All’s fair in love, war and the climate debate… or is it?

Update added below.

Is Heartland’s Global Warming advert “experiment” an own goal or have they simply achieved their aim?

“This billboard was deliberately provocative, an attempt to turn the tables on the climate alarmists by using their own tactics but with the opposite message. We found it interesting that the ad seemed to evoke reactions more passionate than when leading alarmists compare climate realists to Nazis or declare they are imposing on our children a mass death sentence. We leave it to others to determine why that is so.

While I do think the advert was in very poor taste and can’t condone it, I have a sneaking admiration for the Heartland’s audacity in doing this. It is actually quite clever, after all some would say “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”.

Condemnation from skeptics was swift: Anthony Watts’ comments labelling it “a huge misstep”; Ross McKittrick’s letter; Donna Laframboise’s withdrawal from the conference. Only Luboš Motl seems to have any positive words about the adverts: they were telling the truth about the AGW beliefs of those featured; they might be a good way to increase visibility as Heartland is still on the fringe; they should repay aggression with aggression; he’s rather critical of Ross McKitrick’s stance, saying that he’s helping to maintain selective double standards by saying skeptics should not fight back.

In the MSM, Brendan O’Neill in The Telegraph says Environmentalists compared their opponents to mass murderers long before the Heartland Institute and has a good rundown of many occasions when “non-belief in global warming was likened to being a terrorist, a Nazi, or Beelzebub.”

Heartland doesn’t have a monopoly on evoking mass murder and terror as a way of rubbishing its opponents. That art was perfected by greens first. Yet judging by today’s fracas, where it is okay to compare climate-change sceptics to mass murderers, it is not okay to compare greens to mass murderers. Is that right?

On the pro-AGW side, Andrew Revkin calls it “an ultra-offensive message”. At least he uses the term “climate contrarians” and avoids ‘the D-word’ as he mentions defensively that he too condemned the “equally loathsome” 10:10 video. He quotes a conversation between Tom Yulsman and Keith Kloor in which the former says:

“Climate change skeptics and people on the right are now expressing disapproval of the Heartland billboards, which is appropriate. But they are also undermining their moral stance as they claim that climate activists do the same thing. Did their mothers not tell them that claims of “Johnny did it too!!” just don’t wash?”

Did your fathers not explain to you what we call those who push others around but squeal when they are pushed? Individuals on the warming side might themselves be claiming the moral high ground, but global warming activism has used every trick in the book. Put it this way – let those among you who have condemned their fellow climate change believers for using the term “denier” cast the first stone.

I think the only point on which I can sort of agree with Luboš Motl is that Heartland and the sceptic message needs to become more high-profile. That’s not to say they should do it with such ill-conceived ideas – experimental or not. We’re far more likely to win hearts and minds with moderate and intelligent comment, after all what can be more disarming or assertive than repeating the truth? – although we might add – when it is allowed.

Update 6th May – Bishop Hill has a good post On Abusive Analogy in which he refers back to anti-skeptic sites discussing “climategate conspiracies” influencing Anders Brevik, asking:

“Is there one rule for upholders of the climate orthodoxy and another for dissenters?”


It is extraordinary that Think Progress and DeSmog seem to be allowed to do this kind of thing without attracting any significant criticism. I can’t help feeling that the people who are now writing letters to Heartland’s funders calling for them to cut off support ought to be writing to the backers of Romm et al and DeSmog too.

I think we can all agree that comparisons to individual mass murderers is beyond the pale, but there are of course milder examples of the abusive analogy too. I have spent many a dull minute snipping references to “eco-fascists” and “green Nazis” from the comments threads here. The use of these terms is widely seen as reprehensible.

On the other hand, use of “denier” and “denialist” is extremely widespread among upholders of the IPCC position…”

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13 Responses to All’s fair in love, war and the climate debate… or is it?

  1. kim2ooo says:

    Reblogged this on Climate Ponderings and commented:
    Another view

  2. kim2ooo says:

    Personally, I think many realists were a bit dismayed because they wanted Heartland to stay a pristine think tank. Above such as Soros – Suzuki type funded think tanks.

    Does the Warmist – CAGW side have a platform to get their panties in a bunch? NOT to my thinking. Clean up your own house before you attempt to clean mine. Heartland play’d YOUR game using the truth against you.

    Did the experiment work?
    Well, it certainly got me to read TK’s Manifesto and compare it to what what has been said by such as Mr Gore and many other CAGW’ers etc.

    Should they have consulted supporters?
    Probably, as some do not want their names – works associated with such acts.

