Kert Davies, a campaigner for Greenpeace, called it "the largest convergence of the lost tribe of skeptics ever seen on the face of the earth." Frank O’Donnell, head of Clean Air Watch, told The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin that the conference "looks like the climate equivalent of Custer’s last stand." The League of Conservation Voters’ Gene Karpinski, said he was "sure that the flat Earth society had a few final meetings before they broke up."
Despite these biting critiques, several hundred global warming skeptics and deniers gathered in the beginning of March at the Marriott New York Marquis Times Square Hotel in New York City for The 2008 International Conference on Climate Change. The conference, organized by the Illinois-based Heartland Institute, a conservative public policy institute, and co-sponsored by dozens of conservative organizations, including the Business and Media Institute, a project of the right-wing Media Research Center — aimed to cast doubt on the science of global warming, organize future "skeptic" conferences, and complain about how those not convinced that global warming is an imminent problem, or that it is caused by human activity, have been demonized by the media. "Distinguished scholars from the U.S. and around the world," that have had the courage to question global warming, have been "ignored, and often even censored and demonized" by the mainstream media, the promotional materials for the conference charged. In a "Background" piece, conference organizers claimed that "They [the scholars] have been labeled ‘skeptics’ and even ‘global warming deniers,’ a mean-spirited attempt to lump them together with Holocaust deniers.
According to a recent BMI report titled "Global Warming Censored: Networks Stifle Debate, Rely on Politicians, Rock Stars and Men-on-the-Street for Science," written by Dan Gainor, vice president of BMI and Julia A. Seymour, an analysis of 205 network news stories about "global warming" or "climate change" between July 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2007, "found a meager 20 percent of stories even mentioned there were any alternative opinions to the so-called ‘consensus’ on the issue."
During an appearance on the Fox News Channel’s morning show, "Fox and Friends," Gainor said that "the consensus theory that Al Gore’s been pushing, that the mainstream media have been pushing for years — it’s all bogus." According to a report posted at Raw Story, Gainor also pointed out that The New York Times had done a "somewhat sarcastic" piece on the conference. "Disagreement’s not allowed in the media," he complained. "We just did a report looking at how the network news shows have covered climate change. … 13 to one, the people they put on are on one side saying it’s not a debate. … On CBS it’s 38 to one."
Ironically, while conference organizers were quick to point out this disparity in coverage, the conference received a fair amount of coverage in the mainstream media, including reports on CBS, ABC, CNN, Fox, PBS, and the BBC, as well as articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, New York Sun, and Reuters.
The 2008 International Conference on Climate Change was promoted by the Heartland Institute as "the first major international conference to focus on issues and questions not answered by advocates of the theory of man-made global warming." According to James M. Taylor, a senior fellow at Heartland and the conference’s coordinator, hundreds of scientists, economists, and public policy experts from around the world were brought together "to call attention to widespread dissent in the scientific community to the alleged "consensus" that the modern warming is primarily man-made and is a crisis."
For nearly 25 years, The Heartland Institute, which has received significant funding from Exxon, was described by The New York Times as "a Chicago group whose antiregulatory philosophy has long been embraced by, and financially supported by, various industries and conservative donors," has been in the forefront of the movement of corporate-sponsored conservative think tanks, public policy institute and academic researchers first denying global warming existed, more recently palming off climate change as a natural phenomenon, and all the while demonizing those bringing global warming to the attention of the public.
Amongst Heartland’s more than half-dozen regular publications covering such issues as health care, budget and tax policy, information technology, and school reform, is Environment & Climate News, a monthly "for common-sense environmentalism."
A major purpose of the publication has been to look at global warming from industry’s perspective: The publication’s first issue presented two stinging critiques by two of "the nation’s leading scientists… on global climate change": "Kyoto’s Chilling Effects" by Patrick J. Michaels, PhD, University of Virginia environmental science professor, and "Link between deaths and climate weakening over time" by Robert E. Davis, PhD, associate professor of environmental science at the University of Virginia.
Michaels, a featured dinner speaker Sunday night was described by The New York Times as "a climatologist with a paid position at the antiregulatory Cato Institute."
Probably the best-known speaker at the conference was Vaclav Klaus, Czech Republic President who, in his remarks, compared environmentalists to the communists that took over his country after World War II. He accused environmentalists of "climate alarmism" and charged that they wanted "to stop the economic growth, the rise in the standard of living (though not their own) and the ability of man to use the expanding wealth, science and technology for solving the actual pressing problems of mankind, especially of the developing countries."
According to Klaus, "The climate alarmists believe in their own omnipotency, in knowing better than millions of rationally behaving men and women what is right or wrong. They believe in their own ability to assemble all relevant data into their Central Climate Change Regulatory Office equipped with huge supercomputers, in the possibility of giving adequate instructions to hundreds of millions of individuals and institutions."
He concluded by pointing out that it was necessary "to restart the discussion about the very nature of government and about the relationship between the individual and society. We need to learn the uncompromising lesson from the inevitable collapse of communism 18 years ago. It is not about climatology. It is about freedom."
Other conference speakers excoriated former vice president Al Gore and his Oscar-winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) report, edited by corporate-funded skeptic Fred Singer, president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, who argued that "recent climate change stems from natural causes."
"Al Gore’s version of climate change has no longer become science. It’s dogma. And if you question it, you are a heretic," Glenn Beck said in a film he produced called "A Climate of Fear," which was shown to the conferees. Before the conference, Beck, from CNN Headline News, told his audience that he would be vigilant in covering the conference "like it was the second coming of Jesus himself."
The conference ended with the attendees considering a document called the "Manhattan Declaration on Climate Change." The declaration confirmed that: "global climate has always changed and always will, independent of the actions of humans"; "the causes and extent of recently observed climatic change are the subject of intense debates in the climate science community and that oft-repeated assertions of a supposed ‘consensus’ among climate experts are false"; and the costs of government regulating climate change will have a desultory effect on developing nations.
The Manhattan Declaration also stated that "human-caused climate change is not a global crisis." The Declaration recommended that "world leaders reject the views expressed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as well as popular, but misguided works such as "An Inconvenient Truth," and "that all taxes, regulations, and other interventions intended to reduce emissions of CO2 be abandoned forthwith."
Conference organizers apparently hope that the New York City conference will lead to a revitalized anti-global warming movement, with many more such conferences around the world: "This event is intended to be a catalyst for future meetings, collaboration among scientists, economists, and policy experts, new research, and new publications," a conference document stated. "The proceedings will be transcribed, edited, and published as a major contribution to the debate over global warming. Other possible follow-up activities now being discussed include: an event in London in 2009; launch of a new journal devoted to climate change; launch of an association of philanthropists willing to support further research and public education opposing global warming alarmism; support for an International Climate Science Coalition that will act as an alternative voice to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; and expanded cooperation among the scores of organizations currently sponsoring research, publications, and events on the dubious claims in support of the theory of man-made catastrophic global warming," the conference organizers wrote. Despite their well-funded corporate connections, these are big plans for conservative think tanks whose ideas on climate change appear to fly in the face of most scientific studies and public opinion.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement and a frequent writer for Media Transparency and other online publications. He documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right from a progressive perspective.