If you’ve been tracking energy and climate news on Twitter, you’re no doubt aware of the Heartland Institute’s major PR debacle last week. The Institute briefly ran a billboard ad campaign in Chicago that compared climate scientists—and anyone who is concerned about climate change—to the Unabomber. They also threatened additional bulletins featuring Charles Manson, Fidel Castro, and Osama bin Laden. Almost immediately, Heartland received a barrage of negative feedback, including complaints from some of its corporate sponsors, causing the Institute to pull the billboard in less than 24 hours. Along with companies that had already pulled their support of Heartland over the last few months—General Motors, AT&T, and the major beverage company that makes Smirnoff and Guinness—State Farm cut ties last night.
Sending a message
Before State Farm made its decision, members posted open letters to the company and sent emails to their agents. Here’s the email Fresh Energy’s executive director Michael Noble sent to his State Farm agent early yesterday.
I appreciate our long business relationship and the security and peace of mind you have given to me and my family since 1988. Perhaps I could find less expensive homeowner insurance or auto insurance from many competing companies, but I value your long service and the good name of State Farm.
However, I am writing today to express my strong concern for a sponsorship relationship that State Farm has with an unethical organization called the Heartland Institute, based in Chicago. State Farm’s support for this group enables them to play a reprehensible role on of using ad hominem attacks on people who are concerned about climate change.
Last week, the group initiated an advertising campaign equating concern for global warming with people such as Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), Charles Manson, Fidel Castro, and Osama bin Laden. Literally, in their press materials announcing this billboard campaign, the organization wrote:
“The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”
Really? The most prominent people concerned about climate change are murderers, tyrants, and madmen?
After 24 hours and a hugely negative reaction from around the world, the Heartland Institute ended the ad campaign, but sent out this message repeating all the ugly points of the billboard campaign, emphasizing “we do not apologize.”
The issue also has a very real connection to State Farm’s risk management and property insurance business. As you most likely are aware, climate change has been demonstrated to cause an increase in the frequency and intensity of droughts, wildfires, heat waves, severe rainfall, storm events, and flooding. According to financial experts, these types of disasters cost the property insurance industry many billions of dollars, and are therefore forcing up costs for your consumers, like me.
It is unconscionable that State Farm would finance an extreme advocacy group that is driving up insurance costs with its long track record of obfuscation and misinformation. In my judgment, after monitoring this organization’s work and communications for a decade or more, its primary purpose is to thwart any positive response on climate change. Rather than ignoring or demonizing people who are concerned about climate change, we need to listen to them and respond, so communities can manage the changes that are unavoidable, and avoid the changes that are unmanageable.
With its stellar brand name and its commitment to loss prevention and safety, State Farm should not be allied with this organization or fund it in any way.
Please examine this news coverage of other insurance companies acting to end their support for Heartland. In addition, please review this open letter sent today to State Farm written by a professor of climate science, Scott Mandia.
I look forward to a formal response from State Farm within two weeks, and will check back on May 21 to see if there has been a favorable resolution of the matter.
Stand up for State Farm
Fresh Energy praises State Farm for taking a stand on the extreme propaganda, hatefulness, and ignorance of the Heartland Institute’s billboard campaign.
Want to show your support of State Farm’s decision? Check out the announcement State Farm made on its Facebook page and add your own comment of support!
Photo: Heartland Institute