Remember the Heartland Institute advertising campaign? The one climate scientists to criminals and terrorist? If you don’t let’s just refresh a little: they displayed this kind of ads in Chicago, displaying criminals supporting climate change, suggesting that all those who support climate change are criminals. Of course, this raised outrage throughout the entire world, and the ads were removed after only a day, but the damage was much greater: the future of the Heartland Institute lies in shreds.

Their meeting in 2008 had all the prerequisites of a huge climate change debate – minus the number of academics. Hundreds of climate change deniers, with only a handful of scientists among them, gathered in a lavish Times Square banquet room. But as the latest 2012 conference unfolds, key staff members, along with a number of sponsors are not attending, and the future of the think tank is uncertain at best.

In a fiery blogpost on the Heartland website, the organisation’s president Joseph Bast admitted Heartland’s defectors were “abandoning us in this moment of need” – but can you blame them? A think tank, failing in such a dreadful and offensive way, you really can’t blame them. Especially as their president continues to support the ads:

“Our billboard was factual: the Unabomber was motivated by concern over man-made global warming to do the terrible crimes he committed.” He went on to describe climate scientist Michael Mann and activist Bill McKibben as “madmen”.

Even Heartland insiders, such as Eli Lehrer, who headed the organisation’s Washington group, found the billboard too extreme. He left the group, along with other key members, immediately after the billboards were released.

“It didn’t reflect the seriousness which I want to bring to public policy,” Lehrer said in the telephone interview. “As somebody who deals mostly with insurance I believe all risk have to be taken seriously and there certainly are some important climate and global warming related risks that must be taken account of in the insurance market. Trivialising them is not consistent with free-market thought. Suggesting they are only thought about by people who are crazy is not good for the free market.”

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