Citizen Action Monitor

Petition drive convinces GM to stop funding climate change denier Heartland Institute

“Climate change is real” says Dan Akerson, GM’s CEO

No 448 Posted by fw, March 31, 2012

“Citing its corporate stance that climate change is real, General Motors announced Wednesday that its General Motors Foundation would no longer be funding the Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank that has attacked human-caused global warming as ‘junk science.’”Los Angeles Times

Forecast the Facts can teach activists a thing or two about how to manage an effective petition drive. Here’s the Los Angeles Times’ account of Forecast the Facts’ multidimensional petition strategy:

GM’s decision to halt funding for the institute was the direct result of a campaign by Forecast the Facts, an advocacy group seeking to get TV meteorologists to openly acknowledge climate change. Dan Souweine, the group’s campaign director, said that his group pored over those Heartland documents and all the funders listed there, which include many other companies, but singled out GM.

“They’re out there very actively pushing a green image with high-mileage cars and the Chevy Volt, which is a huge investment, and a number of other things they do on the sustainability side. So funding Heartland, most of what they do is to deny the existence of climate change, and we thought that stood in stark contrast to the image that GM was trying to develop,” said Souweine.

Souweine says his group began flooding GM’s Facebook site with requests to stop funding Heartland, and that they believed GM would respond because of their respect for customer loyalty and because they were sensitive to having taken so-called bailout funds from the federal government.

In early March, Forecast The Facts presented GM with the results of a petition drive in which a reported 20,000 signers asked GM to stop funding Heartland. According to Souweine, more than 10,000 of those signers were current or former owners of GM vehicles.

When [GM CEO Dan] Akerson appeared live at the March 7 Climate One event at the Commonwealth Club, Souweine showed up with picketers to try to get Akerson to answer questions about the company’s support for Heartland. Dalton asked him to cease with the pressure, but did ask Akerson about it in the program.


Turning to Climate One’s March 7, 2012 interview with GM CEO Dan Akerson, here’s a short video clip of the interview, followed by Greg Dalton’s brief report, General Motors in America’s Heartland

General Motors in America’s Heartland  by Greg Dalton

General Motors has decided to discontinue funding of the Heartland Institute, an organization that downplays the risks of climate disruption, three weeks after GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson was asked about it during a Climate One radio interview. GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss confirmed the move today.

Hours before Mr. Akerson went on stage March 7 at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco to record the interview before a live audience of about 200 people, several questions were submitted via Facebook about GM’s financial support of the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based group that advocates free market ideas. Climate One is the sustainability project of The Commonwealth Club of California, a non-profit and non-partisan public forum.

Here’s one of the questions that was submitted —

“Please ask Mr. Akerson why GM funds the Heartland Institute, a group that has tried to push misinformation about climate change into our public schools. Is this funding consistent with their company’s message in marketing of the Chevy Volt?”

That sounded fair game. So during the hour-long conversation I posed that question to Mr. Akerson. His response made it clear he accepts the scientific consensus that rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and other pollutants are increasing the Earth’s average temperatures.

“The first time I was interviewed by the press, I was stunned with the following reaction,” Akerson said. “Some guy says, ‘Do you believe in global warming?’ And I said, ‘Well yeah, I do.’ Several GM executives said, ‘You don’t say that in public. Well this may surprise you, my underwear doesn’t have GM stamped on it and I am an individual and I do have my own convictions and it may sometimes they — they agree and sometimes they don’t. I think it’s actually healthy to have different points of view and perspectives around the table.”

Mr. Akerson said “actions speak louder than words” and mentioned zero-emission auto plants that run off methane and other measures the company has taken to reduce its carbon footprint. Of course, most of the pollution from automobiles comes from driving them around, not making them. That’s on us consumers.

GM famously killed the electric car ten years ago and often obstructed efforts to combat severe climate change. Now, that is changing. GM is producing the Chevy Volt, which runs on electricity and gasoline, and consumers have more options than ever for moving away from oil. GM can still do a lot more with its money and muscle to advance the transition to clean transportation. And my bet is they will, because the free and global auto market is headed toward an electrified future.


  • GM CEO, Dan Akerson — Uploaded by ClimateOne on Mar 13, 2012 Watch the entire 64-minute interview with General Motors’ CEO Dan Akerson recorded live at Climate One at the Commonwealth Club.
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