Salt Lake City’s conservative think tank, The Sutherland Institute, is bringing some of the country’s best known global-warming skeptics and conservative environmental commentators together for a week of programs timed to coincide with Earth Day on April 22.
Katie Christensen, Sutherland spokeswoman, says energy is a new issue for Sutherland. Previously, the institute made a splash with pro-family initiatives like the “Natural Family Resolution” that it encouraged city councils throughout Utah to adopt (Kanab did).
“With Earth Day coming up, we knew the media would be bombarded with all these messages about eliminating carbon and saving the environment,” she says. “Everywhere in the media you hear all these different green initiatives. You have Al Gore winning all sorts of awards for An Inconvenient Truth. It seems like the media is bombarded with that side of the environmental movement.”
Even Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. buys in on climate-change science, she notes, supporting the Western Climate Initiative, a partnership of states setting targets for reducing greenhouse gasses. A conservative pushback on environmental issues is needed even in Utah, Christensen says.
Sutherland’s Earth Week event includes four days of talks by scientists and conservative thinkers from across the country and is capped by the screening of the “anti-environmentalist” film Mine Your Own Business at the Gateway. The privately funded institute won’t say who is putting up the money for the four-day conservative hoedown.
Speakers include Roy Innis, head of the Congress of Racial Equity (CORE) whose new book Energy Keepers—Energy Killers argues environmental restrictions on exploring American energy reserves harm the country’s poor and minorities, who put a greater part of their incomes toward gasoline and utilities. Innis has headed the civil rights group CORE since 1968 and has long been a conservative activist, backing Richard Nixon’s campaign in 1968 and Alan Keyes in the 2004 presidential election.
Earlier this year, CORE gave Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon the organization’s first ever “Energy Keeper” award, recognizing him for “keeping The Dream alive and protecting the energy and economic civil rights of American workers and families.” The award was given during CORE’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. dinner attended by representatives of the American Conservative Union and the energy industry, including Americans for American Energy, which has funded a campaign opposing designation of federal wilderness in Utah. Conservative radio talk show host Sean Hannity served as toastmaster for the evening.
Innis speaks during Sutherland’s “natural resource use day.” “Nuclear power day” features a speaker from the conservative Heritage Foundation and a retired nuclear scientist.
One of the nation’s best-known scientists to deny man-made global warming will headline on “global-warming day.” Physicist Willie Soon’s articles challenging accepted notions of global warming have made him a darling of conservative groups and the energy industry. Soon initially came to prominence with a paper claiming variations in the sun were primarily responsible for global warming. A later paper challenged the notion that modern times have been particularly warm compared to the Earth’s entire history.
Also speaking will be Roy Spencer, a former senior climate scientist for NASA. He has recently made news for studies suggesting that models used to predict global warming are flawed.
Sutherland’s Earth Week finishes up with a screening of Mine Your Own Business, a documentary in which filmmakers travel to mines in Romania, Madagascar and Chile, contrasting the lives of the impoverished residents needing jobs with the wealthy activists trying to stop the mines. Some have dubbed the husband-and-wife filmmaking team, Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, as the conservatives’ answer to liberal filmmaker Michael Moore. They will answer questions after the screening.
“We’re just trying to tell Utah some of these green policies being touted by our elected officials are not necessarily good for Utah,” says Sutherland’s Christensen. “We wanted to come out and say you’ve got to really study the issue first and don’t believe all you’re reading about man-made global warming. A lot of the policies people try to push to help the environment end up hurting poor families and the economy.”