Heartland Institute’s Comments on October 23 PBS Frontline Special ‘Climate of Doubt’

Published October 23, 2012

On October 23, PBS’s “Frontline” program broadcast a special titled “Climate of Doubt.” The Heartland Institute had circulated a commentary prior to the program’s broadcast, which appears below, which said in part, “We hope the program is accurate and fair, but past experience with PBS and other mainstream media outlets leads us to predict it will be neither.” We offered some “facts to keep in mind when watching this program.”

So what did we think of the actual show? It wasn’t as bad as we had feared, but it wasn’t as good as it should have been. The following statement from Joseph Bast, president of The Heartland Institute – a free-market think tank – may be used for attribution. For more comments, please contact Tammy Nash at [email protected] and 312/377-4000. After regular business hours, contact Jim Lakely at [email protected] and 312/731-9364.

It appears host John Hockenberry spent enough time with global warming “skeptics” to know we are sincere, honest, and effective, but not enough time to learn we are right on the science. Rather than examining the scientific debate directly – “looking under the hood,” as we like to say here at The Heartland Institute – he decided to rely uncritically on the claims of a few alarmists pretending to speak for “climate science.” That choice ultimately makes “Climate of Doubt” a biased and unreliable guide to the scientific debate.

The first half of the program consists mostly of short clips from global warming skeptics and political activists who helped convince majorities of the public and elected officials that man-made climate change is not a crisis. Included in this part of the show is footage taken during Heartland’s Seventh International Conference on Climate Change and interviews with Heartland Senior Fellows S. Fred Singer and James M. Taylor and the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell and Chris Horner. This part of the program is generally fair, though surprisingly light on interviews with scientists other than Dr. Singer. More than 100 scientists have spoken at Heartland conferences, nearly all of them skeptical of claims that man-made global warming is a crisis. It’s surprising and disappointing that Frontline didn’t seek interviews with any of them or even show excerpts from their presentations, except Dr. Singer.

The quality of the program starts to deteriorate at about the 20-minute mark. Notorious global warming alarmists Gavin Schmidt, Katherine Hayhoe, Andrew Dessler, and Ralph Cicerone are presented as representative of the mainstream scientific community, which they are not. Rather than use the program to put an end to the myth of scientific consensus on this complex issue, Hockenberry repeatedly invokes the discredited myth of a 97 percent consensus. Evidence in support of that claim is farcical. The issue of what role, if any, consensus should play in science is not addressed at all.

The second half of the program also speculates on the role that corporate and philanthropic funding plays in the debate … but it only addresses the funding of skeptics, not of alarmists. Once again this was a missed opportunity. Why didn’t Hockenberry end the myth, started by Ross Gelbspan but never documented, that global warming skeptics were or are currently being funded by oil companies to “sow doubt”? The Heartland Institute certainly was never part of such a plan, nor were any of the scientists we work with. Yet this libelous smear is repeated without rebuttal by Hockenberry and by the alarmists he interviews.

A third strike against the program occurs at the very end, when the off-camera voices of alarmists assert scientific confidence in predictions of an impending climate apocalypse while images appear of deserts and extreme weather events. Gone is any pretense of a balanced view of the scientific debate. This technique, typical of propaganda films such as “An Inconvenient Truth” and “The Day After Tomorrow,” cheapens and discredits an otherwise thoughtful program.

No scientist interviewed for the program offered proof that any of the climatic events shown at the end of the program were caused by human activity, nor could they. One suspects this ending was tacked on after production to address the expected criticism and disappointment of environmental activists who object to anyone in the mainstream media treating skeptics with respect.

“Climate of Doubt” gives some deserved recognition to the men and women who have sought to bring truth to the debate over climate change and have succeeded despite the odds. But its errors and omissions make it another missed opportunity to tell the true story of the debate over climate change. 

OCTOBER 23 — The following statement from Joseph Bast, president of The Heartland Institute – a free-market think tank – may be used for attribution. For more comments, please contact Tammy Nash at [email protected] and 312/377-4000. After regular business hours, contact Jim Lakely at [email protected] and 312/731-9364.

On Tuesday, October 23, PBS’s “Frontline” program will broadcast a special titled “Climate of Doubt.” It promises to go “inside the organizations” that helped turn the tide of public opinion, and then of elected officials, away from excessive concern over the possible threat of man-made global warming.

The Heartland Institute is likely to be a central figure in this program as we welcomed “Frontline” producer Catherine Upin and her crew to our Seventh International Conference on Climate Change in Chicago in May. Heartland Institute Senior Fellow James M. Taylor also gave a three-hour interview to the film crew in August. Earlier this year, The Economist called Heartland “the world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change.”

We hope the program is accurate and fair, but past experience both with PBS and other mainstream media outlets leads us to predict it will be neither. Several Heartland staff will be watching the program and commenting live via Twitter and on our blog, Somewhat Reasonable.

Meanwhile, here are some facts to keep in mind when watching this program:

  • There is no “scientific consensus” about how much the planet has warmed, how much of the warming may be due to human activity, whether the warming has had positive or negative consequences, or what should be done about it. These are all hotly contested issues in the scientific, economic, and public policy communities.
  • The best scientific data show there has been no warming for 16 years, something none of the computer models that predict an eco-catastrophe predicted or can explain. Data show no connection between man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and extreme weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, or floods. Natural variation in climate readily explains the small changes in temperature that occurred in the twentieth century. Global warming, simply put, is not a crisis.
  • The more scientists explore climate, the more they realize how small the human impact can be. But the global warming movement – the environmental activists, “green” businesses, politicians, and even the researchers – has strong financial motives to deny that the science behind their cause, never strong to begin with, is now collapsing.
  • The Heartland Institute emerged as a major voice in the international debate over climate change about seven years ago when we observed a lack of balance in the mainstream media’s coverage of the climate debate. We challenged Al Gore to debate his critics, and he never did. We documented errors in his documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” but he refused to correct them. We identified scores and then hundreds of scientists whose important work on the issue was being ignored – actually censored – by reporters in the mainstream media and published their work.
  • In 2009 and 2011 we published two volumes in a series titled Climate Change Reconsidered that comprehensively refutes the reports of the alarmist Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Our reports, which cite thousands of scientific articles published in peer-reviewed journals, have never been refuted by alarmists because they cannot be refuted: They cite the published research of many scientists who self-identify as alarmists in the debate, but whose own research finds evidence of only a small or even nonexistent human impact on climate. After repeated scandals involving the IPCC, Climate Change Reconsidered stands as the most authoritative overview of the science of climate change now available.
  • Because of our leadership role in opposing global warming alarmism, Heartland has been mercilessly attacked and demonized by environmental groups and their allies in the mainstream media. We’ve even had our corporate documents stolen and our donors subjected to fake petitions demanding they stop funding us. The mainstream media has participated in these attacks in a clear violation of journalistic ethics.

For the record, The Heartland Institute has been advocating free-market solutions to social and economic problems for 28 years. We address a wide range of topics, not just climate change. We are supported by approximately 5,000 donors. We never take positions to satisfy our donors; donors support us because they agree with the positions we take. No corporation gives more than 5 percent of our annual budget. We have been endorsed by many of the world’s leading think tank leaders, elected officials, and policy experts.

Joseph Bast
The Heartland Institute
[email protected]

The Heartland Institute is a national nonprofit organization founded in 1984 in Chicago, Illinois. Its mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. For more information, visit our Web site or call 312/377-4000.