Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Tina Casey headshot

Tobacco Lobbyists Attempt to School Pope Francis On Climate Change


The influential U.S. organization Heartland Institute, better known for its longtime advocacy on behalf of the tobacco industry, has announced that it is sending "real scientists" to advise Pope Francis on climate change. If you were impressed -- and surprised -- that this notoriously misinformative lobbying group got face-time with the Holy Father, guess again. Heartland's latest press release is headed, "Heartland Institute Heads to Rome to Advise Pope Francis on Climate Policy," but read down a few lines and you'll see all these "real scientists" will be staged at a public event "just outside" the Vatican.

That little dance around the truth neatly sums up Heartland's winning strategy on both tobacco and climate issues, so let's take a closer look at some of those "real scientists."

Real scientists to advise Pope Francis on climate change -- not

Since Heartland is so jazzed about its real scientists, we followed the links to its "Vatican Environment Workshop" to see if we could spot any familiar faces.

We stalled out there, but a couple of seconds on Google brought us to Climatedepot.com, where site publisher Marc Morano was happy to inform us that he will be part of a "high level skeptical delegation with the Heartland Institute, traveling to Rome to offer alternative voices to the Vatican and Pope Francis on global warming."

To be honest, we're assuming that Morano is not one of the real scientists, mainly because he has no professional credentials in any scientific field. According to our friends over at SourcewatchMorano has a background as a reporter specializing in climate change denial, later going on to work for Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, a noted supporter of fossil fuel interests.

So, moving on to the real scientists that Morano lists, there's Hal Doiron, a retired NASA scientist who has no background in climate research, though he did some important work on the Space Shuttle design.

It took us a while to track down "Physicist Dr. Tom Sheahan." We can't be 100 percent certain, but that could be the same Thomas P. Sheahan who joined 99 other people back in 2008 to sign an open letter to President Barack Obama asserting that "the case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated."

The letter was published in newspaper advertisements paid for by the Cato Institute. We bring that up not only because the organization is heavily funded by the Koch brothers, but also because of Cato's long time connection to tobacco advocacy.

Helpfully, Morano's link for Sheahan brought us back around to Heartland's website, where under a slightly different spelling (Sheahen), he is listed as a "professional physicist and energy expert." There you'll find an impressive array of affiliations, including a fairly recent stint as an analyst with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Systems Integration Office. Take a look at the Heartland bio and see if you can spot any experience in climate science -- we couldn't.

Of the other real scientists cited by Morano, Christopher Monckton (aka Lord Monckton) is probably the most familiar on the climate denial circuit, partly through his affiliation with a group called Friends of Science.

Predictably, Monckton's science credentials are somewhat lacking, particularly in the field of climatology.

Taking climate change seriously

We could go on, but this short list of names underscores Heartland's basic strategy. Rather than addressing climate science on its own turf, Heartland goes about lumping various scientific fields together with journalism and politics, and churning them out under the label "real scientists."

The overall effect is to reduce climate science to a footnote, as if it is not a serious discipline at all -- after all, anyone who has anything to say about climate change is a "real scientist," regardless of whether or not they know what they're talking about.

Once you've leveled the playing field down to the lowest level of professional qualifications, anything goes.

Photo credit: Vatican Stairs by Vicente Villamón via flickr.com, creative commons license.

Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

Read more stories by Tina Casey

More stories from Energy & Environment