Meet the climate sceptics: Heartland punks COP21 in Paris

Infamous sceptical think tank on man-made global warming holds private bash at Paris hotel to ‘examine the data’ of mainstream science

By Alex Pashley in Paris

The notorious Heartland Institute lashed out at countries working on a global warming pact across the French capital on Monday as it scorned the idea of human-induced climate change.

At an event in an upscale hotel, prominent climate deniers took turns to attack findings from the UN’s IPCC climate science panel, which underpin efforts by 195 nations to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

The Chicago-based rightwing think tank has a record of spreading misinformation about climate change, and has been funded by oil companies, leaked documents show.

“I would not expect a far-reaching, definitive, final climate agreement,” Heartland vice president James Taylor told an audience of about 35 mostly greying, white, middle-aged men, and a handful of women.

“That’s glum news for the United Nations and the people who want to impose unjustifiable carbon dioxide restrictions, but it’s fantastic for the vast majority of humanity.”

If the world fails to cut carbon emissions, weather will become more severe meaning more droughts and storms, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That could jeopardise decades of poverty reduction in the developing world, the World Bank says.

Countries are gathering on Paris’ outskirts to sign a new treaty to cut emissions to cap warming to 2C this century.

Anti-coal protestors picketed the Hotel California, off Paris’ grand Champs Elysees, as attendees arrived to the advertised open event which later ejected certain activists and media outlets.

The event resolved to be a forum for rational debate. But attendees from affiliated organisations like the Climate Depot and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, grimaced at questions criticising their denial of climate change. Journalists were mocked.

Speakers said the need to provide dirty energy to cut poverty was more important than cutting emissions. The climate has been in constant flux for millennia and we should wait if it really takes hold and then adapt, another added.

The UN’s climate body or members of the IPCC were not invited because it would be “futile” after past offers weren’t accepted, Taylor told Climate Home.

Scientists including Fred Singer, Patrick Moore and Christopher Essex gave presentations to show predictions were “alarmist”.

Their research showed global warming had paused, oceans weren’t acidifying, and higher CO2 had spurred plant life. An oft-cited figure that there is a 97% consensus among climate scientists global warming exists was ridiculed.

“The UN handpicks scientists and delegates and there are $100 billion climate funds at stake so this is a go-to self-interested lobbying organisation hosting its big annual event that’s going to have big ramifications,” said Marc Morano, the founder of Climate Depot and director of new film Climate Hustle.

A new treaty was “modern witchcraft” which wouldn’t counter more extreme weather as emissions grew, and Morano said he was “rooting for China to ruin” a new deal to protect the US’ national sovereignty.

Willie Soon, a Malaysian-born researcher at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, described the IPCC in his presentation on solar radiation as engaging in “gangster science”.

“You cannot possibly keep saying that the world is falling, the world is falling where everything is just going better, the life expectancy is getting longer and longer,” said Soon, who reportedly received $1.2 million from oil billionaires to write academic papers.

The Heartland Institute refuses to disclose the source of donations, and support is said to be faltering after oil giants have timidly backed climate action. Former-funder Exxon Mobil is undergoing a probe by New York’s Attorney General on accusations it knew about climate change as early as the 1970s.

Heartland has so far not reached a fundraising target, with over $53,000, or 83% raised so far to finance the trip to Paris.

Campaign group Avaaz put posters of seven ‘climate criminals’ outside the venue. Myron Ebell, a director at the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute was one.

“When you’re not able to debate things at an intellectual level you resort to slander and I’m used to that by the far left,” he told Climate Home.

Ebell called for regulations on power sector emissions by the Obama administration to be ditched and any Paris agreement to be up for Senate approval.

In a twist of irony Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy was a guest at the hotel. Sitting in the lobby minutes before sceptics arrived, she declined to comment.

The US government is pushing for a treaty without legal force to bypass a Republican-controlled upper chamber. Author and green activist Naomi Klein linked claims Exxon Mobil sowed confusion decades earlier about the science to the US’ present position in an interview on Saturday.

Christopher Monckton, a British hereditary peer and former advisor to PM Margaret Thatcher called climate change a “superstition” and said pollution from coal-fired power plants was “negligible”.

“There is a growing feeling that this is something that has been oversold greatly to the profit of the class that is peddling this particular scare and every opinion poll now reflects the feeling of the general public, that of all the issues that one might worry about, climate change is dead last.”

Tom Harris, a self-described left-winger at the International Climate Science Coalition, said the IPCC was dogmatic about climate change’s existence, despite a lack of evidence.

“It’s not evidence-based decision making. It’s decision-based evidence making. In other words, the governments have decided what they want to do so they look for the evidence to support that kind of view.”

After two sessions of evidence-giving and a recorded video link from top Republican denier, Senator Jim Inhofe, the event concluded.

Critics, including Brendan Montague, UK editor of Canada-based website DeSmog that tracks climate sceptics, labelled the event a farce.

“The Heartland Institute understand they have no chance at all of influencing any politicians or delegates [at COP21]. The function of their event is purely to convince their own funders they are doing something useful.”

Read more on: COP21 |