    [Reply – Kim – I pretty much agree with this. I don’t like what HI did and wish they hadn’t, however the CAGW cannot criticise the realist side unilaterally. Verity]

  3. miked1947 says:

    In a war it is necessary to use the same weapons against those who started the war, or you lose.
    I have been tired of those on the sceptic side that condoned the activities of the Chicken Little brigade for all the years I have been involved with this fiasco.
    I am certain others will chime in with “Me TOO” comments condemning HI and there by showing their true colors.

    [Reply – see my reply to Pierre Gosselin below. The end does not justify the means. Standing up to agressive tactics, yes, but not stooping to comparable dirty tricks in retaliation – Verity]

  4. P Gosselin says:

    It’s unfortunate. Laframboise has cancelled her appearance at the Heartland Conference, and who knows who may follow. I wish Heartland had not done the billboard. In this bitter scientific dispute, the skeptics need to be 10 times more virtuous than the lying warmists. Fortunately, that isn’t very difficult to do.
    This time Bast used poor judgement and went too far. The Heartland Institute needs to apologise for his misstep and have him replaced – quickly.
    Just because the warmists are dirty all the time, it doesn’t mean it’s okay for us to do it once in awhile. Honesty and integrity are full-time, and not only on Sundays.

    • Verity Jones says:

      I agree fully. I like the audacity, but not the action. It is difficult not to be angry at an opponent’s dirty tricks, but winning this war is about integrity, exposing error and being true to scientific method and evidence.

      • ArndB says:

        Both comments, P.G. & V.J., find clear words on the HI. What they did is despicable, and particularly irresponsible with regard to the people of Norway.

        But I am not so happy with the notion: “the warmists are dirty all the time“. IMO they are not working with dirty tricks all time, but they do not know better, believe in what they are saying, and are not curious enough to do better. But for someone who thinks that the climate debate should be based on the climatic relevance of the oceans, the skeptic’s fixation on merely opposing the AGW views is not very fruitful either. Having pursued the ocean-climate matter for more than 20 years now, I am more than ever convinced that “integrity, exposing error and being true to scientific method and evidence” will bring the appropriate solution eventually, and you both are doing an excellent job in this respect. Thanks & regards AB

      • Verity Jones says:

        Thank you Arnd – I do think the importance of the oceans is now more recognised although the detailed understanding of it needed is very challenging.

        “the skeptic’s fixation on merely opposing the AGW views is not very fruitful”

        Good point.

  5. Ron C. says:

    Warmists were eager to point out that the Norwegian terrorist, Anders Breivik, is a climate change sceptic. So it didn’t take long for some sceptics to point out that the Unabomber is an articulate global warming alarmist. In fact, it is a challenge to distinguish excerpts of his writings from those of Al Gore.
    For some fun, you can take the test here:
    This is not to say that Kaczynski is VP material, or that Gore is unbalanced, only that they are strange bedfellows on this topic. So you can’t dismiss anyone’s views based on crazies who may share some of them.
    Let’s get back to the debate. The null hypothesis is that climate is nature at work. Those who believe otherwise must present proof of AGW above and beyond natural variability.

    • Verity Jones says:

      LOL – I got most of them wrong. I’m tired of the debate (it has felt like a long siege) but no giving up or going back on principles now.

  6. Graham Thompson says:

    This is interesting and relevant …

    An internal study by the U.S. EPA completed by Dr. Alan Carlin and John Davidson concluded the IPCC was wrong about global warming. One statement in the executive summary stated that a 2009 paper found that the crucial assumption in the Greenhouse Climate Models (GCM) used by the IPCC concerning a strong positive feedback from water vapor is not supported by empirical evidence and that the feedback is actually negative. Water vapor in the atmosphere causes a cooling effect, not a warming one. Carbon dioxide also causes a slight cooling effect but it so small it could never be measured by man’s instrumentation.

    EPA tried to bury the report. An email from Al McGartland, Office Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE), to Dr. Alan Carlin, Senior Operations Research Analyst at NCEE, forbade him from speaking to anyone outside NCEE on endangerment issues. In a March 17 email from McGartland to Carlin, stated that he will not forward Carlin’s study. “The time for such discussion of fundamental issues has passed for this round. The administrator (Lisa Jackson) and the administration have decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision. …. I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office.” A second email from McGartland stated “I don’t want you to spend any additional EPA time on climate change.”

    McGartland’s emails demonstrate that he was rejecting Dr. Carlin’s study because its conclusions ran counter to the EPA’s current position. Yet this study had its basis in three prior reports by Carlin (two in 2007 and one in 2008) that were accepted. Another government cover-up, just what the United States does not need.

    Eliminate this regulation immediately. This is a scientific tragedy.

  7. Verity Jones says:

    Interesting commentary from Brian Micklethwait at including
    I always have my doubts about that “moral high ground”. Yes, it’s good to have it, but not if you leave all the other ground in the possession of the enemy.

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