Yesterday's rally in Chicago against the Heartland Institute's climate pseudoscience conference went well.
Attendance was in the dozens rather than hundreds, but given what's been happening the last few days in Chicago that wasn't a great shock.
Among those who did show up, my dear alma mater, Chicago's tiny Shimer College, was especially well-represented, not only by the student members of the SMELT organization (which took the lead role in organizing the protest), but by many alumni as well.
Although the rally was titled "Turn Up the Heat on Climate Change Deniers," the primary goal was not to shame the actual participants in the conference -- whose participation is, after all, rather strong evidence that they are beyond shame -- but to shine a brighter light on Heartland's corporate donors.
Companies like Pfizer and Comcast spend a lot of money building and maintaining their brand images, and it's hard to imagine they're happy to have those brands dragged in the mud by Heartland's actions.
To be clear, these companies' reasons for supporting Heartland, by and large, have not had anything to do with Heartland's denialist work. Heartland specializes in made-to-order disinformation campaigns, and companies like Pfizer have donated to support projects specific to their sector. But wiser companies like Eli Lilly and Pepsico have already decided it's time to publicly cut their losses:
Pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly (LLY), BB&T Bank (BBT), and PepsiCo (PEP) have all confirmed that they will not continue funding the Heartland Institute, joining GM, State Farm, and numerous other leading corporations in deserting an organization that produces radical attacks on climate science and scientists. The defections come aftergrowing pressure from corporate accountability and environmental groups, which have collected more than 150,000 signatures on a petition saying:Speakers at the rally included representatives of Forecast the Facts, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, among others.
"All corporations should immediately pull their funding from the Heartland Institute in light of Heartland's ongoing and extreme support of climate change denial."
A perhaps less-welcome figure who joined the protest was fringe Democratic candidate Vermin Supreme. I hadn't previously been familiar with Mr. Supreme's work, and I can't say I'm especially a fan. But his interaction with the suit-clad trolls who shambled over from the Heartland conference around lunchtime was rather illuminating. It was as if Vermin Supreme and the Heartlanders had each finally found someone they could interact with on their level. Supreme's central argument -- "I have a boot on my head, therefore your argument is invalid" -- rather sounds like it could have been lifted from a Heartland blog post, and his characterization of his interlocutors -- "Lord Christopher Monckton is a TROLL!" -- was unquestionably spot on, if admittedly lacking in rhetorical finesse.
(After a while, mercifully, the left- and right-wing trolls went off together, leaving the adults alone again to talk among themselves.)
Inside the Hilton
We were stuck on the outside of the Hilton, of course -- what, you might ask, was going on inside? The Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg was there, and reported by blog and tweet on the events of the day:
Heartland reflects on its beating
Heartland's seventh climate conference, which runs until Wednesday, was a much diminished event, compared to earlier lavish gatherings which spilled out over several floors of a hotel in New York's Time Square, and attracted up to 800 followers.
The tables were set for 270 at this year's gala, featuring the Czech president and climate contrarian Václav Klaus, and there were well over 100 no-shows. In a further sign of Heartland's cash crunch, meals were not included in this year's conference package.
[T]his year's event had a sense of desperation. Speakers spoke about being "victimised" by "warmists" and "alarmists" – scientists and politicians who accept that carbon dioxide emissions from industry are a main driver of climate change.
Only three groups set up tables at the conference. The largest was staffed by Americans for Prosperity, the ultra-conservative organisation founded by the Koch oil billionaires.Video
Chants of the day:
Whose planet? Our planet!
What do want? Science! When do we want it? Now!
I'll confess I'm a bit of a "skeptic" myself on the value of street protests (plus I'm kind of lazy), and so it takes a lot to get me out there, even when the protests are the kind I can bring my dog to. But there was an unmistakably positive energy in the air yesterday, and some thousands of passing Chicagoans had their awareness raised about the corporate backers of the Heartland Institute. Names like "Pfizer," "Comcast" and "Microsoft" will mean something just a little different to them now than they did last week.
There is a long road ahead. Even if Heartland suffers a well-deserved collapse, that will be very far from a final victory for climate science against industry-backed denialism. And even if denialism itself were made as politically toxic as it is intellectually unsound, even that would be only the first step towards the effective global solutions that remain as elusive as ever.
But this was a good day.