Andrew Revkin, longtime environmental reporter for the New York Times who now writes its Dot.Earth blog, has delivered the unkindest cut of all to the Heartland Institute, the Chicago-based think-tank known for its skepticism of global warming catastrophe scenarios.
In a variant of the claim that an individual is libel-proof because his reputation is already so damaged it cannot be hurt further, Revkin argues that the Heartland Institute is so ineffectual that it could not be harmed by the underhanded actions taken against it by global warming advocate Peter Gleick. Gleick (who headed the Task Force on Scientific Ethics and Integrity of the American Geophysical Union!) had masqueraded as a member of Heartland’s board so as to obtain internal documents. Along with a bogus document — absurd on its face — in which Heartland allegedly said it was aiming “at dissuading teachers from teaching science,” he disseminated them to sympathetic journalists and websites, which had a field day with the material. Greenpeace used the list of donors to lobby each of them to withdraw their financial support.
Despite the obvious harm these actions caused Heartland, Revkin writes: “Any impact on Heartland from his [Gleick’s] actions has to be gauged in comparison to any substantive impact you think Heartland had on climate discourse or decisions at levels that matter. Can you list for me the group’s real-world accomplishments and then say Peter’s actions did anything except hurt himself?” Does this contemptuous dismissal constitute a fair assessment of Heartland’s impact, or is it wildly off the mark?
It can be assumed that Revkin did not mean to say Heartland was inactive. The Economist, no friend to critics of global warming, describes Heartland as “the world’s most prominent think tank promoting scepticism about man-made climate change.” And given Heartland’s modest budget of $7 million (compare that to the annual budgets of such climate change advocacy outfits as Greenpeace, $270 million, and the World Wildlife Fund, $487 million), Revkin would have to acknowledge that Heartland’s output is impressive, especially so because climate change is only one of a number of areas in which Heartland is active (others include health care, education, fiscal, and legal reform).
On what basis then can Revkin dismiss Heartland as so ineffective and insignificant that Peter Gleick can be guilty not of harming it, but only of foolishly shooting himself in the foot? Revkin defies anyone to come up with an example of a “substantive impact on climate discourse or decisions at levels that matter.” There’s the key to his contempt: an impact “at levels that matter.” And here Revkin has an argument. Among those he sees as significant actors — the scientists who serve as lead authors in the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, the premiere scientific journals like Science and Nature, the journalistic elite in opinion-setting media, business leaders, leadership of the environmental organizations, the politicians who seek to carry out the prescriptions of the alarmists — Revkin finds Heartland dismissed with scorn as the heartland of the flat-earthers.
And Revkin is right that Heartland has had no effect in stopping “actions” — i.e., the global warming movement’s forward march on the ground. The renewable mandates (in this country) and feed-in tariffs (more common in Europe) continue. Cap and trade did not make it through Congress, but states have established their own regional cap-and-trade programs, and in Europe it remains the centerpiece of the war against fossil fuels. The EPA has succeeded in making CO2 — a chemical compound absolutely vital to life on this planet — a pollutant, giving it the potential ability to regulate emissions in everything from lawnmowers to hospitals. Despite the collapse of Solyndra, the huge “investments” in solar and wind go forward. The flood of government billions into research designed to shore up global warming claims continues. The huge U.N. meetings seeking agreements to ever more costly restrictions on greenhouse gases (and hundreds of billions in compensatory funds to less developed countries for the alleged damage done them by the industrialized West) go on.
Is Revkin on target, then? Despite its dogged efforts, is Heartland nothing more than a futile voice crying in the wilderness? In fact, Revkin’s assessment could not be more mistaken. In Heaven on Earth: Varieties of the Millennial Experience, historian Richard Landes describes the course followed by every apocalyptic movement. Global warming, with its prophecy of planetary doom if we do not sacrifice the fossil fuels that underpin our economies, is clearly such a movement. First comes the “waxing wave,” when the movement breaks into public awareness; then the “breaking wave,” when it dominates public life; followed by the “churning wave,” when it loses part of its credibility; and finally the “receding wave,” when skeptics regain the ascendancy. All such movements go through these phases; what is not predetermined is when they occur or the damage that has been done before they are fully carried out to sea on the receding wave.
The collapse is a process, not something that happens overnight. In this case, while from a political point of view global warming is still in the breaking wave stage, unremarked by Revkin, the intellectual ground is dissolving beneath its feet. In terms of the power of the idea, global warming is in the churning wave stage, with the receding wave in plain sight. And in this Heartland has clearly played a major role. To be sure, part of the movement’s intellectual downfall is its own doing. Climategate undermined public faith as hacked e-mails between some of the top scientific researchers revealed the chicanery that went into the supposedly unimpeachable reports of the IPCC. But Heartland provided the alternative framework for understanding climate change so that Climategate did not become a few-day scandal to be quickly covered up by a supportive media.
Here Heartland’s international conferences — there have been seven of them since 2008, bringing together overall thousands of scientists and supportive laymen — have played a major role. As Steven Hayward noted in The Weekly Standard, these conferences are “a morale booster for skeptics, who tend to be isolated and relentlessly assailed in their scattered outposts,” and by assembling a critical mass of serious dissenting opinion, they dispel “the favorite climate campaign talking point that there’s virtually no one of repute, and no arguments of merit, outside the so-called climate consensus of imminent climate catastrophe.” (Maintaining the fiction of scientific unanimity is crucial to maintaining public faith in the apocalypse, which is one reason why the mainstream media, which has served as echo chamber for global warming advocates, has maintained a virtual blackout on the conferences — at the last one, Canadian media finally broke the silence.)