On Thursday, the Heartland Institute placed a playful digital billboard to the suburbs of Chicago.
They also wrote down an explanation. People such as Ross McKitrick protested and the billboard was removed within 24 hours.
Was the billboard right when it comes to the truth of the content? The ability to promote the think tank? And the ability to shift the society's discourse and intellectual atmosphere in a desirable direction? I think that the answer to all these questions are closer to Yes than No.
First of all, it is true that the Unabomber still believes that global warming is a problem. He's serving his life sentence.
When their experiment was getting started, the Heartland Institute was thinking about a few more people who should be at future billboards of this kind: Charles Manson, a mass murderer, Fidel Castro, a tyrant, Osama bin Laden, the late emperor of all terrorists, and James Lee who took hostages in the Discovery Channel two years ago.
This collection of villains is far from complete and it already suggests something. Correct me if I am wrong but I think that Anders Breivik is the only "almost peer" of those people who is a staunch global warming skeptic. If you realize that the numbers of alarmists and skeptics in the world are comparable, you must agree that the alarmists are hugely overrepresented among the villains. In some sense, I feel some satisfaction that Breivik has changed the image of skeptics or rightwingers as defenseless losers who are going to be whipped off the surface of the globe.
So I don't think that the billboard is correct just when it comes to the particular anecdotal statement, namely that the Unabomber is a global warming alarmist. The billboard is right even when it comes to the statement it is making in between the lines, and I think it does, namely that the global warming alarmists are significantly correlated with dangerous, ideologically driven fanatics. Feel free to question or correct my statistics but they seem waterproof. Before you do so, you may want to try the quiz to find out whether you may distinguish Gore's and Unabomber's views. Most people can't. Or search for greenhouse effect in Unabomber's manifesto; he was 10+ years ahead of Gore and achieved a greater visibility but someone else was given the peace Nobel prize for this "achievement" of bringing visibility to the AGW concerns.
The criminals in the list are a tip of an iceberg. Of course that a general alarmist who is your friend or family member isn't quite like them. But that doesn't mean that the tip of the iceberg isn't real or isn't important. It is both real and important. In similar movements, such extreme tips of icebergs usually are important. Adolf Hitler was also "just a tip of an iceberg" but he was pretty important in Germany of the 1930s and 1940s. Even when you study less bloody layers of the global warming movement, you will identify lots of aggressive behavior, bullying, threats, attacks against skeptics, their careers, their basic human rights, and so on. Maybe Ross McKitrick has never experienced this great injustice but I have and I know it's damn real.
If someone suggests that the global warming skeptics don't have the credentials to point out that they're the more peaceful, coolheaded side of the climatic ideological conflict, he or she is simply wrong.
The second point I want to make is that think tanks such as the Heartland Institute are doing quite some serious work but they still enjoy some kind of fringe status but that's not because of playful billboards such as this one. It's because they're still viewed as some "commercial sort of intellectuals" who don't affect anything and who have nothing to say to millions of more ordinary people.
It seems totally sensible to me that a billboard they locate near Chicago is provocative and doesn't seem like a waste of time, space, and money. As I said, the narrow message conveyed by the billboard is true and as long as you don't generalize the message too far or too naively, even the broader message on the billboard is true. And people may just see it.
By using a provocative billboard, the Heartland Institute may become more visible among the folks and in my opinion, it should try to become more visible because it is not visible enough.
Muscles against muscles
Mahatma Gandhi would choose non-violent resistance all the time but it just doesn't work. When you're facing an aggressive clan of folks who want to beat you and bury you in the soil, you simply have to use some at least remotely comparable tools if you want to claim that you have done something to stop them from winning. The purely dovish attitude simply doesn't work.
When you discuss the murderers we started with, they had to be stopped by policemen, soldiers, or other people with weapons. It can't be otherwise. Vowing that you will remain a dove at all times means that you surrender.
Addressing Ross' letter
Ross is saying lots of things that I simply disagree with. For example, the billboard
hands your opponents a huge stick to beat you with.I don't think that such a stick may work. Especially after Peter Gleick's terrorist attack against the Heartland Institute, the Institute simply has a capital it may reinvest in this way. If an alarmist points out that the Heartland Institute got combative, he or she immediately opens the debate about similar methods. And because alarmists have used many more, much less justified comparisons of this kind or threats – comparisons to the Holocaust deniers, Nuremberg trials, exploding skeptical children under No Pressure, burning of skeptics' houses, and dozens of other examples I may tell you but you probably know them – the skeptics are bound to benefit from such discussions.
