The political and economic ideological frameworks of our modern world shape everything from public policy and international agreements to who we turn to for our news and entertainment. Unfortunately, ideological beliefs sometimes run counter to what the evidence says about the world around us, resulting in actions that may deliberately or unintendedly benefit the few at the expense of the many.
Take the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank based in Chicago, Illinois. Though meme tank may be more accurate considering the institute’s focus on generating propaganda to support its ideology of one free market to rule them all (apologies to J. R. R. Tolkien).
As part of its propaganda effort, the Heartland Institute recently sent 250,000 copies of their book “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming” and its companion DVD to teachers across the U.S. The goal being to discredit the scientific consensus on anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change among our nation’s teachers, and ultimately our students — the next generation of voting Americans.
Their motivation is obvious. Questioning the validity and severity of anthropogenic climate change subsequently calls into question government interventions and limitations on corporate and individual actions inevitably needed to address climate change (including any phasing out of fossil fuels). Such actions run counter to the institute’s mission of promoting free market solutions, limiting the size of government and increasing personal liberty, regardless of the issue at hand.
This isn’t a research institute focused on using empirical evidence to determine best practices and policies. It’s a meme institute bent on promoting an ideological view of the world that ultimately benefits the few (such as the Koch brothers, key funders of the institute) at the expense of the many.
The reality is that scientists generally accept anthropogenic climate change. It’s been commonly reported that 97 percent of all the scientific research papers published on the subject find that it’s real, and that it threatens our planet. And recently, research published in the Journal of Theoretical and Applied Climatology tried to replicate the results of a sample (38 papers) of the remaining 3 percent of papers, but couldn’t do it. According to Katharine Hayhoe, one of the study’s authors, all 38 papers had errors in their assumptions, methodologies, and/or analyses that when corrected, brought their results back into alignment with the scientific consensus on climate change. Any notion that the authors of these flawed studies are modern day Galileo’s standing up for scientific truth should be put to rest.
For example, Heartland’s DVD cites the research of two scientists — Dr. Willie Soon from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Dr. David R. Legates from the Center for Climate Research at the University of Delaware. Both have ties to the fossil fuel industry, and have apparently failed to disclose conflicts of interest within their scientific papers. More importantly, their research is part of this 3 percent that doesn’t agree on a single, or even a few, consistent alternative theories to anthropogenic climate change. This compared to the 97 percent consensus on a single, generally cohesive theory strongly supported by the scientific evidence.
The Heartland Institute has also criticized the Next Generation Science Standard’s (NGSS) recognition of the scientific consensus surrounding anthropogenic climate change. But these standards weren’t developed by a few “liberal” academics locked away in an ivory tower. Their development involved a core group of 26 states (with additional critical stakeholders drawn from all 50 states), consisting of teams of writers and reviewers, composed of educators (K-12 and higher ed), scientists, business/industry representatives, and other groups, working over a multi-year period with several rounds of public review and input. I know firsthand the rigor and critical discussions involved in putting these standards together because I served on the Kansas review committee as a business/industry representative.
I’m not arguing we should stop research attempting to replicate the results of previous studies that support anthropogenic climate change. Such ongoing research will continue fine tuning our understanding of climate change and how to address it. I’m not even saying our understanding of the causes of climate change couldn’t hypothetically change in the future. But we’re way past the point where the current scientific consensus on climate change should be driving policy and legislation from the local to global level.
Individuals and organizations like the Heartland Institute who spread disinformation about anthropogenic climate change in our schools and across the nation threaten the long-term viability of human society while benefiting fossil fuel corporations, the Koch brothers and a narrow ideological view of the world in the short term. They take our collective eyes off the ball relative to developing effective mitigation, resiliency and regenerative strategies to deal with climate change, putting our nation and global societies at risk. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris climate accord is a prime example of this.
So, teachers, if you’ve received Heartland’s gift, use it in the appropriate manner — like facilitating a discussion on propaganda or the need for scientists to become more involved in public policy. Otherwise this pseudo-intellectual claptrap belongs in the recycle bin.
Marcel Harmon, an anthropologist, engineer, and Lawrence, Kan. school board member heads up the Research & Analytics services at Forte Building Science/M.E. GROUP, a high performance building consulting firm.