What’s it Like to Attend a Climate Denial Conference? A Minute-by-Minute Rundown

“The Day of Examining the Data” kicked off with a press conference. Here’s how it went down.

Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall at a climate change denier conference? On Monday, the Heartland Institute, the conservative think tank responsible for stunts like this unabomber billboard, brought together the shrinking and increasingly irrelevant community of deniers in Paris, just a few miles from the conference where serious people are trying to protect our future.

“The Day of Examining the Data” kicked off with a press conference. Here’s how it went down.

9:00 a.m. I swing around to get a good look at the room, and a man says to me, “Caught you. You’re trying to take my picture.” I was not, but apparently my checked shirt has blown my climate-believer cover.

Speaking of blowing covers, it’s worth noting that Heartland proudly crowd-funded this conference. It wasn’t much of a crowd, though. Nearly half of the $53,000 raised at the time of this writing came from just four anonymous donors, and an additional $10,000 came from financier David Herro.

9:10 James Taylor (not the James Taylor) of the Heartland Institute notes that conference rooms at the Paris climate conference rarely have more than 10 people, “unless Al Gore is speaking.” He congratulates his 35 attendees on having “already surpassed the impact of the COP talks.”

9:12 It’s freezing in here. Are they trying to make a point?

9:13 While David Rothbard of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow is talking about his devotion to helping poor children in sub-Saharan Africa, protesters of Heartland who’ve gathered outside the room interrupt. There appear to be more protesters outside the room than participants in the room. Congratulations, protesters, you’ve already made a greater impact than the Heartland Institute.

Security shuts the door.

9:15 Rothbard accuses the protesters of trying to shut down legitimate debate. A man in the back of the room shouts, “Legitimate debate between climate denial and death?” Rothbard ignores him, ticking off a list of things he’s thankful for. “Are you thankful that 97 percent of the scientific community agrees about climate change?” asks the man in the back. A security guard gives him a stern talking to, but allows him to stay.

9:17 I rub my hands together to keep warm.

9:18 Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute says, “Thank god for the Heartland Institute for organizing at least one event” for dissenters. “Thank god for rich, old, white men,” a female protester responds. I hope god gets sarcasm.

For the record, I count 35 people in the room: three white women (including a camera operator), disgraced astrophysicist/faux climatologist Willie Soon, and 31 white men (including me).

“The political left believes the way to win a debate is to silence the opposition,” says Ebell as security escorts his latest opponent from the room. The ejection reduces the female attendees to two (including the camera operator). A small scuffle ensues as the open door allows the protesters outside to take a step inside.

9:21 Uber (the German prefix, not the car service) climate change denier Marc Morano is there to promote his new movie. He promises the film will reveal a species that was once used as evidence that the climate was cooling and is now being used to prove it’s warming. He refuses to identify the animal. The suspense is almost too much.

9:23 “Save the millionaires,” shouts a protester inside the room.

9:24 The floor is open to questions. A reporter asks about donations from the fossil fuel industry. Morano counters that the Sierra Club also took money from fossil fuels, then alleges that “climate change believers want to call us criminals and lock us up.” I expect jackbooted thugs to burst through the door and cuff him, but after a minute or two I realize they are not coming.

9:25 Myron Ebell says, “When you have nothing to debate with, you try to demonize the funding of your opponents.” Willie Soon—demonized by The New York Times for violating the ethical guidelines of scientific journals and concealing the fact that he was funded by fossil fuel companies—agrees wholeheartedly.

9:28 Three women walk in.

9:30 James Taylor (again, not the James Taylor), claims he holds the moral high ground because he believes in freedom of thought, unlike mainstream climate change advocates. I look, but still no jackbooted thugs.

9:33 One of the women who just arrived turns out to be a protester. She asks about the 97 percent consensus among climate scientists. Morano snort-giggles. A climate change denier in the back tells the questioner that the fossil fuel industry is now funding climate change mitigation. When the woman tries to ask another funding question, an audience member shouts her down: “It’s called free speech, lady.” Yeah, lady. Shut up.

9:34 James Taylor (still not the James Taylor) cites a study of meteorologists (apparently this one) showing that many do not believe in man-made climate change. Calling the weathermen “climate scientists,” he has fallen for the classic weather-climate mix-up. Perhaps he’s gone to Carolina in his mind.

9:40 Ebell claims that “science is having a corrupting influence on politics.” That’s not a typo, though, yes, my fingers are beginning to freeze.

9:45 A reporter tries to ask a question once Ebell appears to have finished speaking. He tells her he is not, in fact, finished. He then demands that all questioners identify themselves from now on.

9:47 Rothbard claims the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change don’t want people to access the facts—they just tell us we have to take them at their word. I guess he forgot to read the references section of the IPCC report. That’s what all those tiny numbers are about.

9:49 A woman tries to ask a question. When she identifies herself as reporter from Vice, an older panelist looks confused. “HBO,” says Morano. The panel sighs in disgust, presumably because of the sometimes gratuitous nudity in Game of Thrones.

9:50 Morano tells the reporter that Vice is “one of the most embarrassing scientific representations I have ever seen.” A protester shouts, “Coming from a former employee of Rush Limbaugh.” He forgot to mention that Morano was also involved in the swift-boating of John Kerry (who arrived in Paris today but was presumably too busy fighting climate change to meet up with his old pal Marc).

The same protester continues to speak, referring to some prepared notes, when a horrified audience member asks, “Why can’t you speak without reading?” Reading from a script is so Obama.

The protester calls the panel “assholes.” When they blanch at his language, he apologizes.

9:55 Jim Lakely, the communications director of Heartland, promises, “If the science ever takes us in another direction, we will be the first to go there.” Well, maybe not the first. Ninety-seven percent of climatologists will be there to help with his luggage when he arrives.

10:00 A U.S. military veteran asks about the idea that climate change has caused conflict. Morano giggle-snorts again. Panelist and former environmentalist Patrick Moore asks rhetorically, “Do you really think the terrorists in Paris were affected by a drought in Syria?” Worried that the question wasn’t rhetorical enough, he adds, “It’s completely ridiculous.” He then notes that the climate has been changing for millennia, not mentioning that many of those changes led to wars.

Moore then claims that billionaire investor Warren Buffett believes that climate change is not a risk. “Google it,” he adds. That’s a mistake, because when you Google it, you find out that Buffett was only talking about the next three to five years. Damn Google.

10:08 The press conference comes to a close. Myron Ebell approaches a man standing next to me, noting in hushed tones, “I think if you get a couple of minutes of shouting for the camera that’s good enough.” I guess Ebell doesn’t know that climate change believers wear checked shirts.

This post first appeared in OnEarth.

By Brian Palmer

Palmer covers daily environmental news for Earthwire. His science writing has appeared in Slate, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and many other publications.