The exhibition floor at the Heartland Institute's 9th International Conference on Climate Change, held in Las Vegas in July 2014. Photo: Brendan Montague

By Brendan Montague
22 July 2014

(Vice) – I’ve been researching the climate denial industry for almost three years and the best way to gather information about this incredibly small yet influential clique is to hang out with them.

I attended their 2012 conference of the Heartland Institute, an oil and tobacco funded free market think tank that spends a lot of time and effort trying to call bullshit on what is clearly not bullshit – the science of climate change. My presence was clearly unwelcome – but I guess they forgot to scrub me from their email invitation list, because I got invited again this year, to their 9th International Conference on Climate Change in the deep heat of the Nevada desert amid the chaos of Las Vegas casinos.

The choice of Vegas by Heartland seemed brilliantly provocative. A celebration of high-stakes capitalism in the very gambling dens where $92 billion is lost each year in pursuit of the American dream. The dazzling lights, the grotesquely oversized hotels, the free drinks.

Perhaps nowhere on earth is more profligate and wasteful of increasingly scarce natural resources than this twisted utopia. The Republican Party reportedly blackballed Vegas for its 2016 convention fearing its Christian supporters would be repelled by this den of iniquity – and that its legislators would be lured into its brothels and casinos. Scientists have explicitly stated we are “loading the dice” by raising temperatures so that extreme weather and deadly catastrophes will become more frequent – gambling with our future, basically. Joseph Bast, the president of Heartland, was surely thumbing his nose at his detractors. […]

The Vegas conference was going a good opportunity to enter this strange world again. But did I really want to spend a week in the middle of dustbowl America with three hundred climate cranks who would crowd around trying to tell me how wrong I am about everything if they knew the first thing about me? […]

Then the shadow-side of this comic dishonesty and hypocrisy became almost too much to bear. Dr S Fred Singer, a folk hero around here, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award. He in turn presented the Frederick Seitz Award. If one man can take credit for inventing climate denial it is Singer. The old man once claimed, rather brilliantly, that, “My connection to oil during the past decade is as a Wesson Fellow at the Hoover Institution; the Wesson money derives from salad oil.” Exxon had given Singer $10,000 in funding just a few years earlier.

The late Dr Seitz had many achievements in his lifetime. But the one I will remember him for was contributing indirectly to the deaths of millions of Americans. He sat on the medical research committee of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and oversaw $45 million in medical funding which his critics claimed “served the tobacco industry’s purposes.” Much of my close family has been wiped out by smoking related diseases, so this one sticks out for me.

The Heartland conference was now in full swing and my brain began to melt. There was the usual monotony of badly put together Powerpoint slides, rambling speeches and desperate attempts to resurrect climate science controversies buried by actual scientists almost three decades ago. The speakers were being paid around $1,000 to attend, plus flights and large hotel suites.

The hundreds of sceptics around me not once questioned the bizarre, the illogical, the poorly constructed claims that swirled in front of our eyes. This parody of science was a deadly hybrid of 1970s Open University programmes and sub-Cirque du Soleil. […]

They would just be sad sacks if they were not also influential. Among the delegates swarm the sharks just as surely as they do in the Mandalay Bay Hotel aquarium. Myron Ebell of CEI who once conspired with a White House insider to downplay climate in a seminal government report. Senator James Inhofe who, by video call, told the troops to ready themselves to take Congress in November. They also influence lower level officials. [more]

I Crashed a Climate Change Denial Conference in Las Vegas

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