The Heartland Institute is a big daddy in climate change denialism and recently became a more household name thanks to a trove of documents that were exposed on DeSmogBlog. The documents purport to be leaked internal memos that detail the ways the institute is funded and disseminates its "nothing to see here, folks" message. The Institute started off decades ago when it helped cigarette company Phillip Morris minimize the association between smoking and cancer, and there have been many questions about its integrity since then.

According to the documents, which were leaked by the Pacific Institute's Peter Gleick, there is only one connection between a car company and Heartland, and even that relationship is not as direct or damaging as it could be. It was a $15,000 donation made in 2011 by the General Motors Foundation ( GM's charitable arm that "has donated more than $350 million to send students to college, educate parents on how to keep children safe in and around vehicles, promote diversity and support vital non-profit organizations") to Heartland's SRN, with the same amount expected in 2012 (see page 23 of this PDF). SRN here means Heartland's School Reform News publication, which shares news about charter schools, vouchers and the like. In short, nothing directly about climate change denialism.

The connection is still a slippery slope and it would be in GM's better public image interests not to be associated in any way with the Heartland Institute. To this end, Forecast The Facts is collecting signatures to demand GM stop funding any part of the Heartland Institute. The petition, which FTF claims has 20,000 signatures, including 10,000 from GM vehicle owners, calls out GM for "hypocrisy on climate change." Daniel Souweine, Forecast the Facts campaign director, said in a statement that:

Supporting the Heartland Institute stands in direct contradiction to GM's public stance on climate change and its effort to reinvent itself around cars like the Chevy Volt. When taxpayers bailed out GM, this is not where they were expecting their money to go.

FTF's petition can be found here. The first 20,000 names were sent to GM, but FTF says the automaker has not yet responded. Given FTF's proposed plan to start making this issue more public in the coming weeks, we don't expect GM to stay silent for long.
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More than 10,000 GM Owners Demand Company Pull Its Support from Heartland Institute
Over 20,000 Join Campaign against GM Hypocrisy on Climate Change

San Francisco, CA – More than 10,000 current and former owners of General Motors vehicles are calling on the company to pull its financial support from the Heartland Institute, a leader in efforts to deny the science behind climate change. The campaign coordinated by Forecast the Facts comes in response to leaked documents that revealed a host of major corporations funding Heartland.

"Supporting the Heartland Institute stands in direct contradiction to GM's public stance on climate change and its effort to reinvent itself around cars like the ChevyVolt," said Daniel Souweine, Forecast the Facts campaign director. "When taxpayers bailed out GM, this is not where they were expecting their money to go."

Heartland has long been a key cog in the climate change denial machine. They hold a regular conference of leading climate change deniers, publish reports questioning the broad scientific consensus, and provide direct funding to prominent deniers. The leaked documents also unveil their intention to insert climatechange denial into American classrooms through curricula that positions climate change as "a major scientific controversy." Prior to their climate change work, Heartland worked closely with tobacco company Phillip Morris to question links between secondhand smoke and cancer.

The petition drive around GM began two weeks ago, immediately after the leaked documents were published. On Wednesday, Forecast the Facts sent the first 20,000 signatures to General Motors CEO Daniel Akerson and has also posted selected comments from GM owners online here: General Motors has yet to respond, but a spokesman did previously defend their support of Heartland, saying: "We support a variety or organizations that give careful and considerate thought to complex policy issues and Heartland is one of them."

The comments from GM owners reflect both their deep affinity for the company and their intense frustration that GM would provide support to a group like Heartland. For example, John C. of Ballston Spa, NY had this to say upon signing the petition: "I have been a Chevy fan from a very young age. I am now 61. My parents bought only Chevys and it has been my usual car of choice. I own a classic 74 Camaro LT. However your donation to the Heartland Institute, with its anti-science, pro-oil stance, has me angry. Change yourpolicy or I will never buy another GM auto."

In the coming weeks, Forecast the Facts will use a host of online and offline tactics to ensure that GM is well aware of the customer frustration their support of Heartland has caused.

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