Global Warming: Man or Myth?

Scientists can also wear their citizen hats

Tom Harris Teaches Heartland Institute Fake Science to Students

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A science watchdog has released a report slamming a course taught at Carleton University (Canada) over what they call “biased and inaccurate” claims concerning climate change.

The course “Climate Change: An Earth Sciences Perspective”, taught by Tom Harris for two years, is the subject of a 98-page report written by the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism (CASS). The report constitutes a blow-by-blow response citing extensively from the scientific literature to rebut 142 erroneous and fully-quoted claims.

On auditing the course, CASS discovered that key messages for students contradict accepted scientific opinion. These messages include: denying that current climate change has an anthropogenic cause; dismissing the problems that carbon dioxide emissions cause because CO2 is plant food; denying the existence of the scientific consensus on the causes of climate change; and claiming that we should prepare instead for global cooling.

In this blog post I will just focus on one ridiculous notion that Harris and his good friends at Heartland Institute keep pushing: CO2 is plant food.

The fake science pushed by Heartland Institute has been a top story for the past two weeks and it should be. Heartland Institute has been engaged in science misinformation for years and has even stooped to trying to teach fake science to our school kids. Tom Harris, a Heartland Expert, is using the same playbook up in Canada. (Unfortunately, Heartland is just one snake on the head of Medusa.)

For most plants growing in a controlled laboratory environment , increasing CO2 will increase photosynthesis and growth rates. Of course, most of us do not get our food from within a science lab. Instead we get our food from crops grown in the great outdoors and these plants are at the mercy of climate change.


In 2010, human activities dumped 82 million metric tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide daily into the atmosphere, a record. For perspective, our emissions from fossil fuels are equivalent to 15,000 Gulf oil spills every single day. The heat trapped by this gas is warming the planet (oceans, surface, ice, and air) and is increasing the probability of extreme heat waves (such as the European heat wave of 2003 and the 2010 Russian heat wave and fires) and droughts like the one Texas has been experiencing for a long time.

Texas farmer who lost his livelihood

Texas farmer who lost his livelihood

These heat waves are destroying crops, driving up food prices, bankrupting farmers, and killing people.

Hey, Harris and Heartland: I dare you to tell this man that CO2 is plant food!

How fast can you run?

For the most recent drought outlook please visit the U.S. Drought Monitor.

In his April 27, 2011 US Senate hearing testimony, Dr. Jonathan Overpeck (2011) stated:

  1. There is broad agreement in the climate science research community that the Southwest, including New Mexico, will very likely continue to warm. There is also a strong consensus that the same region will become drier and increasingly snow-free with time, particularly in the winter and spring. Climate science also suggests that the warmer atmosphere will lead to more frequent and more severe (drier) droughts in the future. All of the above changes have already started, in large part driven by human-caused climate change.
  2. However, even in the absence of significant human-caused climate change, the Southwest is prone to drought and megadrought much more severe than droughts witnessed in the last 100 years. The 2000-year record of drought in the region makes it clear that droughts lasting decades are likely independent of human-caused climate change. For this reason, the “no-regrets” strategy is to plan and prepare for droughts no matter the cause – human or natural – and to do so under the assumption that droughts will very likely be hotter and thus more severe in the future than in the past 2000 years.
  3. Scientists and water managers alike, however, should be careful not to assume the currently estimated “worst case” drought scenario will remain so for long. As climate science has advanced in the Southwest, there have been a steady progression of new results that imply that today’s “worst-case” drought scenario is tomorrow’s second-worst case scenario. Water managers should pay particular attention to the emerging science that has been highlighted in the testimony above.

According to Stanford University scientists Diffenbaugh and Ashfaq (2010):

“In the next 30 years, we could see an increase in heat waves like the one now occurring in the eastern United States or the kind that swept across Europe in 2003 that caused tens of thousands of fatalities. Those kinds of severe heat events also put enormous stress on major crops like corn, soybean, cotton and wine grapes, causing a significant reduction in yields.”

According to the climate models, an intense heat wave – equal to the longest on record from 1951 to 1999 – is likely to occur as many as five times between 2020 and 2029 over areas of the western and central United States. The 2030s are projected to be even hotter. “Occurrence of the longest historical heat wave further intensifies in the 2030-2039 period, including greater than five occurrences per decade over much of the western U.S. and greater than three exceedences per decade over much of the eastern U.S.,” the authors wrote.

Increase in Extreme Heat Waves

Globally, drought is projected to increase if we keep dumping heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The image below (Dai, 2011) shows projected drought conditions by mid-century. A value of just -4 can lead to dust bowl conditions.

Pojected drought by mid-century.

Projected drought by mid-century.

