The who's who of America's conservative movement gather each year at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) outside of D.C.
This year was no exception. You could get a selfie with former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele. Or on the ballroom main stage, you could catch a speech by the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Wayne LaPierre and this year, even President Donald Trump.
And in a small, lightly attended side room, the who’s who of climate science deniers converged at a Heartland Institute panel, where they, predictably, used former Vice President Al Gore as a punching bag, gushed over Trump’s environmental protection rollbacks, and alleged that the scientific consensus on climate change is a lie.
Heartland’s panel — titled “Trump's America First Energy Plan: Restoring our Prosperity and Destroying Eco-Left Memes” — drew many familiar faces from the industry-funded right wing think tanks that regularly battle against environmental laws and the climate justice movement in America.
“We're joined by many allies in this discussion, in this fight, really, for the scientific method and sensible policy when it comes to environment and climate,” said Jim Lakely, the director of communications for the Heartland Institute. He introduced several people and organizations in attendance: Craig Rucker, Christina Wilson Norman, and Marc Morano of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT); the Competitive Enterprise Institute; and the Heritage Foundation.
“We've really turned the tables on the alarmism and alarmists,” Lakely continued, using common climate science denier language to describe those who accept the overwhelming evidence that humans are causing dangerous climate change. “You see public opinion polls, people don't buy Al Gore's line, despite untold billions of free advertising and pushing of that message.”
At its max, 20 people sat in the room listening to the panelists, which included Dr. David Legates of the University of Delaware, Nick Loris of the Heritage Foundation, and Isaac Orr of the Heartland Institute. The main speaker for the two-hour breakout session was former Congressman and now Heartland President and CEO Tim Huelskamp.
Lauding Trump’s Environmental Policy Reversals
Heartland Institute communications director Jim Lakely.
But first, Lakely used his opening remarks as a victory lap for the group that believes that Obama's eight years in office were a disaster for economic interests due to his actions on environmental protections, such as the Paris Climate Accord.
Lakely pointed out with glee what he saw as the accomplishments of the President's freshman year in office: Steps to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and most offshore areas to oil drilling, “the fracking revolution” moving to public lands, approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and ending “the war on coal.”
All of which, he said, “We wouldn't have a sniff of it if Hillary Clinton was elected president.”
In addition, Lakely claimed that Trump is proof that “people are smarter than that dumb alarmist message … and I like to think that Heartland Institute has something to do with that.”
Along those lines, Heartland’s director of communications described the group as “… fairly leading the charge among others to support President Trump and his ‘America First’ energy plan and we want all of you to join us as well.”
Heartland Institute's panel at CPAC, featuring (from left) David Legates of the University of Delaware, Isaac Orr of the Heartland Institute, Nick Loris of the Heritage Foundation, and Heartland communications director Jim Lakely.
The overall theme of the speakers who followed was that the media and the scientific community are lying to the public, motivated by their desire to control the lives of citizens and turn America socialist. (Coincidentally, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre made the same argument in his speech earlier in the day.) This theme built on the previous year’s climate science denier-organized panel at CPAC, which billed climate science and most media coverage of it as “fake news.”
David Legates, CO2, and Socialism
David Legates talking about carbon dioxide.
Yet credible evidence and sources were hard to spot at this panel. The University of Delaware's David Legates — whose past research arguing against the human influence on climate change has failed to disclose its fossil fuel funders — pushed the well-debunked denier claim that carbon dioxide (CO2) not only isn't a pollutant, but it's good for the environment, especially plants.
In a slide show presentation that provided nearly no references for the images or what the methods were behind the experiment, Legates threw aside the vast majority of research on the variable effects of CO2 on life.
David Legates with a graph purportedly showing observed and projected benefits of carbon dioxide, a graph produced by Heartland's Craig D. Idso.
One of the only graphs with any sort of reference was one that showed the “positive externalities” of carbon dioxide. The graph came from a study done by Heartland's own Craig D. Idso.
David Legates drew comparisons to Soviet socialists during his presentation on carbon dioxide.
Legates’ presentation ended with a reference to the Soviet Union. Displaying a black and white photo of Trofim Lysenko — who was a favorite of Stalin and suppressed research that went against his own — Legates said, “The people doing the silencing are the people you would expect, the left as it was back in 1930.”
Isaac Orr: 'TheFrackingGuy' and Coal Apologist
Isaac Orr of the Heartland Institute, known as @TheFrackingGuy on Twitter, played up Trump and coal and played down the role of renewables in the energy mix.
When they weren't casting blame on leftist socialists, the panelists were celebrating Trump with memes.
Isaac Orr, who goes by the handle TheFrackingGuy on Twitter, stepped up to deliver his talk titled “Beautiful, Clean Coal” after President Trump's phrasing from his stump speeches and his State of the Union address.
Again, the panelist used information in his slide show that lacked sources and could not easily be fact checked, was light on details, and focused on the economic impact of coal rather than its many environmental risks.
The point of Orr’s presentation seemed less focused on “clean coal” and more on downplaying the idea that the world can transition to renewable energy in the near future. Orr showed undated and uncited slides showing how the U.S. produces energy. Not surprisingly, all of the renewables figures were lower than the numbers that the U.S. Energy Information Administration provides.
Heartland CEO Tim Huelskamp Attacks Al Gore
At the end of Heartland's CPAC panel, Heartland President and CEO Tim Huelskamp attacked Al Gore and the scientific consensus on climate change.
Heartland President and CEO Tim Huelskamp closed out the two-hour panel with a trip down memory lane, which, of course, went back to Al Gore:
“Ten or 11 years ago … Al Gore was winning at movie theaters. [An Inconvenient Truth opened in theaters in 2006.] Folks, they thought, were beginning to believe the message. Weekly Reader was already publishing ‘the world will end.’
…Ten years later we're pushing back. Al Gore's movie failed miserably… Here's one message I would suggest to the left and to the media — to say the science debate is over and we won, we won.
There's no scientific consensus that the world's going to end, we won that debate. Actually, there's a lot of scientific consensus you heard today that CO2 is a positive thing. But at the end of the day, there's no scientific consensus other than Al Gore was wrong.
The left has picked an old man who lost and lost and lost as their image and I would suggest that we continue to talk about the Al Gore alarmist. Because he's a loser, and I'm sorry Trump is right, Americans don't like losers.”
While the scientific community has yet to weigh in on Al Gore, seven studies have confirmed that between 90 and 100 percent of climate experts agree humans are responsible for climate change.
But don’t expect to hear anything about those facts among the conservative faithful at CPAC. Tired denier tropes about Gore and communism are much more their style.
Main image: The 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) featured the usual parade of climate science deniers making the usual unsupported claims against human-caused climate change. Credit: All photos © Zach D. Roberts