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Heartland Institute Sting Operation Triggers Greenpeace Investigations

PolluterWatch: Greenpeace Investigates Heartland Institute Leaked Documents -- click to see investigation and ongoing updates.

What an awkward entrance into 2012 for the climate denial machine! 

Among the ongoing dubious deeds of the billionaire Koch brothers, the American Petroleum Institute’s Vote 4 Energy propaganda and the House of Representative’s love affair with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, an indicator that policymakers refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of global warming, we already had plenty of debunking to do.

Then the Heartland Institute fell on its face, inadvertently aiding in a leak of its own internal documents outlining their strategies and finances for 2012. We are currently investigating several areas those documents drew our attention to -- see Greenpeace's Heartland Institute Investigations and the Joseph Bast PolluterWatch profile.

Heartland has played a central role in recent years gathering the global warming denial community for conversations with themselves at sporadically organized conferences to plan how they will continue to ignore, belittle and politicize the realities of climate science. Despite being a somewhat inferior player among tighter operations like the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, Heartland still managed to coax a large coalition of industry front groups and ideological hubs to follow their lead in selling climate lies to the American public.

Let’s be clear, the work of the Joseph Bast and Heartland Institute is bad for this country and really bad for the planet and its people. Their actions are deliberately aimed to confuse the public about the science of global climate change and to block policy initiatives that would help solve the crisis. They are committing crimes against future generations by intentionally delaying action on global warming. This can mean life or death for vulnerable people worldwide, including here in the U.S. – note the increasingly extreme weather patterns we have experienced the last couple years, symptoms of a manipulated global climate. Bast and others in the broader industry-funded anti-science network need to be held accountable for their dangerous opposition to reality.

Ironically, it was a scientist fed up with Heartland’s lies that procured the organization’s documents. Dr. Peter Gleick’s undercover sting operation was triggered when he was mailed a document titled 2012 Climate Strategy - apparently from a Heartland Institute whistleblower. He then he duped someone at Heartland into sending him their 2012 Fundraising Plan and Proposed Budget documents which confirmed the content of the whistleblower’s memo while itemizing a pile of climate denial payments. 

Heartland is now calling the 2012 Climate Strategy memo a fake to divert attention away from the key information revealed in the other documents, the authenticity of which it can’t deny. Whoever wrote that Strategy Memo and sent it to Gleick clearly had close access to Heartland’s inner sanctum and was apparently uncomfortable with the Institute’s focus on climate denial.

At Greenpeace we have strict rules. We take no money from corporations or governments, and we are accountable for our actions. Peter Gleick’s action was in line with great citizens of the world taking personal risk to expose corporate deception. Dr. Gleick boldly identified himself as the one who pulled the curtain back on one small window into the greatest fraud ever perpetuated on modern society: an intentional campaign to confuse the public about global warming to delay solutions and increase profits for fossil fuel companies and ideologues of the 1%.

According to some scientists attending a recent conference on water laws, where Dr. Gleick was meant to speak, he would have been given a standing ovation by his peers for his act of selfless civil disobedience. "He's a hero," said Denise Fort, professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law…. "He did something that we needed to have done, which is to expose the tactics of the Heartland Institute” (E&E News Greenwire, subscription).

Greenpeace has been watchdogging Joe Bast and Heartland Institute’s global warming misinformation for more than a decade. In 2007, when they rose from a bit player to a ringleader in the global warming denier network, we wondered whose cash was enabling their work. 

By that point ExxonMobil had dumped Heartland from its climate denial team after years of $100,000 plus donations as Heartland started saying and doing things that even Exxon couldn’t be associated with. In the business of climate denial, when Exxon won’t touch you, that’s pretty fringe.