Just how many plants do Tom Harris and Heartland Institute think can be grown in a dust bowl? Telling students that CO2 is plant food is like telling a person on fire to take vitamins because they are good for him.

So are there any “winners” in the plant kingdom? Yes, but not the ones we wish to see.

Poison ivy loves global warming

Poison ivy loves global warming

According to the WebMD article, Climate Change Brings Super Poison Ivy:

As the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, it’s boosting the growth of poison ivy plants, two recent studies show. These elevated carbon dioxide levels are creating bigger, stronger poison ivy plants that produce more urushiol, the oil that causes the allergic reaction and miserable poison ivy rash. The urushiol isn’t just more plentiful; it might also be more potent.

Severe posion ivy reaction

Severe poison ivy reaction

Another pest that is gaining ground due to climate change is the kudzu vine which many southerners call “the vine that ate the South”. Kudzu quickly covers trees and other vegetation thus robbing them of the sunlight required for photosynthesis. The result is a slow death.

Kudzu - "The Vine That Ate the South"

Kudzu - "The Vine That Ate the South"

As climate warms, Kudzu is moving northward and is expected to blanket the entire eastern U.S. Imagine your children and grandchildren not being able to see to beauty of fall foliage because the vines have either covered or killed the trees.

One of the winners is also deadly to many: pollen. As I detailed in Global Warming IS Something to Sneeze At!, debilitating and costly allergies and deadly asthma are on the increase due to increased CO2 levels and the associated climate change.

Ragweed loves higher CO2

Ragweed loves higher CO2

Allergies are very costly

Allergies are very costly


Asthma is deadly

Asthma is deadly

Increased CO2 is more than just something to sneeze at – it can be deadly for asthmatics!

I wonder how many of Tom Harris’ students have asthma? Do these students realize that the information from Tom Harris and Heartland Institute is endangering their health and potentially their lives?

Tom Harris - Heartland Institute "Expert"

Tom Harris - Heartland Institute "Expert"

Why would Tom Harris teach his students that CO2 is plant food? Is it because he is ignorant of the facts or is he purposefully misleading his students just like Heartland Institute misleads? Read this statement by Tom Harris and decide:

I completely agree with fourhorses that the ultimate aim is to create a situation where the CPC can say assertively, “The science no longer supports the assumptions of the Kyoto Accord.”

However, politically this cannot be done overnight without the Conservatives taking what they consider to be an unacceptable hit (do people think they would really lose votes with this statement (from Canadians who would otherwise vote for them, that is?).

So, the solution put on this site a little while ago by Tina is one I would support as well – namely, they don’t take sides at all and admit they don’t know and so are holding unbiased, public hearings in which scientists from both sides are invited to testify. The resulting chaos, with claims all over the map, will do enough to thoroughly confuse everyone (which is appropriate, actually, since the science is so immature and, frankly, confusing) and take the wind out of the sails of the “we are causing a climate disaster and must stop it” camp entirely, and the CPC can quietly turn to important issues without really having had to say much at all.

What’s wrong with this approach?


Tom Harris, Executive Director, Natural Resources Stewardship Project

 Oops, almost forgot to remind you:

Tom Harris has close ties to the fossil fuel industry

Others reporting on this education tragedy:


Written by Scott Mandia

March 1, 2012 at 10:15 am

15 Responses

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  1. […] Tom Harris Teaches Heartland Institute Fake Science to Students […]

    • BTW, the above article is easily one of the most ridiculous pieces I have ever read – the following takes the cake: “I wonder how many of Tom Harris’ students have asthma? Do these students realize that the information from Tom Harris and Heartland Institute is endangering their health and potentially their lives?”


      Tom Harris

      July 29, 2014 at 12:22 am

  2. Oops, almost forgot to remind you:

    Tom Harris has NO ties to the fossil fuel industry.

    In fact, ICSC has no funding from industry of any kind, quite the opposite to our major attacker, the David Suzuki Foundation, which has literally millions from industry.

    Concerning the ridiculous and error riddled attack on my climate course, have a listen to the author of the course here:

    Oh, and by the way, I did not become an unpaid policy advisor to Heartland until 6 months after the Carleton course was over so it had no bearing on the course whatsoever.

    Tom, your target.

    Tom Harris

    March 25, 2012 at 1:14 am

    • Tom, what exactly is your track record in, like, actual climatology? How many tree rings have you analyzed? How many numbers have you crunched?

      When I attend a university course, I actually expect the lecturer to at least have some working knowledge of the course material. What’s your working knowledge of climate science, as compared to your working knowledge of astroturfing?

      — frank

    • Yet Heartland’s 2007 tax form provides evidence that they funded your previous climate denial vehicle – NRSP – as well as your current one – ICSP.

