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Are Heartland billboards the beginning of the end for climate denial?

The inversion of reality and morality has been a long-standing attribute of the climate “debate,” which reached a new watershed low a few days ago with the latest travesty from the Heartland Institute…

What’s next, Hitler was a vegetarian? Heartland Institute

The inversion of reality and morality has been a long-standing attribute of the climate “debate,” which reached a new watershed low a few days ago with the latest travesty from the Heartland Institute, a Chicago “think” tank.

Heartland posted on its website that “the people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

Murderers, tyrants, and madmen.

In support of this assertion, Heartland launched a billboard that featured Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber, accompanied by the slogan “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?” Future billboards were to show Charles Manson, a mass murderer, Fidel Castro, a tyrant, and “other global warming alarmists” including Osama bin Laden.

Murderers, tyrants, madmen, and terrorists.

All of them global warming “alarmists”.

Outside this inverted universe, in a land called reality, the laws of physics that underlie the fact that the globe is warming are accepted by the Vatican’s Academy of Science; the UK Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific body; the National Academies of Science of all G8 countries; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and virtually every other scientific organisation in the world. The consensus is supported by more than 90% of all experts and by all but a tiny handful of peer-reviewed scientific papers.

The chimerical construction of an ideologically-driven topsy-turvy reality by Heartland and its Australian equivalent, the IPA, is neither new nor surprising. And it is no more bizarre than the hallucination of Stanley Kubrick’s General Jack D. Ripper in “Dr Strangelove”, that fluoridation was a Soviet plot to poison American drinking water.

It is also no different from the inverted universe of the tobacco industry, which in an internal memo described medical research as “a vertically integrated, highly concentrated, oligopolistic cartel” that “manufactures alleged evidence.” No wonder Heartland and IPA are also long-standing champions of the tobacco industry.

The novelty of Heartland’s billboard campaign is that it signals the public convergence between ideologically motivated denial of science and the more robustly sociopathic fringe groups that believe, among other psychological nuggets, that Prince Phillip runs the world’s drug trade and is culling us for mass slaughter (or something like that).

Those fringe types recently waved a noose at a visiting climate scientist in Melbourne, perhaps pre-emptively volunteering as Heartland’s henchmen to execute all those murderers and tyrants who accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that the climate is changing due to human influence.

Western history’s only precedent for such confluence between vested interests, extremist ideology, and outright abdication of reality is the Weimar Republic of the 1920s and 1930s.

It now appears that the Heartland billboard may have been a watershed event.

Public outcry has forced Heartland to withdraw the Unabomber billboard. However, the tobacco tank refused to apologise, and its website is still referring to those who accept the geophysical reality of the planet as “murderers, tyrants, and madmen".

Microsoft described the billboard as “inflammatory and distasteful” and reaffirmed its commitment to climate action. Diageo, one of the world’s largest drink makers, has terminated funding for Heartland, stating that it “vigorously opposes climate skepticism.”

What will be next?

For now, Heartland still has some sponsors. It remains to be seen when they, too, will withdraw from this list of infamy. What is clear is that Heartland is imploding and that its tax-exempt status as a “charity” may be in jeopardy — labeling the world’s scientists “murders, tyrants, and madmen” is unlikely to qualify as charity work.

What will become of climate denial?

Much is known about what passes for cognition among those who deny overwhelming scientific evidence by resorting to conspiracy theories and scurrilous accusations against actual scientists.

The overwhelming tenor of this psychological knowledge is that, by definition, such denial will remain impervious to evidence as it is based on ideology and frantic defence of worldviews rather than the rational scepticism of actual science.

As the evidence for climate change continues to pile up, and as the frequency of severe weather events continues to sky-rocket, we can therefore be fairly certain that climate denial will take ever more scurrilous forms.

That much is certain, but given that even the conservative American commentator Andrew Sullivan has described the current American Right as “close to insane as well as depraved” over the Heartland billboard, exact predictions of this forthcoming maelstrom must elude rational grasp at the moment.