James Taylor works for the Heartland Institute, a hard-right think tank funded by oil companies, carbon polluters, and other rich robber barons who pay them to promote fake science that supposedly debunks climate change. Heartland's pay-for-play shtick is well documented and so simple a child could understand what it's up to.
So why does Florida International University plan to bring Taylor in to speak during a climate-change debate at a global-warming conference in Miami Beach next week? The oil-funded attorney is so toxic that one of Miami's most respected meteorologists declined to participate in the event.
"I refused to moderate the so-called 'keynote conversation,'" NBC 6's John Morales said on Twitter. "Instead, I'm moderating a #sealevelrise panel the next day, and countering the misinformation by training students on the scientific method and False Balance in journalism. I will have a very very recent example."
The FIU School of Communication, Architecture, and the Arts (CARTA) still lists Taylor as one of the featured speakers at CARTA's 2018 Journalists & Editors Workshop on Climate Change in the Americas, scheduled to be held next Tuesday and Wednesday at the university's Miami Beach Urban Studios on Lincoln Road. FIU bills the event as a two-day "forum for journalists, scholars
Because this year's theme is global warming, speakers include local climatologists, meteorologists, and investigative journalists — as well as Taylor, who by all accounts seems to just be getting paid by rich polluters to spout scientifically inaccurate drivel. Taylor will take part in a so-called debate on the merits of climate change with Greg Hamra of the Citizens' Climate Lobby, a nonprofit advocacy group backed by noted climate scientists such as former NASA researcher James Hansen.
New Times has asked FIU (which is otherwise neck-deep in bad PR from last week's bridge collapse) what motivated the school to invite Taylor to Miami Beach. The university hasn't responded yet. But regardless, any debate that includes someone paid to represent carbon polluters using joke science does not seem to be much of a real debate at all.
Morales blasted the school for inviting Taylor. Instead of helping Heartland perpetuate disproven theories, Morales says he'll present a relevant talk called Media Complicity in Climate Disinformation: Differentiating Between Journalistic Training and the Scientific Method.
The Heartland Institute's tactics would be hilarious if they weren't working to help kill us all. Heartland was infamously paid by major cigarette companies, including tobacco giant Philip Morris, to run ads and misinformation campaigns throughout the 1990s casting doubt on the claim that cigarettes cause cancer. Heartland has been headed by Joseph Bast since its inception in 1984. Before peddling climate-change nonsense, Bast was writing columns such as 1998's "Five Lies About Tobacco," which included the nonsense claim that "smoking in moderation has few, if any, adverse health effects" and compared the dangers of smoking "too much" to the dangers of drinking "too much" water or eating "too much" salt.
Having been embarrassed over its support for tobacco companies, Heartland simply moved on to climate denial using the same tactics — and vast swaths of the American populace barely even noticed. Over the years, Heartland has taken cash from ExxonMobil, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, and the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which all owe their fortunes to oil and gas profits.
In 2012, the environmentalist website DeSmog Blog, which chronicles global-warming science and the exploits of climate deniers, received a massive leak of internal Heartland Institute documents, which showed that Heartland's main strategy was to cultivate donations from rich people to fund climate-denial science. A leaked document titled "Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy" mentioned James Taylor by name and noted he was an influential voice for fighting what Heartland calls "warmists":
Heartland plays an important role in climate communications, especially through our in-house experts (e.g., Taylor) through his Forbes blog and related high profile outlets, our conferences, and through coordination with external networks (such as WUWT and other groups capable of rapidly mobilizing responses to new scientific findings, news stories, or unfavorable blog posts). Efforts at places such as Forbes are especially important now that they have begun to allow high profile climate scientists (such as Gleick) to post warmist science essays that counter our own. This influential audience has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out.
Records show the vast majority of Heartland's anti-climate-science funding comes from a single "anonymous" donor, who
He and Heartland are featured in the 2014 documentary Merchants of Doubt, which traces how the same pro-tobacco shills now use their techniques to cast doubt on climate science.
In reality, there isn't actually much debate on whether carbon pollution causes the Earth to warm. Scientists are debating a whole host of important and interesting topics, such as how much the planet is expected to warm, how fast that might happen, and how to best mitigate those issues. But virtually all respected climatologists agree that carbon emissions are heating the Earth to an unnatural and unsafe degree.
Naturally, local environmentalists are none too pleased that a university-sponsored event is hosting anyone from Heartland.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.