Saturday, May 5, 2012

Backfiring PR in climate policy

Last week, the Heartland Institute, one of the controversial skeptical lobby groups in the US which oppose climate change regulations, initiated an even more controversial poster campaign across the country. Next to a picture of Ted Kaczynski, the jailed Unabomber, the posters read "I still believe in Global Warming - Do you?"  Kaczynski had written a pamphlet against modern society which you can read here.

Other statements from the HI campaign said “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.” Charles Manson, Osama Bin Laden and Fidel Castro served as examples. But under increasing pressure the HI has pulled the plug on the campaign. The Washington Post has a report here.

In a way, the campaign is remarkable for its faulty logic -- in politics you cannot choose your friends, as the saying goes. By the same token, it would be unconvincing to associate climate skepticism with some hate figure (this does not prevent climate activists from pursuing the same strategy).

On the other side of the policy spectrum the UK campaign group 10:10 released a similarly misconceived movie which they retracted immediately afterwards. Andy Revkin has a story here, and the movie can still be watched on You Tube. The 10:10 movie used a different genre than the HI posters. In both cases the PR  people probably thought they were doing something 'cutting edge'. In both cases it did not work.


Anonymous said...

Sounds as if Heartland needs some PR experts. Rather odd for an (charitable tax exempted) institute selling PR products.

Read also Joseph Bast's statement:

Must be a fake. Or is it really Bast writing e.g. "Of course, not all global warming alarmists are murderers or tyrants."


ghost said...

yeah Andreas, so it is... women are also some kind of humans.

Assholes is right word for all persons connected to the lobbyist PR group Heartland "Institute". They considerably finance Fred Singer and Idso and other "heroic scientists" who oppose the evil mainstream.

Maybe, the Heartland Institute tested the limits of their filth and lie campaigns. They seem to get along with this. What's the next step?

Werner Krauss said...

That's ugly. Don't you have something nice for Sunday?

ghost said...

oh, I see, my words were drastic... sorry. hm, the problem is, it is not a PR gag. The Heartland Institute compared Al Gore with the Unabomber before. They are simply disgusting. And, they are certainly NO VICTIMS. Peter Gleick did not use the right methods, it was not the highroad, it was wrong, but he was right about the Heartland Institute.

Hans von Storch said...

Remarkably strange. I guess a major effect could have been, that the debate would be even more polarized, even less about issues, but merely about claims.

On the web-page, it reads "Because what these murderers and madmen have said differs very little from what spokespersons for the United Nations, journalists for the “mainstream” media, and liberal politicians say about global warming. They are so similar, in fact, that a Web site has a quiz that asks if you can tell the difference between what Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, wrote in his “Manifesto” and what Al Gore wrote in his book, Earth in the Balance.". In this logic, nobody should tea, if it turns out that Breivik drank tea.

I do not believe it makes sense to argue with Heartland, but I would guess that is not what these people want. They want to make claims, to maintain the confronting positions.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

How ill-conceived the HI campaign was you can gauge by the reaction of Donna Laframboise, author of a critical study of the IPCC (The Delinquent Teenager - Why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change can't be trusted).

As she explains on her blog:

"This morning I cancelled a non-refundable return flight from to Toronto to Chicago. The following explains why:
A few weeks ago I was invited to take part in a debate at a conference sponsored by the Heartland Institute..."

The came the campaign which angered many people who were not put off by HI invitations, including herself.

The HI issued a statement explaining the pulling of the billboard campaign but stopping short of apologizing:

"We know that our billboard angered and disappointed many of Heartland’s friends and supporters, but we hope they understand what we were trying to do with this experiment. We do not apologize for running the ad, and we will continue to experiment with ways to communicate the ‘realist’ message on the climate."

Lafromboise comments:

"My name – and the name of my book – is currently on the same page of the Heartland website where the above quote appears. Without prior knowledge or informed consent, my work has been aggressively associated with this odious ad campaign.
Forget disappointment. In my view, my reputation has been harmed. And the Heartland thinks it has nothing to apologize for."

Anonymous said...

Dear Werner,

something nice for Sunday:


plazaeme said...

Borges had a nice saying to explain why Heratland has been terribly disgusting in this case: we don't eat cannibals.

Donna Laframboise has explained it perfectly. Just more long. But to put things into perspective, you should count how many people behave like Heartland's billboard within the "sceptics", and how many alarmists still use the term "deniers" to address sceptics.

Anonymous said...

Does Heartland believe in global warming?

J. Bast wrote in April in a press release (
Heartland’s position on climate change

The Heartland Institute does not “deny the existence of climate change.” It supports research and scholarly debate on the causes and effects of climate change. While the organization itself doesn’t have an “official” position on climate, its spokespersons have repeatedly said they believe some warming occurred in the second half of the twentieth century, there is evidence of a small human impact on climate, and carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.

Heartland believes in global warming. Do you? ;-)

Mc Kitrick and Sen. Sensenbrenner (Rep) cancelled their participation of the Heartland conference, too.


Werner Krauss said...

Thanks, Andreas, for the Huff post link. Just read through the Unabomber links Reiner provided; assumed that Heartlanders know what they do, their choice of campaign offers an interesting insight into their mindset. Why exactly the Unabomber, why not someone else?

@ReinerGrundmann said...

What Peter Gleick did not achieve, the Heartlanders have accomplished on their own. Reputation is in tatters, even among their own followers.

In a similar way, sceptical criticism did not do much harm to the IPCC, but their own shenanigans did.

Anonymous said...


They must have completely lost their heads over the Gleick case, misjudging the support they even got from the liberal side, - not for their position and their work but for fundamental considerations (freedom of speech etc.).

Obviously the Heartland's pr-performance is not even half as strong as many critics thought it to be. It ends up in a self-destructive desaster like most of the reactions show. They will not recover quickly - if ever.

V. Lenzer

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Looks as if a bandwagon has started and donors are deserting HI: one of the world's largest drinks companies, Diageo, has just announced it will no longer fund the Heartland Institute. Will big pharma be next?

Anonymous said...


I didn't intend to link the Huffington Post article, I liked to present the Kim Kardassian joke only: I still believe in marriage? Do you? *lol*

Why the Una-bomber? Hm, he's only the second most hated man in USA, perhaps they realised that Osama bin Laden mentioned in Basts press release is over the top.

One last thougt: Maybe the Heartland campaign is a symbol of the irrational political situation in the USA.


Roddy said...

The Diageo thing is a bit spinny - as Leo Hickman says in the Guardian article, quoting Diageo:

'Diageo's only association with the Heartland Institute was limited to a small contribution made two years ago specifically related to an excise tax issue.'

and Microsoft distanced themselves from HI without cancelling their on-going commitment to free software for non-profits.

But yes, funding for HI will be very hard from now on from corporates or anyone who shies from the association, and who can blame them.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

The bandwagon gathers momentum

One of today's headlines: Heartland faces a mutiny amid furor over billboard campaign.

The article says:
"At the center of the retreat is a contingent of insurance companies and trade groups that donated more than $1 million over the last two years to the libertarian group's Center on Finance, Insurance and Real Estate in Washington, D.C., for programs related to federal insurance reform.

The center's efforts, which are often entwined with environmental policies, were damaged beyond repair by the increasingly strident campaign against climate change science coming from Heartland's Chicago headquarters, according to industry sources.

"It was disgusting. It was revolting," Brad Kading, president of the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers, said of the ad in an interview over the weekend. "It was a terrible mistake."