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General Motors Decides Climate Change Is Real, Pulls Support From Heartland Institute

Posted: 03/30/2012 11:33 am Updated: 03/30/2012 5:41 pm

After getting called out by an environmental group, General Motors has pulled support from the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based nonprofit well-known for attacking the science behind global warming and climate change.

The automaker told the Heartland Institute last week that it won't be making further donations, spokesman Greg Martin said. At a speech earlier this month, GM CEO Dan Akerson said his company is running its business under the assumption that climate change is real.

"We applaud GM's decision and the message it sends -- that it is no longer acceptable for corporations to promote the denial of climate change and that support for an organization like Heartland is not in line with GM's values," said Daniel Souweine, campaign director for Forecast the Facts, a group that urges meteorologists to talk more openly about climate change.

Internal documents leaked in February showed that the General Motors Foundation -- which the automaker runs separately from its business -- donated to the institute $15,000 in 2010 and again in 2011, with another $15,000 expected to be gifted this year.

Heartland, which identifies itself as a free-market think tank, has questioned the ideas on global warming through its newsletters, web site and associated scientists. Last year, the tagline for its annual conference on the subject was "Global Warming: Was It Ever Really a Crisis?"

Joseph Bast, president of The Heartland Institute, said GM had been a Heartland supporter for 20 years. "We regret the loss of their support, particularly since it was prompted by false claims contained in a fake memo circulated by disgraced climate scientist Peter Gleick," he said in a statement. "We once again respectfully ask liberal advocacy groups such as Huffington Post, the Center for American Progress, 350.org and Greenpeace to stop attacking scientists who question the theory of man-made global warming and corporations and foundations that are willing to fund open debate on this important public policy issue."

The Heartland Institute said the internal documents were stolen by someone posing as a member of the board, who asked for the material to be sent to a new email account. Since then, Peter Gleick, president and co-founder of climate research group the Pacific Institute, has confessed to the stunt and noted that he regrets his actions.

The bulk of Heartland's funding comes from one anonymous donor, who has given the group $11 million since 2007.

Nonprofit groups are not legally obligated to reveal their donors. Previously Heartland was transparent about its funding, even posting a list of contributors on its website, but removed it in 2004.

"Critics who couldn't or wouldn't engage in fair debate over our ideas found the donor list a convenient place to find the names of unpopular companies or foundations, which they used in ad hominem attacks against us," institute representatives wrote after taking down the list. "After much deliberation and with some regret, we now keep confidential the identities of all our donors."

GM was not the only automaker to fund the Heartland Institute: Ford and Chrysler also contributed to it in the past. Ford and Chrysler told The Huffington Post that they had stopped funding the organization over the past decade, but neither automaker had records detailing reasons for pulling that support.

Greenpeace has pressured companies to stop funding Heartland, said Kert Davies, Greenpeace's research director. "Their brand of intervention on the climate discussion, bending the information, is noxious," he said. "GM doesn't want to be associated with this kind of nonsense on climate change, which is great."

Jamie Henn of 350.org said Heartland has been spreading misinformation to confuse people.

The Center for American Progress did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This story has been updated to include comments from the Heartland Institute, Greenpeace and 350.org, as well as details about the role of the Pacific Institute's Peter Gleick in obtaining institute materials.

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