They are simply the more human side in this story and the more frequently people discuss the humanity and methods used in promoting a point of view, the more comprehensible to the people it will become that the alarmists are the worse ones here. So if an alarmist used the question how many playful and tough messages are being spread, it's a stick that will beat his own buttocks.
Any public sympathy you had built up as a result of the Gleick fiasco will be lost–and more besides–as a result of such a campaign.I don't think this is the Americans' way to calibrate sympathies. Just watch any Hollywood movie. The greatest sympathies in the hero-vs-villain movies don't go to the folks who are just being beaten and silently suffer, implicitly suggesting that this is how the things should be. It goes to those who decide to fight the evil actively.
It's different from the Cinderella in a fairy-tale. She's just being harassed, she doesn't do anything against it, but miraculously enough, she is rewarded at the end. But is this the right educational message for the children? (We had this discussion with my sister some months ago.) I am inclined to agree with her that the movies in which the heroes decide to fight against the evil that is trying to harm them are better examples for life.
The fact that you need a lengthy webpage to explain the thinking behind the billboards proves that your messaging failed. Nobody is going to read your explanation anyway.I am sure that the Heartland Institute didn't expect everyone who sees the billboard to Google for the supplementary material that explains all the background. ;-) And such a disciplined attitude of drivers near Chicago isn't needed, anyway.
But they may have expected folks like Ross McKitrick to read it and I am afraid that he hasn't – which is not necessarily Heartland's fault. It's normal that not everything can be squeezed to a billboard and people and institutions feel that they have more things to say. The idea that "messaging has failed" just because someone offers some extra supplementary material seems like pure propaganda to me. I don't think that Ross has any evidence that this is the right interpretation of the existence of the supplementary material. When I see a billboard promoting a product, of course that there's always some extra relevant information that didn't make it to the billboard! Its existence doesn't give Ross any justification for a criticism.
All they will take away is the message on the signs themselves, and it’s a truly objectionable message.Climate alarmists may object to it because they may find it inconvenient but what's more important is that the message is true, as discussed at the beginning.
You cannot simultaneously say that you want to promote a debate while equating the other side to terrorists and mass murderers.I think that this sentence is a misinterpretation of the debate that the Heartland Institute wants to promote. As the lists of attendants of the Heartland conferences show, they are trying to promote a debate between sensible people and they simply cannot be "believers" in this particular paradigm because a "belief", especially in a nonsensical conspiracy theory, makes one prejudiced. The people who are debating this issue at the Heartland conferences have different opinions about many things but none of them is a "believer" in the same sense as the Unabomber.
You can't really debate people who have the same attitudes to these questions as the Unabomber. So if someone identifies with the Unabomber – if he's acting as the wounded goose who makes the loudest noise, or whatever is the English version of this proverb – when it comes to the attitude to the global warming, he just identifies with him. It's not the Heartland's fault; it's the alarmist's own decision. But such people cannot be "debated". A decade or two of unsuccessful attempts to "debate" such folks should be enough for you to see that it's impossible. These people want to destroy us and the modern capitalist industrial society, not to "debate", and the rest of us needs to stop them, not to "debate" them.
But I can’t be associated with those billboards.Ross has, of course, the right to dislike a billboard or ask someone to remove it which he has successfully done. But I don't think all of us should listen to those who try to make us befriend the fearmongers. And if you ask me who has maximally helped to shift the atmosphere surrounding the global warming issue in the right direction during the recent 5 years or so, well, I think that it was the ClimateGate 2009 hacker or whistleblower who has shown that the alarmist team players are villains in a similar sense as the Unabomber. The hacker or whistleblower didn't harm the skeptics' name, quite on the contrary, because he or she has shown the truth. In a simpler way, that's what the billboard was doing as well.
