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An Inside Look at the World's Largest Climate Denial Conference

Climate

“Sold out … ?! No way. Cannot be true.” I swore to myself. In all of its awkward history, The Heartland Institute’s conferences for climate change deniers have never sold out. This year it did, and I wanted in.

Promotional material for the Heartland Institute's tenth International Conference on Climate Change.

These events aren’t something to look forward to. It’s mostly angry, aged white men in suits, lying to themselves about climate change for two days straight in sterile air conditioning, safe from the evils of sun and breeze.

But my job is to keep tabs on these folks, so I spend a lot of time in the dungeons of denial.

This year, after a troubled recent history, Heartland hosted their tenth International Conference on Climate Change, or #ICCC10, in a much smaller space: the basement of the Washington Court Hotel, in Washington, DC.

Reluctantly, I emailed Jim Lakely, Heartland’s communications director, to get on the waiting list. Jim and I have a strained relationship from past encounters, but I was banking on Heartland’s “come one, come all” invitations, which reasonable people tend to ignore once they see Heartland’s work.

I never heard back from Jim, but decided to go anyway. I’m not a journalist, I work at Greenpeace and that affiliation comes with plenty of apprehension in the world of corporate lobbying.

Ironically, Jim Lakely was the first person I saw when I arrived at the hotel, standing outside in the oppressive heat, sucking down a nice, healthy cigarette. This was fitting: Heartland is on Big Tobacco’s payroll and still downplays the health hazards of smoking.

Knowing Jim would recognize me and likely ask me to leave before speaking to any conference guests, I ducked discreetly into the conference.

I immediately bumped into Marc Morano, the self-glorifying public relations consultant you’ve probably seen shouting at Bill Nye on cable TV. If you can bear the nonsense, you can hear my informal debate with Marc Morano, including his take on “the uphill battle that skeptics face,” and climate denial among 2016 Presidential contenders.

The next person I saw was Dr. Roy Spencer, one of the world’s few scientists to deny the evidence that people play a role in causing climate change. Credible climate scientists have wasted time and effort debunking his nonsense claims. Dr. Spencer has retaliated by calling his critics “global warming Nazis,” as he explained to me:

Nazi accusations aside, the rest of what Dr. Spencer was full of self-contradiction.

Just after claiming his latest research shows “no warming,” he acknowledged a warming trend of global average surface temperature.

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Then he backtracked, asserting “we have no idea what’s natural and what’s man-made.” A minute later, he was even more certain on this, saying, “there is no fingerprint of human-caused warming.”

Except there is, I told him.

“That’s bullshit,” he maintained.

The unedited interview with Roy Spencer at Heartland Institute’s ICCC10 is available in full, for posterity.

Up until this point, I had been contained in the lobby. For whatever reason, Heartland’s private security left before the conference actually ended, opening the main area to guests like myself. I took the elevator down to the basement floor and scanned for familiar faces. In short order, I found one.

Unlike almost everyone else working with The Heartland Institute, Isaac Orr is young. Kind of like me.

This perplexes me—why the hell would a young person work to make their own future worse? Why help coal and oil lobbyists cook our planet? What price is worth that risk.

I have yet to find out. Mr. Orr brushed me aside while he sucked away at a Dum-Dum. I can’t blame him—the conference was winding down, and he was probably bored to death by the stale company:

What finally got me kicked out was a very short interaction with Dr. Willie Soon, an aerospace engineer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who says “too much ice is really bad for polar bears.” Documents obtained by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center show Soon has been exclusively financed by fossil fuel companies, their lobbying organizations and dark money nonprofits with known ties to industry.

An expose of Dr. Soon in The New York Times last February revealed how the discredited scientist promised coal utility Southern Company “deliverables” in the form of undermining climate policies discussed by Congress, and attacks on Kansas clean energy incentives for the Charles Koch Foundation. These revelations sparked an ongoing investigation of Dr. Soon’s conduct by his employer.

The public and the press were shocked, but this is routine for Dr. Soon. He’s been taking industry money for over a decade, pushing his discredited analysis with persistence even as climate scientists around the world pick apart his empty theory.

Funny enough, even other climate denier scientists don’t think much of Dr. Soon’s research. Here’s Roy Spencer:

This disagreement is illustrative of a much larger maze of contradicting positions taken by climate science deniers, with only one consistent theme: do not try to solve global warming. They’re all pretty clear on that.

That’s why we need independent people—with zero obligation to enrich corporate clients—to call out climate change deniers. We’ve wasted enough time giving consideration to these fake “skeptics."

The best we can do is help them trip over their own words, and push forward with real solutions to climate change.

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