How To Divide And Conquer The Free Market Climate Change Denial Movement

Much has been made lately of the Heartland’s Institute’s implosion over it extreme position on climate change. In February there was the revelation of internal strategy documents that included a plan to promote climate change scepticism in schools. In early May they unveiled a billboard equating those who believe in global warming with the Unabomber.

In the resulting uproar, nearly 50% of the Heartland Institute’s projected corporate donors for 2012 have pulled out. The funding drop has been so dire that at Heartland’s latest climate change sceptics conference in Chicago last month, Heartland president Joe Bast was reduced to asking the audience to find a ‘rich uncle’ to fund future conferences. 

But the most telling outcome may prove to be the defection of Heartland’s entire Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate division. As team leader Eli Lehrer told the Guardian 

“As somebody who deals mostly with insurance I believe all risks have to be taken seriously and there certainly are some important climate and global warming related risks that must be taken account of in the insurance market. Trivialising them is not consistent with free-market thought. Suggesting they are only thought about by people who are crazy is not good for the free market.”

Now coming out and agreeing with every major national science academy in the world may not sound so revolutionary. But it is for a number of reasons.

Firstly “free market” think tanks like Heartland and many of their conference co-sponsors have been a driving force behind the entire push to confuse the public over climate change science for more than 20 years. Driven by a fiercely ideological opposition to the regulation of corporate activity, most in the free market movement would rather subscribe to quack science than accept the need for the kind of government intervention mitigating climate change will require. Such a public acknowledgement of the seriousness of the climate crisis from within is therefore extremely rare.

Secondly is the fact that the move was clearly driven by pressure from insurance industry donors (who were among those who pulled their funding from Heartland). Historically, denial of climate change has proven lucrative in attracting donors. Heartland and their conference co-sponsors have collectively received over $67 million from the fossil fuel industry over the years to spread their message of climate confusion. Suddenly another major donor group - the insurance industry has the second biggest lobbying spend in federal politics – is pulling their funding because of these activities. As happened with Heartland, other think tanks could find themselves having to choose between these two important donor groups.

Then there is the potential credibility loss this represents to Heartland and likeminded think tanks’ claims of representing free market interests. As Lehrer rightly points out, denying a scientific reality with potentially far reaching economic consequences “is not good for the free market”.

What Heartland is doing is the opposite of good free market policy. Information, not ignorance, is key to the market functioning properly. For years Heartland and company have distorted the market in favour of the fossil fuel industry and prevented potentially life saving and profitable alternative energy markets from emerging.

By downplaying the risks of climate change, they continue to distort vast sectors of the economy, from transportation to manufacturing and of course insurance risk assessment. If this message that climate change denial “is not good for the free market” can become widespread, it greatly undermines Heartland’s authority and policy recommendations regarding these various industries.

Finally there’s the fact that within a week of the Unabomber billboard going up Lehrer and his team had already left and formed a new think tank, implying that this unrest has been growing for some time.

While positive, these developments are not enough for climate activists to jump for joy. The Heartland case is somewhat unique. Among the confidential documents acquired in February was a list of Heartland’s corporate donors. Exposing this usually confidential list allowed environmental groups to name and shame specific companies to great effect. Without knowing donor identities, targeting other think tanks could prove difficult.

Another unusual aspect of the Heartland case is that it took an especially offensive billboard (and to a lesser extent their school curriculum plans) before donors found their association with Heartland to be too toxic.

This is similar to the case a few years ago where it took a staffer at the US Chamber Of Commerce calling for a Scopes monkey trial of climate scientists before the likes of Nike and Apple led a member exodus. Until the very notion of denying climate science becomes an outrage, the above cases show it may take a bit of scandal to scare off donors.

What is clear is that for climate change activists to have any chance of getting timely mitigation policies in place, they must curb the impact of free market think tanks. It is these groups who create the ‘echo chamber’ of seemingly independent experts who appear on TV, testify before Congress and pump out the overwhelming majority of climate change denial literature. For example, without the likes of Heartland, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Institute and dozens of others, the expertly spun and hugely damaging ‘Climategate’ scandal would never have happened.

What the Heartland situation demonstrates is that for those seeking to diminish the impact of free market think tanks in the climate debate, what works best is not science or reason but pressure from donors. In particular, while climate change activists may occasionally get lucky and acquire a list of donors to name and shame, the insurance industry situation is different. It exposes a potentially expensive and embarrassing conflict of interest for Heartland and other think tanks that feed at the troughs of both the insurance and fossil fuel industries.

Should similar pressure be brought to bear at these other think tanks, they may just find themselves in the unenviable position of having to either soften their climate change denial stance or be left pleading for the invention of a rich uncle, both of which would be huge victories for climate change activists.


I’m surprised that the insurance sector over there isn’t taking this more seriously. They seem to be taking it seriously in Australia.  Here is Australia after category 5 cyclone Yasi and subsequent floods that followed, the exposure for the insurance industry was billions.

Then there was the individual losses of the thousands of people that either didn’t have insurance, or had the wrong type of coverage. They purchased insurance thinking they were covered by a “flood”. But insurance companies conveniently interpreted the event as “rising river” and many were not covered.

