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Teaching climate change denial

Never Mind the Science

Climate deniers punked with this riff on the Sex Pistols' album Never Mind the Bollocks. Image: Watching The Deniers.

Why would an organization call itself  The Heartland Institute (HI)?

To me the heartland of America is our country’s center – the Midwest and the Great Plains. The stereotype of this region arouses pictures of farm country, where good, honest, hardworking folks lead sober, unsophisticated lives.

My suspicion is that the HI would like to piggyback on the values just described. This is, of course, a subliminal message which goes unstated on their website. There you’ll find them saying that the Institute exists

To discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems.

Why would free-market solutions be more connected with America’s heartland than other parts of the country?

Beware of unsolicited emails

HI has been much in the news lately, because an unidentified associate of the organization sent an unsolicited document to Dr. Peter Gleick, President and Co-founder of The Pacific Institute.

HI and Gleick represent opposite points of view on the climate change spectrum, which makes you wonder why H.I. would send Gleick anything.

Gleick is, by the way, a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award. And being a recognized “genius” should mean he’s too smart to call HI using an assumed name.  But that’s what he did.

Posing as an HI board member, he asked for more literature about the Institute. Upon receiving the requested information, he forwarded it to a select group of bloggers and journalists. (It may interest you to know that Heartland refers to this sequence of events as Fakegate on their website.)

If Gleick had obtained the information in an above-board manner, there would be no story. Just as HI had no obvious reason for sending Gleick information of any kind to begin with, Gleick should have been open about his own intentions. According to an National Public Radio story of February 22,

… this information is actually available through entirely appropriate means.

Four days and counting

So there you have it. One hundred pages, give or take, that, according to the St. Louis Dispatch, “describe an advocacy group going about the business of pushing its agenda and raising money to help it do so.”

Gleick apparently felt that knowing HI’s sources of income was important; its supporters include several politically conservative foundations. Two of the 100 pages are a subject of dispute, since HI contends it is unable to verify their origin.

After four days of investigation (the four days immediately following their release), Heartland’s general counsel was still unsure whether the two pages were altered, or fake, documents. Why would that take so long to substantiate?

Are all ideas created equal?

We haven’t addressed the crux of the matter yet, and that is HI’s 2012 Fundraising Plan, found amongst the 100 pages provided to Gleick. The Plan will allow Heartland to design a science curriculum heavily weighted toward the questioning of climate change.

Edward Markey, Congressman from Massachusetts and ranking Democratic member of the Committee on Natural Resources, takes exception to the Institute’s approach to science. In a letter dated February 24, 2012, addressed to Joseph Bast, president of HI, Markey states, in part:

These documents appear to indicate that The Heartland Institute is receiving large donations from corporations for the direct purpose of discrediting the mainstream science of climate change and has planned to engage in a campaign to undermine the teaching of well-established science at our public schools.

He then requests further information about the documents.

Ideology vs. science

In fact, surveys initiated by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) in September of 2011 show that over half the teachers responding reported having to defend their teaching of climate change science to parents. Parents obviously feel very free to acquaint their children with their own biases, as well they should.

At the same time, The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has become so concerned about what it describes as an “ideological drive” to teach the controversy, rather than the science, that it hired an education expert whose job it will be to provide support to teachers by giving them tools with which to assert the facts. This is particularly important at this critical juncture, because science teachers’ budgets are being cut across the country.

If it walks like a duck

What does “teaching the controversy” sound like, you ask? We’ve all heard it, but it’s so nebulous, it’s hard to find the “there” there. Here’s my version of “teaching the controversy” – it should sound familiar.

Those who try to tell you that the climate has been changed by human activity know very well that climate change is an unproven theory. They can tell you from dawn to dusk that our weather is getting warmer – an assertion with which many scientists disagree – but they can’t tell you why. Yes, it’s very hot in some locations, but it’s also abnormally cold in others. How do they account for that? These climate changers will tell you Americans have to stop driving cars, growing food, building buildings. But they can’t tell you why.

Half truths and three-quarter lies

Go ahead, you can do it. Pick out the half-truths and the three-quarter lies. Then pay special attention to that last line. The one about not driving cars. That, of course, is what scares them to death.

Thank goodness, our children are neither fools nor cowards. Would you like to know what they think? Take a look at this video and find out. It will make you proud.

–Vicki Lipski, Transition Voice