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Heartland Institute Attacks Senators for Questioning Funding of Climate Deniers, Calling It a 'Witch Hunt'

Climate

Chicago-based think tank the Heartland Institute has a long history of promoting what it calls "free-market environmentalism"—basically defending the right of well-funded corporate interests to trash the environment for profit. It advocates for fracking, opposes clean, renewable energy and, according to The New York Times, is "the primary American organization pushing climate change skepticism." In the last seven years, it has organized a series of International Conferences on Climate Change, which brought together climate deniers from all over the world to push back on people and policies addressing climate change.

So it's no surprise that the organization would launch an aggressive attack on those questioning the credentials and funding sources of climate-denying scientists and organizations—even when those doing the questioning are U.S. senators.

In the wake of the recent revelations that prominent climate-denying scientist Willie Soon was backed by big donations from ExxonMobile, American Petroleum Institute and the Koch Brothers—donations he "forgot" to reveal when his papers were published—Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer of California, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Ed Markey of Massachusetts sent a letter to fossil fuel companies, trade organization and other groups involved in climate advocacy asking them for information about what projects, individuals and institutions they've funded to do research on climate-related topics. At the same time, Arizona congressman Raul Grijalva, the ranking member of the House committee on natural resources, sent a letter to seven universities whose scientists had testified about climate change to Congress, requesting information about funding sources.

“For years, fossil fuel interests and front groups have attacked climate scientists and legislation to cut carbon pollution using junk science and debunked arguments,” said Sen. Markey. “The American public deserve an honest debate that isn’t polluted by the best junk science fossil fuel interests can buy. That’s why I will be launching this investigation to see how widespread this denial-for-hire scheme stretches within the anti-climate action cabal.”

Those were fighting words to the Heartland Institute and others who have the fossil fuel industry's back. University of Colorado's scientist Roger Pielke Jr., who says he is not a full-on denier but has gotten a reputation for attacking the work of climate scientists, denounced the information requests as "climate McCarthyism," and a "witch hunt," a term also used by the Heartland Institute, which has also referred to the requests as "persecution."

In response to the Senators' request, Heartland Institute president Joseph L. Bast wrote:

"According to a news release posted at Senator Markey’s website, the same letter was sent to 99 other businesses and nonprofit organizations as part of a campaign to stigmatize and demonize those who question the alarmist claims of Greenpeace and other far-left groups in the environmental debate. So first, shame on you for abusing your public office in an attempt to silence public debate on such an important public policy topic. Second, you repeat the vicious libel that Dr. Wei-Hock 'Willie' Soon failed to disclose funding for his work. Are you not aware that neither his employer, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, nor the journal that published the scholarly article in question, Science Bulletin, has found Dr. Soon violated any of their rules or disclosure policies? Who asked you to repeat that lie?"

Third, I am very proud to report that the Heartland Institute has spent millions of dollars over the past ten years supporting scientific research that contradicts alarmist claims about climate change. The New York Times calls us “the primary American organization pushing climate change skepticism.” The Times is not a credible source on this topic, but you three probably find it persuasive. Fourth and finally, all the information you need about our funding and programs can be found in our annual tax returns or at one of the following websites: heartland.org, heartland.org/issues/environment,climatechangereconsidered.org, and heartland.org/reply-to-critics."

Apparently "all the information you need" about their funding is "none," because you won't learn much about it at any of those links. The Heartland Institute keeps most of its funding information and donor identities secret. What information is out there has come from leaks and possible hacks that have generated their own share of controversy. But the Heartland Institute has not been forthcoming. It may be feeling a little defensive about funding inquiries because it has funding issues of its own that tend to undermine the objectivity of its opinions. The leaked information has revealed that it's received donations over the years from ExxonMobile, Texaco and conservative foundations like the Charles G. Koch Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, as well as multimillion-dollar donations from unknown individuals.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

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"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.