPCC claims, attempting to verify their accuracy. Again and again, I found no evidence to support them.

It turns out the mainstream media has, for years, simply accepted the IPCC’s rosy view of itself. It turns out the IPCC falls well short of being the rigorous, objective, scientific body it claims to be.

My findings are important because governments around the world point to IPCC reports as the reason they’re pursuing emissions reduction programs, implementing carbon taxes, and adding to the red tape with which small businesses must cope. In my view, the more people who hear about my book, the more likely it is that governments will start making more informed decisions.

But my participation in the upcoming Heartland conference has now become untenable. I’m a Canadian who has never been a member of any political party. Sometimes I agree with the left, sometimes I agree with the right. Many people base their climate opinions on the political tribe to which they belong. I’m not one of them.

I believe in pragmatism and common sense. I believe in cold, hard facts – and in treating people with whom I disagree with courtesy and respect.

Over a 24-hour period late this week, Heartland ran an ad on an electronic billboard along a highway in suburban Chicago. It featured a photo of Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, who is currently serving a life sentence in a Colorado penitentiary for killing three people and injuring 23 more. The billboard read: “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”

This ad was part of a larger campaign. To quote the Heartland’s website:

The billboard series features Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber; Charles Manson, a mass murderer; and Fidel Castro, a tyrant. Other global warming alarmists who may appear on future billboards include Osama bin Laden and James J. Lee (who took hostages inside the headquarters of the Discovery Channel in 2010).

The ad has since been pulled. Heartland now says it “was always intended to be an experiment.” But its own press release announcing these ads gave no indication of that (backup link).

Instead, those of us who had accepted Heartland’s invitation to take part in its conference found ourselves blindsided – a mere two weeks before the conference is set to begin – by a torrent of negative press. Suddenly, we were all publicly linked to an organization that thinks it’s OK to equate people concerned about climate change with psychopaths.

As economist Ross McKitrick said in an a strongly-worded letter to Heartland yesterday:

You cannot simultaneously say that you want to promote a debate while equating the other side to terrorists and mass murderers.

Indeed.

In the three years I’ve been researching the climate debate I’ve witnessed lots of ugliness – lots of people behaving badly. It reminds me, unpleasantly, of when I used to write about messy divorces. The systemic problems were real, but far too often both sides were their own worst enemy.

In a statement issued late yesterday, Heartland says:

We know that our billboard angered and disappointed many of Heartland’s friends and supporters, but we hope they understand what we were trying to do with this experiment. We do not apologize for running the ad, and we will continue to experiment with ways to communicate the ‘realist’ message on the climate.

Well here’s the problem. My name – and the name of my book – is currently on the same page of the Heartland website where the above quote appears. Without prior knowledge or informed consent, my work has been aggressively associated with this odious ad campaign.

Forget disappointment. In my view, my reputation has been harmed. And the Heartland thinks it has nothing to apologize for.

Adding insult to injury, it proclaims that it will “continue to experiment” with how it presents its message. That’s all well and good. But being collateral damage in someone else’s ongoing marketing experiments isn’t my idea of a good time.

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Heartland personnel were sent a courtesy copy of this post three hours prior to its publication here.

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