COP26: Far right climate denial group to stage 'alternative' summit in Glasgow

A hardline US think tank which rails against climate change science and accuses the United Nations of trying to “usher in socialism” by tackling the climate emergency is to stage an alternative conference in Scotland’s biggest city during COP26.

The right wing Heartland Institute, which has previously received funding from the fossil fuel industry, is to convene a two day “climate reality forum” in Glasgow, designed to counter what it calls the “political groupthink” and “propaganda” of world leaders.

Friends of the Earth Scotland warned the controversial outfit was peddling “dangerous misinformation” and “pseudoscience” to try to delay action on climate change. Greenpeace branded the organisation as a “gang of climate deniers” and “fanatics”.

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Dr Geoffrey Supran, a Harvard University research fellow who specialises in climate denial, delay, and propaganda tactics, told Scotland on Sunday that Heartland did the “dirty work” of denying basic climate science on behalf of “fossil fuel interests and libertarian billionaires”.

“They’re essentially well-funded trolls of climate science and policy,” he explained. “Heartland’s overall strategy is not to win the climate debate, but just to make it seem like there is one.”

Chicago-based Heartland, which no longer discloses the identity of its donors, has spent years amplifying the voices of those who reject the scientific consensus on climate change.

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It has published multiple books on the issue, such as ‘Unstoppable Solar Cycles’ and ‘Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming.’ It was condemned after sending hundreds of thousands of copies of the latter title to schools and colleges across the US.

The Heartland Institute has been accused of pushing extreme climate denial messages. Picture: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty

It has gained prominence through its conference activities, most notably with events which coincided with previous COPs in Madrid, Paris, and Poland. Glasgow will be no exception.

Heartland previously announced its intention to hold an event in the city last November, but the postponement of COP26 due to the pandemic left its plans uncertain.

Heartland are ‘peddlers of dangerous misinformation’

But James Taylor, the institute’s president, said it intends to send a group of “scientists, economists, and policy leaders” to Glasgow for the rescheduled event.

Jeremiah Bohr, associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, said Heartland's events were designed to sow "confusion." Picture: Patrick Flood

“We will have our own conference,” he explained. “We’ll have a two day climate reality forum in Glasgow at the same time the United Nations is holding their meeting.

“Folks can see for themselves the difference between what the UN is putting out, which is essentially just propaganda and political groupthink, versus real facts, evidence, and basically, the realities the UN would like us to forget.”

Asked by Scotland on Sunday about the event, Mr Taylor did not disclose the venue or dates, but said Heartland was still in the process of finalising its speakers and agenda due to difficulties with the pandemic and travel restrictions. He added: “The good news is science clearly supports climate realism, not climate alarmism.”

But Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, warned that Heartland was attempting to hamper efforts to tackle the climate emergency.

The COP26 climate summit will get underway in Glasgow at the end of this month. Picture: John Devlin

She said: “The Heartland Institute are known peddlers of dangerous misinformation and pseudoscience. Having cut their teeth blocking action against big tobacco, their main target now is to confuse voters and decision makers, and delay action on climate change.

“The science is absolutely crystal clear that climate change is happening, that it’s driven primarily by burning fossil fuels, and that we only have a few years left to avert truly catastrophic consequences.

“Polling consistently shows that the UK public know this, and want the government to act on the climate crisis, so the Heartland Institute is likely to get short shift when it hosts its alt-reality summit in Glasgow next month.”

Kate Blagojevic, head of climate at Greenpeace UK, said Heartland were “clearly fanatics that should and will be ignored”.

“This gang of climate deniers pipe up every year but they bring absolutely nothing to the debate and have nothing to offer anyone except other fantasists,” she added. “The truth is they lost a long time ago.”

Harvard University's Dr Geoffrey Supran, an expert in climate denial, told Scotland on Sunday that Heartland did the "dirty work" of fossil fuel firms. Picture: Harvard University

Mr Taylor accused Greenpeace of lying as “frequently as the rest of us breathe,” and dismissed Ms Church and Dr Supran’s remarks as “ad hominem, vitriolic and juvenile”.

Controversial former Scottish UKIP president among speakers

It comes as Heartland is preparing to stage a separate conference in Las Vegas in an attempt to “set the agenda” before COP26. The International Conference on Climate Change, billed as a “fight for climate realism over climate socialism,” begins this Friday.

Those lined up to speak include Christopher Monckton, a former deputy leader and Scottish president of UKIP. He topped the party’s regional list for Mid Scotland and Fife at the 2011 Holyrood election. It commanded a 1.1 per cent share of the vote.

The 69-year-old, who has a Pitlochry-based environmental consultancy, has occupied the fringes of the climate debate for years. He once described it as “the biggest fraud in history,” and warned that efforts to tackle the “non-problem” of man-made climate change will lead to a “global totalitarian tyranny”.

Other speakers include Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the climate sceptic group founded by former Conservative chancellor, Lord Lawson, and William Happer, a former advisor to the Trump White House who compared the “demonisation” of carbon dioxide to the “demonisation of poor Jews under Hitler”.

Jeremiah Bohr, associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, who has studied organised climate change denial, said: “In my own view, Heartland conducts such events because they want to create enough confusion and doubt in public debate to provide cover for politicians looking to delay or obstruct proactive climate mitigation.”

Environmental sociologist Dr Riley Dunlap, professor emeritus at Oklahoma State University and an expert in climate change denial, said Heartland initially focused on discrediting the health threats of second-hand smoke, but switched to spreading “misinformation” about global warming.

He explained: “It promotes what might be called hardcore denial, challenging the three well-established findings of contemporary climate science: the earth is warming, it is due primarily to human activities, and it is having negative impacts for humans and the entire global ecosystem.”

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