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The Uncivil War of Climate Change Heats Up

Heartland should apologize for its billboard comparing warming advocates with the Unabomber.

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

May 12, 2012 - 12:00 am

Those of us who have not succumbed to the fashionable hysteria over anthropogenic global warming (aka “climate change”) have long become accustomed to being demonized and threatened by its more enthusiastic adherents, including some of its leading lights. For example, James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has proposed that the CEOs of coal companies be tried as criminals against humanity. A few years ago, Heidi Cullen of The Weather Channel proposed that anyone in the meteorological business who didn’t bow to her superior wisdom be decertified. More recently, a columnist at Forbes called skeptics equivalent to addicts and declared that they should be “the first to pay” for the coming environmental apocalypse, comparing them to people whose houses should burn down because they refused to pay for the fire department.

Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman has compared AGW “deniers” (that is, skeptics) to Holocaust deniers, and just this week, a Bergen-Belsen survivor did exactly the same thing, with seeming approval by the New York Times science (and climate change) reporter Andy Revkin, though he later claimed that his link did not indicate either his agreement or approval.

Bjørn Lomborg (who actually believes that climate change is real and man-made) has been compared to Hitler by the head of the IPCC for merely having the temerity to point out the economic senselessness of many of the nostrums proposed to deal with the problem:

The list of allegations against Bjørn Lomborg, one of the world’s leading climate change skeptics, almost reads like an indictment for war crimes.

…Another contrarian, meteorology professor Richard Lindzen at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said proponents of the predominant view on global warming started trying to stamp out dissent long ago.

“The harassment fifteen years ago and earlier pretty much succeeded. Those entering the field thereafter knew the ground rules,” Lindzen wrote in an e-mail.

A few weeks ago, the Heartland Institute, a think tank that has long supported efforts for a more balanced approach to the topic, had private files stolen through email fraud (likely a federal crime). The emails were used by a prominent defender of the warm mongers to apparently manufacture a memo that made Heartland appear to be both venal and conspiring to subvert the teaching of science in the schools.

Well, this may have been the last straw for Heartland, because late last week, as a lead up to a conference it is sponsoring, they struck back in kind against their tormenters, comparing them to Unabomber Ted Kaczynski on an electronic billboard outside of Chicago. Unsurprisingly, the folks at Think Progress got their lefty panties in a twist:

This far-beyond-the-pale ad campaign to promote their Chicago conference later this month is a moment of truth for both the think tank and the broader community of disinformers and their enablers.

Will confirmed speakers like Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Czech President Vasclav Klaus, Joe Bastardi, Pat Michaels, Fred Singer, or former NASA astronauts show up at the conference, thereby endorsing this beyond-extremist message? Will leading deniers denounce these offensive ads — or will they implicitly endorse this kind of hate speech? Will media outlets like PBS keep quoting Heartland “experts” as if they were a legitimate source of information?

Unfortunately for them, their dudgeon could have been permissively above the level of Death Valley had they not noted at the time of the atrocity that the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik was a “global warming denier.”

Professor Judith Curry at Georgia Tech, who has often raised the ire of her colleagues in the climate community by being a rare moderating voice in the debate, expressed her disappointment:

After the Gleick episode, it seemed that Heartland had temporarily seized the moral high ground in the climate “wars”. The billboards and the blog post are on an intellectual and moral par with ThinkProgress’ article Norway Terrorist is a Global Warming Denier, although Romm didn’t post his on a billboard. Heartland has unambigously seized the moral low ground with this stunt.

For better or worse, such episodes arguably have little impact on the larger scientific and policy debates. It will be interesting to see how the list of speakers at the forthcoming Heartland Conference reacts to this.

And in fact, many potential conference attendees did contact Heartland and demand that they take down the billboard. Here’s an example from Professor Ross McKitrick:

I am absolutely dismayed. This kind of fallacious, juvenile and inflammatory rhetoric does nothing to enhance your reputation, hands your opponents a huge stick to beat you with, and sullies the reputation of the speakers you had recruited. Any public sympathy you had built up as a result of the Gleick fiasco will be lost — and more besides — as a result of such a campaign. I urge you to withdraw it at once.

Strike the tone in your advertisements that you want people to use when talking about you. The fact that you need a lengthy webpage to explain the thinking behind the billboards proves that your messaging failed. Nobody is going to read your explanation anyway. All they will take away is the message on the signs themselves, and it’s a truly objectionable message.

You cannot simultaneously say that you want to promote a debate while equating the other side to terrorists and mass murderers. Once you have done such a thing you have lost the moral high ground and you can never again object if someone uses that kind of rhetoric on you.

Fellow Canadian Donna Laframboise actually did cancel.

So almost as quickly as the billboard went up, it came down, and Heartland issued an explanation, though not exactly an apology.

Now, clearly it was a terrible own goal by Heartland, but sometimes the truth itself is offensive. The fact is, there are many in the environmental movement who agree almost entirely with Ted Kaczynski, including Al Gore himself; their disagreement is only with his methods. Many people in the environmental movement are of the anti-human mindset documented in Bob Zubrin’s new book, and for many of them, there are no limits to the totalitarian measures they would take to impose their views on humanity — remember this video that they’d like you to now forget?

But there are also many who sincerely believe that “the science is settled,” even if they wish it weren’t so, and are amenable to reasoned debate. Lumping everyone into the same anti-human cohort does not contribute to that debate, and insulting those with whom we must have it by equating them with Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden only makes it more difficult to achieve any sort of sanity in policy, particularly as we are on the verge of exposing much of the chicanery. We cannot stoop to their level. Heartland has to go beyond merely removing the billboard and “explaining” it, but apologize for it to those it needlessly slandered, and to its allies for its horrible lapse in judgment.

Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his weblog, Transterrestrial Musings.
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