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10,000 GM Customers Tell Auto Giant: Stop Funding Climate Deniers

- Common Dreams staff

General Motors, a company that has made strides to lower the carbon footprint of driving, is taking heat from 10,000 of its customers for a donation its charitable foundation made to an institute that casts doubt on climate science, according to a report from McClatchy.

The outrage stems from a leaked internal document from the rightwing Heartland Institute that was made public last month. A detailed strategy and funding memorandum, the document showed that GM had given the group $30,000 since 2010. 

The campaign to press GM on their funding of a group well known for its campaign to deny global warming was organized by Forecast the Facts, an public advocacy group that has historically aimed to cast light on how meteorologists coverage of severe weather and climate change impacts public perceptions of how those phenomenon are related to man-made global warming. 

The group set up a page on their website and has been posting short expressions of outrage by current and former GM customers upset by the revelations. A couple samples include:

"You're currently synonymous with the eco-friendly Chevy Volt, therefore this revelation will send a mixed message that will do maximum damage to your PR at the height of all the press you're getting for your comeback. Knock it off now, or I'm never buying another GM vehicle, even an electric." -Martin, Northville, MI

"My roots with G.M. go way back to my grandfather, Martin Menton, working for Fisher Body in the old day, & his sons followed suit, joining General Motors in their design dept., so what G.M. does is always important to me for personal reasons and as a tax payer, for economic reasons. Let's not give the anti-climate people any encouragement by contributing to their organizations! Be careful with our money & your reputation." -Cinthia, Fountain Hills, AZ

"There's very little to be lost if you believe that man has a part in global warming and it turns out down the road the he deoesn't. But being determined that global warming is a hoax and then finding out when it's too late you're wrong, will only bring disaster to you and our planet. One would think that a company like GM would be looking to the future and would be doing everything it can to ensure that the future even comes; not supporting an organization which tells you to close your eyes and pretend there's no danger that may make the future be tomorrow." -Alayna, Deer Isle, ME

According to McClatchy:

Many companies support the Heartland Institute, but Forecast the Facts focused on GM because it got taxpayers' dollars in the auto bailout, and "people really care about GM and what it stands for in American society and in the American economy," said the group's campaign director, Daniel Souweine. No taxpayer dollars went from the GM Foundation to Heartland, however.

The foundation's $15,000 annual gift in 2010, repeated in 2011, went to the Heartland Institute's general funds, not its climate program, said GM spokeswoman Carolyn Markey. Heartland also takes a free-market approach to other areas, including education, insurance and health care.

Sarah Laskow, at Grist.org, also reported on this story and was subsequently contacted by media personnel from GM. She writes:

GM got in touch to let us know that the company does not support Heartland’s position on climate change and that “the donation through GM Foundation was designated to general funds not specifically toward climate related matters.” Also that “Through the GM Foundation, we associate with and provide donations to a variety of organizations. These also include organizations that strongly support the science behind climate change.” The examples: Ceres: the World Environment Center and Global Green.

So do with that what you will. It’s clear that GM is taking this negative attention seriously enough to put the PR people on the case. I’d note that general funding is often more valuable to nonprofit organizations than funding earmarked for specific projects. It gives organizations the flexibility to do whatever they want, which in Heartland’s case included promoting climate skepticism. If the GM Foundation didn’t support the organization’s position on climate change, they could have earmarked the funding to go to a program they did believe in.

McClatchy points out the long history of Heartland's climate denial and how completely detached it is from the reality presented by the world's leading scientists:

Heartland contends that global warming has stopped, a view that's contradicted by global data and reports from many scientists, including those at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA, for example, has reported that each of the last three decades has been warmer than the decade before.

Heartland, however, sees global warming as part of a "liberal political agenda," according to its website. It argues that warming rose mostly from natural causes and has stopped, and that the benefits of "moderate warming" will probably outweigh the costs. The organization plans to fund a K-12 curriculum saying that climate science is controversial.

Climate science research, however, overwhelmingly reports that continuing warming is driven mainly by human use of fossil fuels. One summary, from the National Academy of Sciences, said: "Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for — and in many cases is already affecting — a broad range of human and natural systems."

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