“The rises come one year after devastating floods in Victoria and Queensland left many insured home and business owners alarmed to find they were either not covered for flood at all or their insurer’s definition of flood meant they were not covered.”

Then there is the inevitable insurance premium increases for anyone wanting to insure themselves against a similar event again. Flood and disaster insurance has increased up to 15%. 15% in one year!

“While flood-risk homes will be the worst hit, the Insurance Council of Australia has said every household nationwide can expect a rise of up to 15 per cent even if they are at ”no risk” of flood, because of a leap in global insurance costs triggered by worldwide natural disasters.”

In north Queensland where it is more cyclone prone, premiums have increased to the point where it’s no longer viable for many to insure.

JEFF DAVIS: Everyone cops a bit of a rise here and there, you know, like it’s a natural sort of a thing. Nothing goes down, everything goes up. But this year after we got our insurance, it had gone up to 184,000 from 17,000 the year before, to 46,000, to 184,000.

LEXI METHERELL: Across northern Australia, North Queensland especially, strata title insurance and excesses have been rising. With dramatic increases since Cyclone Yasi a year ago, sparking a Federal Parliamentary inquiry.

The inquiry’s chairman, Queensland Labor MP Graham Perrett, says it’s received 388 submissions, mostly from unit-owners. 

GRAHAM PERRETT: I’ll give you a classic example, this is some units in Proserpine. ‘08 premium, $2900, in 2011, $29,000. People can’t budget for such increases. “

Whether deniers believe it or not. There is no special “sorry I don’t believe in AGW, I would like a smaller premium thanks” pack. They are caught up in what is going to be increase after increase. Governments will find they are spending more on disaster recovery and less on keeping the wheels of the economy well greased.

Deniers think we are simply concerned about the polar bears and a couple of ice caps. Or that it is politically motivated, or it’s some sort of hysterical environmental hype. When in fact proponents of the AGW theory and need to act are the ones being fiscally sensible.

We don’t want massive insurance increases. We don’t want governments spending more on disasters and less on our countries needs. We don’t want to be drawn into military conflicts because of lack of resources. We don’t want millions of people to become refugees and flood our borders. We don’t want to pass the baton to our kids, knowing we are giving them a bum deal.

It’s like we are all living in an apartment block infested with termites. The deniers say there is no problem, or lets see what happens. Those that accept facts, say lets act now before the damage becomes too great and we all have to pay more to fix it.


All this Australian wetness after Climate “experts” such as Tim Flannery and David Jones had been saying for YEARS that those parts of Australia were headed for PERMANENT AGW induced drought. (Jones being Australian Head of the National Climate Centre at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology).

You guys can’t have it both ways Phil, people aren’t stupid you know? And you wonder why the message isn’t getting through any more!

The really sad thing is that, as the AGW crusade continues to fail at an ever increasing pace (witness the incredible decline in Mainstream Media stories) the likes of Hansen and Romm and others just keep escalating their predictions beyond any reasonable sense of belief.

I can understand Romm and Desmog doing this (after all, they make a living from this, for now), but I don’t understand seemingly intelligent people like Phil et al continuing to hold the banner high when all is surely nearing its sad end.

It’s quite pathetic, actually.


Speaking of pathetic…

Only and idiot would look at one year’s results and claim that, oh say, all of physics is wrong.  Which is what you are doing right now.  Grow up.

Hey… aren’t you the one who claimed that there was no upside to Gleick’s transgressions against Heartland?  So far your prediction is wrong.  Even if he gets burned on this.. he’s done some pretty good damage.

Did you read the articles about your Heartland heros?

Much of Lehrer’s work at Heartland was related to insurance reform, focusing on problems such as the costs of the National Flood Insurance Program.

An R Street spokesman noted in an interview with Slate that while “Global warming is relevant to the risk of catastrophic floods,” that climate science research won’t be a focus of the institute.

Wow…. A Heartland denier, board member no less, states that the staid and boring industry of prediction is worried about climate change.

“All this Australian wetness after Climate “experts” such as Tim Flannery and David Jones had been saying for YEARS that those parts of Australia were headed for PERMANENT AGW induced drought.”

For starters, Tim Flannery is not the official spokesman for AGW. Secondly, I’ve seen his comments misconstrued so far that it’s more of a case of projection that quoting.

“The really sad thing is that, as the AGW crusade continues to fail at an ever increasing pace “

How do you figure that? Don’t you guys get sick of saying that for the last few decades? It’s like hearing of the rapture. It’s always just around the corner for you guys.

“but I don’t understand seemingly intelligent people like Phil et al continuing to hold the banner high when all is surely nearing its sad end.”

I’ve asked deniers for an exact date or ball park figure before and get no answer. Maybe you could provide it Hank. When exactly will it meet it’s sad end? Just a ball park figure will do. This year, next year?

Your opposition to AGW is 100% politcally motivated. We both know it. You have no facts, no evidence, only your ideology. You oppose AGW because your politcal party does. They oppose it because they are funded by fossil fuel companies. You blindly ignore facts because of tribalism. You have been conned and it’s time to wake up before they give you your cup of koolaid.