An Open Letter to the Heartland Institute Addressing your Skepticism of Climate Change
October 9, 2019
First, thank you for helping scientists who have been attacked. Your support and defense of Richard Lindzen, Willie Soon, and others has been important in balancing out the conversation on climate. Thank you also for the little booklet, Why Scientists Disagree about Global Warming, which I think is well written and many more people should read.
I didn’t use your picture at the top of this letter, because you’ve been completely eclipsed by a 16-year-old girl who is on the front line against you, and you have no chance against her. You have nothing but facts, and facts aren’t enough.
I used to believe the UN and the predictions of a warmer planet, and then I started really studying it and changed my mind. So I am mostly with you on the science. That’s not the issue.
The Heartland Conference
I attended your annual climate conference in August in Washington, and I want to give you some feedback, because I was very unhappy with it. I was thrilled to say hi to Anthony Watts and Dick Lindzen, but I was sad to watch the theater that played onstage. It wasn’t a conference, it was a jamboree. It was a scout-troop meeting of old white-haired American men who thought they were winning the argument, the same way they “won” back in Vietnam.
You and everyone else at Heartland are going at this like it’s a war. As you recently said, “the political left has always sought to transform American society, to take away individual freedom, to destroy free-market economics, and now they are parasitically utilizing a supposed global-warming crisis as a means to their end of centralized government and taking away economic and other individual freedoms.”
Your words. You are saying that …
- Bill Gates is evil and wants to take away our individual freedoms
- Tyler Cowen is against free-market economics
- Swedish statistician Hans Rosling had a political agenda to transform American society
- Barack Obama is an idiot
- Ray Dalio is a parasite
- Elon Musk wants centralized government
- Leonardo diCaprio, Jessica Alba, Emma Thompson, Robert Redford, and Harrison Ford know nothing about climate or science.
Okay, I’ll give you the last one, but I don’t think you know anything about those people, James. I believe you are doing a fantastic job of strengthening their resolve.
You think it’s about the facts.
It’s not about the facts.
It’s about identity.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Angela Jolie, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Joaquin Phoenix, and Elen DeGeneres would rather walk into a Denny’s than into the Heartland Institute to talk with you, because you aren’t going to listen to them, you’re going to call them names and accuse them of your conspiracy theories.
These people are creating the messages that young people are going to get, and you aren’t.
Most of the talks I heard at your event were childish. Your own data-science guy was far too overconfident. Craig Idso seems to think we will be in huge trouble if we don’t pump more CO2 into the atmosphere. Monckton’s speech was insane (weird, because his work is usually well written and thought out, but that speech wasn’t). No one mentioned uncertainty, error bars, and confidence intervals (except life-long scientists like Roy Spencer, who know better).
Overall, the mood at the conference was … smug.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
And here’s the pick-up point, James:
You and others like you are doing exactly what liberal groups need. You are giving them the words and images to raise money effectively. Combined with scare tactics, they are having a field day raising money to combat your self-righteous crusade. For every Climate Hustle film, there are ten climate-doomsday films. For every dollar you raise preaching to the choir, they can raise a hundred or a thousand from wealthy (and smart) donors who are provoked by your over-the-top rhetoric.
The Green New Deal is seriously flawed, we all know that. If it becomes law, many people will suffer, the economy will suffer, and the environment will, too. Laughing at its authors is what Hillary Clinton did when she heard Donald Trump had won his party’s nomination. Not a good strategy.
Under the umbrella of the Heartland Institute, several good, reasonable scientists (Willie Soon and Tim Ball) have become cartoon characters on stage, mocking “alarmists” and shrugging their shoulders, as if to say the truth is so obvious.
But alarmists have the advantage. A very small number are tampering with the data, distorting the facts, putting up phony arguments, patrolling Wikipedia, dominating social media, making up stories, and getting away with it. The vast majority of them believe what they have been told and are very sincere in wanting to save the earth. Laughing at them is a bad strategy.
All Democratic candidates are fully bought into the climate-alarm narrative hook, line, and sinker. Not one of them can question the assumptions. They see themselves as going collectively up against Trump, who knows nothing about climate and simply happens to be on the right side of the argument for political reasons.
I met with people at the Aspen Institute to propose a series of conferences to simply agree on temperature data from 4 eras. They said they are also interested in finding the truth and would consider it. But then I realized their $140m budget would be cut in half if they actually published anything about temperature, because it would go against the narrative that donors have come to believe. Their job depends on them not knowing.
And you, James, are making the situation worse, not better. You can’t even get in the door at the Aspen Institute. You are too toxic.
Here are some of my writings:
My goal is to change minds, not polarize the conversation, and I’ve managed to win several people over. Probably more than you have. Because I don’t say that Tom Steyer is an idiot who wants to overthrow the government and install communism.
I think Tony Heller is doing great work, but he also uses sarcasm, belittles people, and calls names too much. It’s one thing to show the facts, it’s another thing to use words like nonsense and fraud and “Oh no, we’re all going to burn up!” That makes Tony an easy target for alarmist bloggers to label him a denier. He’s less effective than he could be just focusing on the facts and the science.
I think Scott Adams has an important point: if NASA and NOAA are fabricating data and purposely skewing their models, where are the whistleblowers? Tony Heller is the only whistleblower, but there must be a dozen more. Where are they? Could we offer a prize for them to come forward and tell their story?
We don’t yet have the right tone. An argument is not a conversation. We are not changing minds.
Dick Lindzen doesn’t laugh at people. His on-screen presence is less charismatic than Brad Pitt’s, but he calmly explains why the physics of alarmism doesn’t work.
We need more young calm explainers.
Can We Improve?
I live in DC. I don’t really want to be associated with the Heartland Institute, but I would be happy to meet and discuss how the Heartland Institute can have a change of heart. How you can go listen to smart people who don’t believe what you believe and try to figure out how to engage them in civil conversation. I have some ideas on that. So does Scott Adams. Perhaps a very few of us could make a big difference if we just had the right attitude.
I wish I had my money back from your conference — it wasn’t for people interested in solving the problem. It was preaching to the sexagenarian choir. It was great for helping liberal groups raise more money. They HAVE to raise millions now, because of people like you — the smug ones. The more you shout and belittle them, the more they will raise. The more Greta Thunbergs will appear and capture the air time. The more children have nightmares of a hellish future that will never happen.
If you want to change this, then you have to change. I sincerely hope you will.
David Siegel is a serial entrepreneur in Washington, DC. He is the founder of the Pillar Project and 2030. He is the author of The Token Handbook, Open Stanford, The Culture Deck, Climate Curious, and The Nine Act Structure. His newsletter is at CuttingThroughTheNoise.net. He gives speeches to audiences around the world — see his speaker page if you would like him to speak at your next event. His full body of work is at dsiegel.com.