Likewise, while models cannot represent the climate system perfectly (thus the uncertainly in how much the Earth will warm for a given amount of emissions), climate simulations are checked and re-checked against real-world observations and are an established tool in understanding the atmosphere.
And while carbon dioxide is crucial for plant life, the carbon balance on Earth is a delicate cycle, with oceans and land able to absorb only so much CO2. Humans do emit only a fraction of the 750 gigatons of CO2 that move through the atmosphere each year, but small changes in the total amount can overwhelm so-called carbon "sinks" such as the ocean, resulting in important, and cumulative, changes in the atmosphere. [10 Ways the Weather Changed History]
"These documents are breathtaking, and they reveal what many of us have long suspected: That there is a campaign afoot by groups directly funded by the fossil fuel industry and right-wing foundations such as Koch Industries to mislead the public about climate change," Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann wrote in an email to LiveScience.
Other donors giving more than $10,000 a year to the Institute include Allied World Assurance Company, Amgen, USA, AT&T, Bayer Corporation, Comcast Corporation, GlaxoSmithKline and General Motors. Links to all documents can be found at DeSmogBlog.
Editor's update (02/15/12): After this story was published, the Heartland Institute released a statement calling the document leaks "criminal" and claiming that one of the documents, which purports to be the organization's climate change strategy, is faked. However, blogger Anthony Watts and geologist Robert Carter have confirmed online and to news organizations that they have been paid or pledged money by the Institute as outlined in the documents. James M. Taylor, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, confirmed to ThinkProgress Green that the school educational project is ongoing.
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