A string of mystical and dire warnings about the Catholic Church were issued by Heartland Institute officials and supporters at a press conference last week in Philadelphia, where Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive this weekend.
Claims of pagan influence over the Pope and conspiracies by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to suppress climate data were aired by a panel of Heartland Institute speakers.
“There are elements of nature worship, and I would say that contrary to some of the criticism, that this is not communism that has entered the church, it is rather paganism,” Gene Koprowski, marketing director for the Heartland Institute warned a collection of reporters.
“I think that if we have a pope who doesn’t keep things in an orthodox manner, we’re gonna be having forms returning to the religion that are not orthodox,” he added. “I think we are seeing a revelation of a sort of animistic form in the church.”
Watch video from the Heartland press conference:
After Pope Francis’ recent 192-page encyclical that called for swift action to combat climate change, right-wing climate deniers have gone on the attack, speaking in conspiratorial tones about “an unholy alliance” and “one world government.”
Though many of the claims made by Heartland officials at the Philadelphia event have been widely debunked, the group has continued to repeat the same talking points. Their recent missives on religion seemed to teeter into tinfoil-hat territory, replete with talk of a “false pope” and government conspiracies to sabotage scientific research.
Of course, their rhetoric about paganism and conspiracies could be simply written off as bizarre, if it weren’t for the traction that groups like Heartland have found from supporters in Congress like Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who this summer delivered a keynote address at the organization’s annual conference, during which he told Heartland supporters: “We are winning.”
But there was no shortage of odd claims coming from Heartland last Thursday in Philly.
“The pope does seem to be enamored with solutions that are not pro-American in the slightest: the UN, world government, those sorts of things,” said Dom Giordano, a radio host invited to speak at the Heartland Institute press conference, failing to mention that the pope is not from the U.S., but rather lives in the Vatican and was born in Argentina.
Elizabeth Yore, an attorney and a member of a Heartland delegation that traveled to Rome to object to the Pope’s stance on climate issues, spoke in dire terms about the pope’s recent encyclical.
“Actually, this is about taxation without representation,” she said as she began her comments. “But today, I’d like to talk about the unholy alliance.”
She described attending a Vatican-sponsored human rights conference in 2013.
“I was thrilled because Pope Francis and I shared a love of a mutual issue, human trafficking. So I went excited to not only meet the pope but to also learn what the pope and his bishops were going to do about human trafficking,” she said. “When I got to the conference, I realized that this was not like the hundreds of human trafficking conferences that I had attended or spoken at. I saw the United Nations there. I saw people from the US Department of State and the Obama administration. I heard talk about global minimum wage and climate change.”
The Catholic Church has indeed taken the position that climate change is a human rights issue, connected to human trafficking and poverty writ large. Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, told the Vatican press that the climate crisis and human trafficking are “interconnected emergencies,” explaining that “although the poor and the excluded have the least effect on climate change… they are the most exposed to the terrible threat posed by human-induced climate disruption.”
But to Yore, the fact that the church is drawing these connections is evidence that something sinister is afoot.
“So what happened was human trafficking morphed into climate change. And a red flag all of the sudden was raised in front of my face. I read from the Vatican website that there is an intrinsic nexus between human trafficking and climate change,” Yore said. “To me, it sent a signal that something amiss was going on at the Vatican. And this unholy alliance that I saw with my own two eyes was going on in the Vatican was this leftward drift to embrace climate change and the UN agenda. As a matter of fact, the bitter enemies of the church, bitter enemies who the church had fought against for 40 years were now being welcomed into the church,” she said, listing “high officials in the UN” and economist Jeffrey Sachs as examples.
Mr. Sachs has previously published an essay calling out funders of climate denialism like the Heartland Institute for their attacks on the pope, writing “The first point to note is that an overwhelming majority of Americans agree with Francis’s call for climate action. Unfortunately, their views are not represented in the US Congress, which defends Big Coal and Big Oil, not the American people. The fossil-fuel industry spends heavily on lobbying and the campaigns of congressmen such as Senators Mitch McConnell and James Inhofe.”
Dr. Jay Lehr, the science director at the Heartland Institute, spoke after Ms. Yore.
Dr. Lehr, who was convicted for defrauding the EPA in 1991 and served six months in a federal penitentiary, as DeSmog has reported, dismissed the glacier melting behind President Obama during the President’s visit to Alaska, where he discussed climate change’s ongoing effects.
Dr. Lehr told the assembled reporters that the President's backdrop was misleading, and that the scientific community has ignored the fact that, according to Lehr, one third of glaciers are growing and one third remain static. “But if you just go out and collect the data that works for your theory of global warming, you go find glaciers that are melting,” he said.
The Washington Post has debunked similar “the ice is expanding” theories, and this reporter was unable to independently confirm that there is any scientific evidence (or even widely circulated claims) that a third of the world's glaciers are growing. While a few isolated glaciers have grown in recent years, they are the exception not the rule, and scientists have concluded that shifting climate patterns have meant some regions have experienced increased snowfall – extreme weather patterns that are consistent with climate change.
Dr. Lehr also asserted that populations of polar bears — an icon for the threats posed by warming climates — have been growing not falling (debunked here).
Asked about evidence that the climate has been warming and seas already rising, Dr. Lehr asserted that NASA and NOAA's temperature measurements are in fact compromised by NASA and NOAA's “financial ties” to the US government — they are in fact federal agencies — and that the two agencies have therefore chosen to cherry-pick data.
“NOAA and NASA just continually try to shave reality to support the government position,” he said. “It relates to funding.”
He was unable to explain why that data was unaffected by changes in presidential administrations and showed the same trends under George W. Bush as it does under Obama.
The event was disrupted when the panelist engaged in a shouting match with an activist from a Philadelphia-area anti-fracking group, Encouraging the Development of a Green Economy, who demanded that the speaker answer questions about the impact of sea level rise on Philadelphia and was ejected from the room by the event organizers.
The Heartland Institute's arguments have found some powerful supporters in Washington D.C.
This summer, the Heartland Institute honored Sen. Inhofe at the group's annual conference, presenting him with their 2015 Political Leadership on Climate Change Award.
Senator Inhofe appeared at that event as the keynote speaker.
Around the same time, Sen. Inhofe had a sharp message for the Pope on climate issues. “Everyone is going to ride the Pope now. Isn’t that wonderful,” Sen Inhofe told the Guardian. “The Pope ought to stay with his job, and we’ll stay with ours.”