A version of this article originally appeared on Climate Progress.
With the Heartland Institute suffering from a public relations disaster that caused 11 donors to abandon financial support, one might think the organization would attempt to moderate messaging tactics at its climate denial conference this week.
Or maybe even find an expert who doesn’t freely admit that he “has no scientific qualification” to challenge the science of climate change.
After comparing people who understand global warming with serial killers in a billboard campaign, the organization featured a presentation yesterday that called into question the legitimacy of President Obama’s citizenship.
Enter Lord Christopher Monckton, Heartland’s “mystery guest” who popped in to the conference Tuesday to perform a quirky stand-up comedy routine for a couple hundred eager attendees.
His presentation peeled back yet another layer on the conspiratorial beliefs of many within the climate disinformation community.
Monckton, a man frequently held up as an expert among deniers, started his speech off by boldly admitting his lack of scientific qualifications. He thanked the attendees for having the “courage” to challenge climate scientists, explaining: “It is particularly hard, if like me, you have no scientific qualification to do so.”
Monckton then joked about what he needed to do in order to build his credibility in America.
“I have concluded what one needs to have is a freshly minted Hawaiian birth certificate,” he said, referencing the belief among “birthers” that President Obama’s birth certificate is forged. He displayed a picture of a Hawaiian birth certificate with his personal information filled in. The crowded erupted in laughter.
“I was born at a military hospital. What is marvelous is that this [birth certificate] is just as genuine [as] that of the president of the United States,” said Monckton.
Even with the release of official documents and repeated confirmation from Hawaiian officials, Monckton is an outspoken believer that President Obama’s birth certificate is forged. The conspiracy has gotten so ludicrous in the face of documentary evidence, the Washington Post labeled remaining birthers “crackpots” who “live for their pet conspiracy theory.”
Explaining that his forged birth certificate prepared him to run for president of the United States, Monckton presented Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast with a freshly minted campaign button. Bast shook Monckton’s hand, jokingly saying he would endorse the candidacy.
The opening skit raised resounding laughter and applause throughout the room.
Monckton, a former policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher, has become a form of comic relief for the climate disinformation community. Australian satirists did a hilarious interview with him in which they “mistook” him for an act by Sacha Baron Cohen. But Monckton has also said those who embrace climate science are “Hitler youth” and fascists. He travels around the world making grossly inaccurate presentations filled with peculiar jokes poking fun at climate scientists, whom he labels “bullies” and “liars.”
However, the scientists he attacks have done nothing more than factually debunk, point by point, every single argument that Monckton has laid out throughout his career as a climate disinformer. (In fact, Monckton is one of the most widely discredited figures among the community of widely discredited deniers).
Then again, Monckton himself admitted up front in yesterday’s speech that he has no “scientific qualification.”
In the wake of Heartland’s Unabomber billboard campaign, 11 donors representing roughly 35 percent of the organization’s funds for 2012 pulled support, according to the advocacy organization Forecast the Facts. The pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly said such tactics “were not consistent” with how the company “engages in public debate.”
Helping spread the fringe conspiracies of birthers probably isn’t the best messaging strategy for the Heartland Institute right now.
Ironically, Monckton’s birther routine came directly after a speech from Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who alluded to the billboard campaign by saying “we can continue to win these debates out of the strength of our arguments, without recourse to unsavory tactics that only serve to detract from our message.”
Sensenbrenner’s message at the conference: Carbon dioxide is a “natural gas” that couldn’t possibly harm the planet. “Does this mean that all of us need to put catalytic converters on all our noses?” he asked the crowd, which chuckled at his suggestion.