With a simple statement on Tuesday, State Farm Insurance became the latest company to withdraw its support from the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think-tank which claims a “realist” position questioning that humans are responsible for climate change.
“State Farm is ending its association with the Heartland Institute. This is because of a recent billboard campaign launched by the Institute,” said the entirety of the statement, which ran on the State Farm Facebook page.
Also, just announced Wednesday, the United Services Automobile Association, an insurance and financial services company for military familes, has also withdrawn its support for Heartland.
The withdrawals are part of what has become a small-scale defection from the institute since it launched what it called an “experiment” in the form of a Maywood, Ill., billboard featuring a photo of convicted “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and the words, “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”
According to the Heartland Institute’s own press release explaining the billboard, the Unabomber image was only the first in a series to also feature Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson, Fidel Castro, James J. Lee (who took hostages at the Discovery Channel headquarters in 2010 and was slain by police) and “other global warming alarmists.”
“The most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists,” said Heartland’s president, Joseph Bast, in the press release. He then names the figures above, and adds, “The leaders of the global warming movement have one thing in common: They are willing to use force and fraud to advance their fringe theory.”
According to the latest polling conducted by Pew, Gallup, Angus-Reid, Yale and many others, believers in this “fringe theory” would include anywhere from 30% to 50% of Americans and an overwhelming majority of scientists across the globe – few of whom (if any) have ever aligned themselves with a self-described terrorist who killed three people and injured 23. The Unabomber billboard only appeared in Chicago and was up for 24 hours before being pulled due to the controversy.
Asked if the rest of the proposed billboard series were running, Heartland director of communications Jim Lakely said, “No. The other ones that we had teed up, we do not anticipate running those.”
The group is running billboards for its 7th International Conference on Climate Change in Chicago on May 21-23, featuring Czech President Vaclav Klaus, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and others.
Two speakers have withdrawn from the conference. Donna Laframboise, who recently authored a book critiquing the work of the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change, withdrew from that conference. On her blog, nofrakkingconsensus.org, she said her reputation had been “harmed,” adding, “Suddenly, we were all publicly linked to an organization that thinks it’s OK to equate people concerned about climate change with psychopaths.”
Lakely confirms that economist Ross McKitrick has now also withdrawn. In a letter sent to Heartland on Friday, he said, “You cannot simultaneously say that you want to promote a debate while equating the other side to terrorists and mass murderers.”
Heartland’s Washington-based Center on Finance, Insurance and Real Estate took the biggest hit, as insurers like State Farm withdrew support and staff have reportedly considered leaving. The unit, known by the acronym FIRE, had aggregated a unique coalition of interests seeking to reduce development on coastlines and in known flood plains and to reduce government subsidies in federal flood insurance. Environmentalists supported these efforts, and many of the companies involved also support efforts to fight climate change, which demonstrates the tricky issue-specific alliances that characterize legislative advocacy.
According to a story on the Environment and Energy website, however, the Assn. of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers was the first to pull out. The group had donated $125,000 to Heartland over the last two years. Other insurers are reportedly considering withdrawing funding, and State Farm was the latest. E&E reported that FIRE director Eli Lehrer was considering leaving Heartland, where he is a VP, but Lehrer declined to comment. Lakely said they had “no comment” on this matter, and that Heartland made a policy of not discussing its donors.
A report on insurance-industry website Property Casualty 360 also says that XL Group, Allied World Assurance and (according to an SNL Financial story) RenaissanceRe Holdings Ltd were also withdrawing support, and that the entire FIRE unit may split from Heartland in order to continue its work.
Other companies that have withdrawn support for the institute since the billboard went up last week include Diageo, one of the world’s largest beverage companies and parent to Guinness, Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker and Moet & Chandon. GM withdrew support for other reasons in March.
“We know that our billboard angered and disappointed many of Heartland’s friends and supporters, but we hope they understand what we were trying to do with this experiment,” said a statement from Heartland President Joseph Bast posted on the group’s website Friday. “We do not apologize for running the ad, and we will continue to experiment with ways to communicate the ‘realist’ message on the climate.”
Microsoft donated software worth $59,908 to Heartland in 2011, according to documents now known to have been acquired under false pretenses by climate change warrior and MacArthur grant recipient Peter Gleick. But on Friday, Microsoft distanced itself from Heartland with a statement on its blog that read, in part, “the Heartland Institute’s position on climate change is diametrically opposed to Microsoft’s position. And we completely disagree with the group’s inflammatory and distasteful advertising campaign.”
Asked if Heartland were damaged by the billboard, Lakely replied, “A lot of people seem to think so. As Joe Bast said in our statement, the billboard was intended to be provocative, and we expected the left to raise a stink about it. We were surprised that our friends and supporters were so put off by the billboard, and that’s why it was removed, out of respect for their opinions.”
[For the record, 9:30 p.m., May 9: An earlier version of this post had misspelled Jim Lakely in two places, and also misquoted the Kaczynski billboard. The breaking news about about USAA was added to this post after it was originally published.]