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GM: Operating As If Climate Change Is Real

Written by Amy Gernon  |  03. April 2012

Last Wednesday, General Motors spokesperson Greg Martin confirmed that the Detriot-based auto manfacturer would no longer be funding the Heartland Institute, a “free-market think tank” that considers human-induced global warming to be junk science.  According to Martin, the announcement was made during a conversation between GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson and Greg Dalton of Climate One, a group that promotes dialoge on energy, the enviroment and the economy.  The exchange took place at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, where Akerson was asked about GM’s contribution to the Heartland Institute.  

“As Dan said at the Commonwealth Club, GM’s operating its business as if climate change is real,” Martin later said.  
 
GM had donated $15,000 to the Heartland Institute in 2010 and 2011, but according to a statement released by the Heartland Institute, GM has been supporting their work of publishing research against environmentalist regulation for the past 20 years.  The last two contributions were brought to public attention in February when Peter Gleick, a climate scientist and president of the Pacific Institute, as well as a MacArthur genius grant recipient, assumed a false identity to obtain funding documents from the Heartland Institute and sent them to various media outlets across the nation.  Aside from the fallback received by Gleick and the Heartland Institute, the release of information prompted a large response from GM customers and protesters at March 7 Climate One event at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco to press GM on its position.  
 
 
GM’s shift is a signal that American companies, in particular manufacturing-based companies and the auto industry, are accepting reports that climate change is not only occurring, but more importantly, that it is a result of human activity.  This is considered a huge breakthrough for climate scientists, especially at a time when rolling back environmental regulations, and restricting or completely eliminating the EPA's authority has become a mantra of the Republican party.  
 
Few reputable scientists challenge the idea behind climate change.  Last year, the most prominent climate change skeptic, Richard Muller, made headlines when his 2-year study of land temperatures determined that mainstream climate scientists were correct about the rising trend in global temperatures.  The reason Muller’s findings were so newsworthy was not because his findings were radically different from those of other scientists, but because he received $600,000 funding from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, run by the oil-magnate billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch.
 
Muller’s findings match studies previously released by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and NASA.  His study specifically focused on the two major criticisms by skeptics, whether or not weather stations were reliable, and whether or not cities, which create “heat islands” can skew temperature data, but not the cause of rising global temperatures.  Muller supported the skepticism of two years ago, but said after his study was released that “now we have confidence that the temperature rise that had previously been reported had been done without bias."  Muller’s research did not focus on the cause of climate change, which the overwhelming majority of climate scientists attribute to the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil.  
 
There is no direct link between Muller’s findings and GM’s decision to stop donating to the Heartland Institute.  It has been demonstrated by various models offered by the EPA and other climate scientists that increased release of carbon emissions, a byproduct of industrial manufacturing results (in other words, induced by human activity), and other greenhouse gases will continue to raise global temperatures at an elevated, unnatural rate.  Nevertheless, with Muller's findings and future projections based on the validity of  climate change, it would be impractical for an organization like GM to be involved in discussions about creating a clean energy future, as GM continues to do with Climate One, while funding research to poke holes in the theory of human-induced climate change.  
 
 
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