In 2007, in the wake of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, Heartland helped a new players onto the climate denial stage, like Lord Christopher Monckton, a UK denier who wasn’t getting noticed in his own country but whose title made him look important to a US audience. It launched its new “globalwarmingheartland” portal with a campaign focusing specifically on undermining Al Gore. Heartland spent thousands on an ad campaign in the New York Times and Washington post with Monckton, Denis Avery - and a range of other deniers like the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Chris Horner - challenging Gore to a debate on global warming. Gore rightfully ignored it, knowing that this false “debate” on climate science was only designed to confuse the public. 

After getting no response from Gore, in 2008, Heartland went on to organize its first climate conference on Times Square in NYC in a fancy hotel with not cheap rooms. We dubbed it “Denial-a-Palooza”. The gig had to cost a million dollars to put on. They flew in every climate skeptic, denier, free-market libertarian extremist they could rustle up around the world, paying almost 100 speakers for their air fares, accommodation and offered a $1000 honorarium. Credible climate scientists noted how unusual this level of compensation would be at truly scientific events.

The deniers spent three days huddled with their lonely tribe wondering why no one was listening to them. The little media coverage that they got ridiculed them for their utter lack of credibility or authority on climate research. New York Times’ Andrew Revkin covered the conference, attended by several hundred people. He noted: “The meeting was largely framed around science, but after the luncheon, when an organizer made an announcement asking all of the scientists in the large hall to move to the front for a group picture, 19 men did so.”

During Denial-Palooza 2008 (the first—there have been six conferences), ABC News did a piece called "Welcome to the Denial Machine" on Dr. Fred Singer, the most extreme denier, who now has been revealed in Heartland’s payroll. The main question ABC had was ‘who’s paying these people?’ They included our ExxonSecrets graphic showing the longstanding connections between the attendees of Denial-a-Palooza and think tanks and front groups that were funded by ExxonMobil. 

We now know the source of funding for that period – one wealthy ideologue backed Heartland with a $3.2 million grant in 2007, over half of Heartland’s $5.8 million budget that year. Over the next four years (through 2011) Heartland pulled in over ten million dollars from this “Anonymous Donor,” and hopes to increase AD’s pledge to $1.25 million this year.

They may have trouble since Heartland’s leaked documents led the Daily Kos to make a strong case for Chicago Industrialist Barre Seid as the “Anonymous Donor.” Perhaps this is why Heartland quickly scrambled to victimize themselves for fundraising purposes in the fallout of this ‘Denialgate’ leak -- Seid appears to hate public accountability.

We now know how Heartland grew from a $1 million/year budget to over $7 million in a few short years even as ExxonMobil gave up on them. We also now know that Mr. Anonymous’ donations are shrinking steadily year by year (down to $629,000 in 2011), causing a budget deficit of $1.5 million for 2012. This may be why there isn’t a seventh Denial-a-Palooza conference in the 2012 budget. It’s certainly why Joe Bast is seeking new donors like oil superbillionaire Charles Koch. 

They better had, since they moved into their new shiny skyscraper offices from their previous “shabby” locations. 

“Heartland is moving to new office space in January, from the rather shabby and difficult to find offices on LaSalle Street we have occupied for some 15 years, dating back to when we were a much smaller organization. The new office, on the 27th floor of a Helmut Jahn-designed glass and steel skyscraper located on Wacker Drive, across from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, promises to dramatically raise our profile in Chicago’s financial community.” (Fundraising plan, p. 15).

There is clearly a small group of people and corporations who would like to change the storyline right now and direct attention away from Heartland's multimillion-dollar global warming denial campaign and focus instead on Dr. Gleick. Journalistic smugness, feigning a false sense of balance, misses the larger truth. 

When the chemical, tobacco or fossil fuel industries are exposed by whistleblowers for engaging in the manufacture of lies, society must call them to account, assuming the governments are not too deeply buried in those same pockets. Whistleblowers do not expose such truths to benefit entire industries. They do it for your health and mine - and they do so at great personal risk.

Responding to the transparency created by this incident, Greenpeace is continuing to pick apart the Heartland documents and shed some light on what makes these ringleaders of climate denial tick.

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