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Climate Skeptics

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Once again, with feeling: More science will not cure climate skepticism

More science won't help.

Why is skepticism about climate change so persistent?

The answer might seem to be obvious: ignorance! People just don't understand the science. Their education has not equipped them to discern good evidence from bad, or reason properly to valid conclusions. The media is not giving them the facts. They need more, better information and improved reasoning skills.

However intuitively plausible this answer might be, it suffers from one important flaw: It is wrong. Better educated people are not less likely to be skeptics. Greater scientific literacy and reasoning ability do not incline people toward climate realism. Where skepticism exists, additional information and arguments only serve to reinforce it.

This has been evident for some time, but a fascinating new study in Nature backs it up with numbers. Yale researcher Dan Kahan and his colleagues tested the question directly: Is it true that greater numeracy and scientific literacy reduce polarization about climate science?

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The self-inflicted downfall of the Heartland Institute

A version of this post originally appeared on Climate Progress.

“I don’t appreciate being called a terrorist,” the woman said firmly.

I was standing outside the Hilton Chicago hotel talking to Jim Lakely, the director of communications for the Heartland Institute, when an elderly woman approached us on the street. Dressed in a business suit, she was loading her luggage into a taxi when she noticed Lakely’s Heartland name badge and interrupted our conversation.

“We can have a civil discussion. But I really don’t like being labeled a terrorist,” she said, referencing a billboard posted by Heartland equating people who believe in global warming to the Unabomber. “That’s all I wanted to say.”

“Well, I appreciate you telling me that,” said Lakely, who was taking a break from managing Heartland’s conference to watch the 60 or so people protesting the event outside the hotel.

The woman, who was wearing a badge for a different conference, got into her taxi and drove away. There was a brief moment of awkward silence between Lakely and me.

The exchange perfectly encapsulated the public-relations disaster the Heartland Institute has created for itself over the last few weeks. The downfall started with an offensive billboard campaign on May 3, and ended with 11 companies pulling support for the organization -- stripping 35 percent its of corporate funds overnight and leaving its financial future uncertain.

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Sorry guys, no more Heartland Institute conferences

Denialist think tank the Heartland Institute likes to have all its besties over once a year to watch movies, braid each other's hair, and talk about how they don't believe in science or, when it comes down to it, really know what it is. Well, I have bad news for journalists looking for telling quotes, and for people like Lord Monckton who don't get invited to any other parties: This year's shindig was the last one for the foreseeable future.

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Attention, renewable energy supporters: You worship Satan

Are you against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, seizing family farms for risky oil pipelines, or opening more offshore real estate to operations like Deepwater Horizon? Do you think there are better ways to get energy than by tearing up the land and sea and endangering all who live there? Well, then you are a Satanist, or at very least some kind of spooky heathen. Focus on the Family's James Dobson and I just thought you would like to know.

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Lord Monckton delights Heartland conference with birther antics

Lord Christopher Monckton, climate denier extraordinaire. (Photo by Don Irvine Photos.)

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.

Not quite.

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Heartland adviser: Heat waves only kill people who were basically dead already

The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg is actually braving the Heartland Institute conference this week. And it's totally worth it, because she's coming out with quotes of horrifying callousness, like this one, from Heartland policy adviser John Dunn:

"Warm is good for people, and it's particularly good for people as they get older," said Dunn. "The people that warm spells kill are already moribund." He went on to say that only extreme cold caused extra deaths.

Let us translate: Hey, old people! Sorry about that heat wave that killed you. You were going to die anyway, so no sweat, OK?

The next speaker wanted to revive the use of DDT.

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Peter Gleick did not forge Heartland documents

Before the Heartland Institute decided to alienate even right-wing denialists with their OTT billboard campaign, they were already in kind of hot water -- some of their internal documents had come to light, and the light was not flattering. Climate scientist Peter Gleick admitted to obtaining the documents under false pretenses, which absolutely scandalized Heartland, whose policy on document-stealing is "it's only fine when we or our friends do it."

Since then, Heartland's defense has rested mainly on this chain of logic:

  • Gleick is a terrible person who should  never have stolen those secret documents that were OUR PERSONAL PROPERTY and SECRET.
  • And anyway they aren't ours at all and are total forgeries.

Gleick has already apologized for misrepresenting himself to Heartland in order to get the documents. But Heartland has continued to insist that he also forged one of the memos (conveniently, the one that made it look the worst). Well, he didn't. An investigation has revealed that Gleick didn't forge diddly-squat so shut up.

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Heartland Institute going broke due to dickish billboard campaign

After a year fraught with hardship, the climate-denialist Heartland Institute is being rapidly abandoned by its friends and supporters, doomed to wind up friendless and alone, wandering the streets clad only in rags, hawking matches to indifferent passers-by. It would be straight-up Dickensian if they weren't such jerks. But most of this ill will is coming from the organization's over-the-line billboard campaign comparing climate scientists and other global warming believers to legendary mass murderers.

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The Great Billboard War of 2012

Heartland's crazy billboard featuring crazies was quickly pulled down, but climate groups are fighting fire with fire -- or, in this case, billboard with billboard. Forecast the Facts came up with this lovely specimen:

But Clear Channel, which apparently controls the billboard system in Chicago, was having none of it, and would not approve it. The company did, however, give its blessing to a sign from Al Gore's Climate Reality Project, which asks, more tamely, “Who to believe on climate? Heartland … or EVERY National Scientific Academy in the world?” Zing.

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Romney choosing climate skeptic as running mate

Mitt is thinking hard about which boring white man to choose as his running mate. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

OK, alright, Romney hasn't actually picked his VP candidate yet, but we can already say with near-100 percent certainly that it'll be someone who's skeptical about the climate crisis and doubts that it's significantly driven by human activity.

This is because virtually all high-level Republicans are skeptical about the climate crisis, at least judging by their public statements and actions. To find a Republican who believes that we ought to do even a little something about global warming, Romney would have to wade into the garbage bin of GOP politics and consort with losers and has-beens like Charlie Crist and Jon Huntsman. Fat chance.

Here are some of the incredibly boring white guys Romney might actually pick (along with a few outlier options who are non-white, non-boring, and/or non-guys), and some of the illuminating things they've said about climate change: