Despite my ambivalence about social media—namely that we are feeding all of our personal information and opinions to an insatiable marketing beast—I must admit at its best, the hyperdemocracy of Web 2.0 has societal benefits. Yes, people scream over each other about Miley Cyrus and collect followers with strategies reminiscent of middle-school mean girls. But anyone with access to an internet connection can tweet corporations and public figures previously unreachable without the aid of money or political clout.
Yesterday I came across a 13-second video of global warming data collected by NASA and tweeted the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, which, among other things, promotes research denying both climate change and the negative effects of secondhand smoke. We got into a back-and-forth. Of course I know there are climate change deniers out there, as well as highly-funded efforts to muddy the rigorous peer-reviewed data indicating human contributions to global warming. Still, the experience proved instructive.
The Heartland Institute has brought us such gifts as these billboards in Chicago, comparing believers in global warming to the Unabomber:
Yet its 2012 fundraising plan (pgs. 22–26) lists donations from major corporations, including:
• Time Warner
• State Farm Insurance
• Farmers’ Insurance
• Altria (aka Philip Morris)
• Eli Lilly
As our Twitter exchange indicates, the Heartland Institute sticks to script, responding to criticism with dodges. In response to my NASA tweet, they shared a graph supposedly based on RSS data and hashtagged #noclimatecrisis. When I pointed out that the RSS website itself confirms “human-induced climate change,” they linked to an article written by scientists on their payroll. When I brought up the issue of the authors’ affiliation with Heartland funding, they accused me of not having read the article. When I responded to the content of the article—specifically that IPCC models being potentially imprecise (all models are to some degree) does not discredit the overall data trend of global warming—and returned to the funding issue, they linked back to video from another Heartland-funded conference.
Heartland likes to dazzle with big numbers: Here are a THOUSAND pages of peer-reviewed science denying climate change!
OK, EcoWatch reports that of 13,950 articles on climate change between 1991 and 2012, only 24 deny global warming.
Heartland offers HUNDREDS of videos of scientists presenting climate data!
OK, all of the videos are from your own (lobbyist-in-think-tank-disguise) conference.
So, given that no one’s going to convince Heartland to stop being an arm of corporate special interests as long as the money keeps flowing, how about trying any of the following?
Publicly tweet the corporate donors above and ask them why they fund denial in the face of hard science.
Share the list with others and encourage them to do the same.
Vote with your dollars. For example, we used to have Comcast and then AT&T for our internet service, but we switched to Webpass. It’s cheaper, the service is equally good, they don’t fund Heartland, and they purchase offsets to remain carbon neutral.
In other words, get out there and engage in some hyperdemocracy.