The war over climate change flared up again this week, after an anonymous tipster leaked a trove of documents from the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a libertarian group known, among other things, for opposing regulation of greenhouse gases. In a sort of funhouse-mirror image of "Climategate" — the giant 2009 leak of supposedly conspiratorial emails among climate scientists — the Heartland document dump outlines one group's efforts to sow doubts about the scientific consensus that humans are dangerously changing the long-term climate through gas emissions. The Heartland Institute has implied that nearly all of the documents are authentic — they were apparently obtained when someone posing as a board member convinced a staffer to "re-send" the documents to a new email account. That's criminal fraud, Heartland said, and "we intend to find this person and see him or her put in prison for these crimes." In the meantime, here are six takeaways from what's already being called "Denialgate":
1. Heartland wants to sow doubt among grade-schoolers
One ambitious plan detailed in the leaked documents is a K-12 curriculum designed to convince students that "whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy." Also "controversial": Whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant, and the reliability of the models showing how climate change works. This is necessary, Heartland says, because "principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective." Heartland is clearly taking a page from "the religious Right's war on biology education and the science of evolution," says Brad Johnson at ThinkProgress.
2. And it bankrolls "Denialpalooza"
The documents make it clear that the Heartland Institute is the "secret, corporate-funded" driving force behind the annual Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change. Called "Denialpalooza" by environmentalists, the lavish conference is "a conspiracy-theorist parody of the Nobel-prize-winning U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," says ThinkProgress' Johnson. Heartland put up a four-year total of $1.6 million for the conference.
3. Heartland finances a stable of climate-change skeptics
One of the juicier documents lists the researchers Heartland supports on climate change, and how much it pays them for their work to counteract mainstream climate science and foster doubt. Topping the list is Craig Idso, founder of the Arizona-based Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, who gets $11,600 a month from Heartland. Weatherman-turned-blogger Anthony Watts received a total of $44,000, with another $44,000 pledged for later this year; University of Virginia physicist Fred Singer draws $5,000 a month plus expenses; and Australian geologist Bob Carter earns $1,667 a month. The researchers, when contacted, acknowledged the payments but said it had no influence on their work.
4. Blue-chip companies donated to Heartland
On Heartland's donor list are companies like tobacco giant Altria, Eli Lilly, Microsoft, GM, Comcast, and AT&T. Some of the companies, especially those with a record of supporting action to counter climate change, said their donations were for other projects, and distanced themselves from Heartland's views on global warming. Microsoft, for example, said it still believes "climate change is a serious issue that demands immediate worldwide action."
5. But most of the cash is from one mysterious donor
The institute's single biggest funder is mysteriously referred to as just "the Anonymous Donor." He gave $972,000 last year, and in 2008, he donated $4.6 million, or 58 percent of the nonprofit's entire budget. All in all, he's forked over $13 million over the past five years, almost all of it earmarked for global warming skepticism. In other words, says Richard Black at BBC News, "when the Heartland Institute speaks on climate change, it is speaking with the money, fundamentally, of one major donor. And we have no idea who he is."
6. Big Oil is almost nowhere to be found
"Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Heartland documents was what they did not contain," say Justin Gillis and Leslie Kaufman in The New York Times: "Evidence of contributions from the major publicly traded oil companies." Environmentalists who have long suspected that Big Oil is secretly financing efforts to undermine climate science won't get much joy from the documents. But there is one exception: Charles Koch, bogeyman of the Left and co-owner of chemical giant Koch Industries, a major oil refiner. The Koch foundation gave $25,000 in 2011 and was projected to donate $200,000 this year.