If we continue to remove any sign of a muscle developed to fight the climate fearmongers, we will de facto be surrendering and dissolving in the vitriolic ocean of climate alarmism that is determined to harm the civilization as we know it. We shouldn't do it and we should make everyone clear that what we're thinking is legitimate and people shouldn't be afraid to think in the same way. And make no doubt about it, people are still afraid to freely express their opinions because they feel that the society is being controlled by the alarmists. The fact that the Unabomber is a climate alarmist may be inconvenient but it's still a fact and if the society – including Ross – develops speech codes in which it's not allowed to state such simple facts, there can only be one result: the people who know the truth about related issues will be buried in the soil and all the liars will be increasingly successful in drowning the society in the propaganda and lies, harming your business, and robbing your money.
And that's the memo.
Let me add some comments from Climate Audit that I agree with:
MarkR: Playing nice with radicals is a losing strategy.Another reader disagrees and complains:
Alinskyites are imposing their rules on your game:
Rule 4: Make opponents live up to their own book of rules. “You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”
Alinskyites fear being caricatured and ridiculed, because they know it works:
Rule 5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.
Clt510: MarkR: Playing nice with radicals is a losing strategy.It's a similar complaint as if you dislike that the U.S. Army fighting the Wehrmacht was also using weapons, so they were the same villains. A certain conflict simply demands a certain collection of weapons. One may use them in a different mix but one can't avoid them altogether. Of course that at the end, the "message" and the "goals" are the only invariant difference between the two sides of this conflict. The means to achieve these goals are pretty much dictated by the laws of sociology – certain attitudes such as inaction simply don't work.
Oddly that’s what the over-the-top climate change advocates say too.
So there’s no difference between either of your groups? Different message, same tactics, means there’s no real difference. Just a bunch of sleazy salesmen running a pitch.
I also completely agreed with Ivan's remark:
Ivan: So, we should assume that Ross McKitrick would have declined any invitation by Greenpeace, “Concerned scientists” and pretty much any other radical environmentalist organization because they routinely compare climate realists with Holocaust deniers and argue that they should be persecuted for crimes against humanity? Or that mr McKitrick would have refused to come to Heartland conference if by any chance James Hansen, who many times compared skeptics with Nazis and called for their legal persecution, accepted the invitation which is routinely extended to him every year? Somehow, I doubt it.Exactly.
What is then the source of this strange, selective oversensitivity to strong messages and over-the-top statements? I hope that McKitrick would not explain this oversensitivity by saying that he goes to Heartland events because he agrees with their agenda, hence a greater moral responsibility for their behavior than for say, Greenpace’s or Hansen’s?
Ross – and many others – are remarkably oversensitive when it comes to hypothetical "sins" that happened to be "committed" by the skeptics. On one hand, he wants a debate with the likes of Hansen who routinely compare skeptics to the Nazis (and other people who do other things: I don't want to enumerate them, it's a huge number). While Ross doesn't write e-mails to NASA to do something against these proclamations by those whom he wants to debate, he protests against a true billboard by the skeptics – because it could hurt the debate with Hansen et al.
I just find it unacceptable. If the alarmists are allowed to do certain things and the skeptics are not, it's just wrong and if Ross is helping to maintain these selective double standards, then he is a part of the problem. The right to point out that the Unambomber is a global warming fanatic and many other alarmists are motivated by similar emotions isn't an optional luxury. It's a basic human right – and a necessity of a sort – and Ross wants others to be stripped of this right.
Finally, GogogoStopSTOP has been harsher towards Ross and Steve:
GogogoStopSTOP: McKitrick & McIntyre, you are way off base taking your criticisms into the public arena. You sound like two jilted high school girls. Enough with the “tcsh, tcsh!”Australian geologist and prominent climate skeptic Bob Carter said...
And... your verbiage is written like an old lawyer... getting paid by the word. Going on & on & on! Lighten up, give it a break. Your so holy, so upright! And, it fazed me that the billboard EXACTLY portrayed the warmists for what they are. Frightening demigods that will turn into eco-terrorists given half a chance.
... that while he would have cautioned against such a provocative billboard if asked, he now felt that advice would have been wrong.
He said the reaction to the ad from the "the usual 'liberal' media sources" had been "amazing, immediate and over-the-top", and that he would still speak at the conference.
"The complete failure of the liberal media to apprise their own hypocrisy on the issue is simply amazing," he told The Age.
"The mainstream media resolutely ignore the many press releases from Heartland... that are concerned with sober assessments of the science of climate change, are perfectly happy to bandy around words like deniers, criminals and worse as applied to independent scientists, yet have a fainting fit when someone applies that technique to their own beliefs."