      Of course there is also the Talisman Energy connection with yourself at APCO and Friends Of Science


      April 4, 2012 at 12:51 am

  3. […] Tom Harris who teaches fake science in a Canadian University. Thinks dead plants will enjoy increased CO2. […]

  4. i honestly feel that this article was poorly written, and using poison ivy as factor seems to be an emotional appeal, along with all the other reasons listed. there is no evidence of true scientific data. i think that the moon is one of the factors not accounted for in drought and storm behaviors… did you know that the moon drifts 3.74 centimeters from the earth every year?? co2 is not the reason why city have such bad air. city’s have bad air because to build them we destroyed the local biosphere aka city’s need more trees.(will help some of the problem threw detox) and if you ever read the study’s of how buildings/structures effect local weather you would learn that they tend to stabilize the temperature in there vicinity that could account for the reason why there is less “fresh” air in the city’s, from lack of a temperature catalyst to move air and create wind. i wouldn’t consider co2 as the problem because removing it will not solve anything. taxing it is even worse of an idea. instead of targeting carbon why don’t you conduct study of what effects the local environment and change things locally instead of trying to change the world? like target sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides because they cause acid rain and are actual disasters unlike co2 which from a biological point of view is quite helpful. the link between drought and co2 is quite flimsy compared to other factors. in fact so flimsy that it is laughable.

    but excuse me that’s just my opinion.ohhh and i don’t even have a car, and have no ties to any organisation. i also don’t know Tom Harris and what he teach’s, but it seems to me that nether do you.

    so troll away climate alarmist 😉


    August 7, 2012 at 1:49 am

    • going back though your article it seem to me that you also confuse invasive species as a climate change issue and some how link it to co2…..


      August 7, 2012 at 2:26 am

      • Going back through the article, a reason for invasive species moving northwards is given, something that is well known to biologists. So, please provide a rebuttal that invasive species moving northwards cannot be related to climate change.


        August 9, 2012 at 12:44 am

  5. A scientific opinion is still only an opinion, much like the prevailing scientific opinion from 40 years ago that never materialized. In fact the scientific opinion in regards to climate change is largely based on the need for scientists continue getting funding. From that point of view I would argue that Tom Harris opinion on the matter is less byest by finacial and political interests. Sins the inception of the environmental sciences doomsday prediction had been there main tool to generate funding with little or no real scientific fact backing up there arguments. Did M.Mann study tree rings or did he just wrote a program that found the results he wanted to see within a preselected sampling of tree rings he hoped produce sad results?

    Christian Bultmann

    October 17, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    • It appears Christian believes that an opinion completely devoid of factual argumentation is worth as much as a scientific opinion based on facts.

      It also appears Christian fell for the lie that 40 years ago the prevailing scientific opinion was that we were about to enter a new ice age. It’s sad if that’s true, as it shows Christian is unable to take in actual facts, and thus will never learn.


      October 18, 2012 at 12:33 am

      • You repeat stating as actual facts what in reality are only opinion, yours or those you happen to agree with. Fact is global temperatures did not change in the last 15 years. Fact is climate models fail to predict actual events in the short term and long term predictions. In the global cooling phase in the 60th and 70th CO2 went up and temperatures went down.

        Whats most despicable is when an old guy telling children that the north pole is melting and santa has to move so he and his foundation can extort money from them or there parents. Leaving the children who don’t know better living in constant fear for there future.

        Christian Bultmann

        October 18, 2012 at 10:42 pm

      • Fact is that global temperatures HAVE changed in the last 15 years! yes, Christian, these are the facts, especially if you want to bring in the 1960s and 1970s. Of course, for someone frequenting WUWT, facts are a rather fluid concept, where, if they fit your opinion, they are indeed facts, and if not…well, then they are not facts, but there must be something wrong with the measurements.

        What climate scientists know very well, and pseudoskeptics spending most their time on WUWT claim these scientists don’t, is that on short time scales natural vairability can be larger than the underlying trend. Thus, the focus on the pre-1960s dip (there was no cooling going from the 60s to the 70s) is just another example of pseudoskeptics looking desperately for something they can abuse to fool those who have even less understanding of complex issues than themselves. It worked on you!

        It’s also quite telling you did not even try to rebut Scott’s description of how the warnings from climate scientists have nothing to do with funding, as funding does just about nothing to a climate scientist’s financial situation. That was a despicable LIE; so, in true WUWT style, you come with a “look! there! squirrels!”


        October 20, 2012 at 4:34 am

    • Please see these two blog posts to clear up some confusion:



      Scott Mandia

      October 18, 2012 at 6:50 am

  6. […] farmers that CO2 is plant food is like telling a person on fire that they should take vitamins because vitamins are good for you. […]

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