One of my favorite movies about climate change is Dumb and Dumber. Perhaps I owe you all an explanation as to why.

If you haven't seen it, the movie was made about 15 years ago by the Farrelly Brothers, the highly successful purveyors of artfully-done toilet humor. The leading men are Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, playing gullible, good-natured imbeciles on a cross-country adventure.

Carrey is smitten with a woman played by Lauren Holly. His character, Lloyd, asks her what his prospects are for romance.

She coldly replies, "about one in a million".

Here's where the climate change part comes in: Hardly discouraged by this slapdown, Lloyd's eyes light up. And in the true spirit of a climate change denier, he says, "So you're tellin’ me there's a chance."

Yeah, folks, there's a chance climate change isn't for real. There's always a chance. That's the way science works. There's always a chance that the mounting evidence, the computer models and long-term forecasts are wrong.

That slim and slimmer chance is enough to create and sustain an indestructible denial lobby. Yesterday in New York, the Heartland Institute kicked off its second annual Woodstock of denial.

Last year’s proceedings are on audio and video here. Among the scheduled contributors is Tim Slagle, a libertarian standup comic who thinks the notion of global warming is hilarious.

In America, climate change science and climate change politics are two different things. Two decades of a one-sided torrent of peer-reviewed data hasn’t changed that. Another two decades won’t change it, either. The ideological trenches are dug and, by God, they’ll be occupied until a slender, hungry polar bear hauls itself out of the water and bitch-slaps a retiree in Vero Beach.

Heartland’s gathering is the all-star game for denial: Scientists like Pat Michaels, whose “advocacy science” firm is available for hire -- usually by the coal industry; Marc Morano, the congressional staffer to Sen. James Inhofe who treats climate change like a swift-boat political campaign (Morano also wrote the original story on John Kerry’s “Swift Boat” controversy in 2004).

Among the most curious of the sponsors and participants is CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality. Dating back to the 1940s, CORE shares a heritage with the giants of the American Civil Rights Movement through both its most difficult and triumphant days. For the past couple of decades, it’s shamelessly traded on that legacy. Now it cashes checks from Exxon/Mobil and others to perversely declare that a ban on offshore oil and gas drilling amounts to a war on America’s poor. CORE has also joined with the NRA to call for more guns in cities, shown up in Kenya to encourage pesticide spraying, and picketed Robert Redford’s “eco-imperialism” at the Sundance Film Festival. In 1993, civil rights icon James Farmer called the group he helped found “fraudulent”.

Heartland’s also attracted at least one head of state: Vaclev Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, will keynote the conference. He’s called global warming a myth. He’s also called for the abolition of the European Union, which didn’t win him a lot of friends on the continent. Klaus and his ten million fellow Czechs (78th most populous nation on earth) rank in the top 15 nations for both production and consumption of coal.

Global warming advocates don’t help this impasse when they dismiss or misunderstand the deniers. There’s no monolithic belief system here, and the skeptics of the Heartland conference have many different reasons why they disbelieve: Hard line ideologues see any environmental message as a threat to the free market system; libertarians see a regulatory regime that enables the evil of Big Government; nations lashed to a fossil fuel economy, like Klaus’s Czech Republic or the Saudis, feel they have no choice; faux activists like CORE see it as a ready source of petrodollar support; and scientists like Michaels have both a skeptics’ reputation and a cash flow to protect.

Scientist and historian Naomi Oreskes of UC San Diego has written and spoken extensively on this, and how disparate ideological and financial interests unite against a common enemy. Which in this case is tragically a healthy planet. And that’s Dumb and Dumber.


Peter Dykstra is the former executive producer of CNN's Science, Tech and Weather Unit. He writes three columns for MNN: Media Mayhem on Mondays, Political Habitat on Wednesdays, and Green States on Fridays. (Yes, he writes a lot.)

Media Mayhem: Deny-a-palooza
How an annual climate deniers' conference in New York reminds me of Jim Carrey in 'Dumb and Dumber.'