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Who needs old-time climate-change deniers when we've got the 'New Climate Denialism'?

Shannon Daub (Photo: David Climenhaga)

VICTORIA, B.C.

Just because there are hardly any climate change deniers left any more doesn't mean there's no climate change denial, says Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Indeed, Daub told about 60 participants in the 2017 Summer Institute of the Corporate Mapping Project at the University of Victoria this week, climate change denialism is playing a bigger role than ever as corporations, right-wing think tanks, Astro-Turf groups, conservative governments and others among the Usual Suspects shift from denying outright that climate change is taking place to conceding the science is real while doing what they can to delay meaningful change that might do something about it.

"They’ve decided to stop fighting the science," observed Daub, associate director of the CCPA's British Columbia office and co-director of the Corporate Mapping Project, a six-year research initiative jointly run by the University of Victoria, CCPA's B.C. and Saskatchewan branches, and the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute.

None of which is to say there aren't actual deniers of climate change science out there, of course. It's just that it's become sort of a legacy hobby activity engaged in by amateurs who write letters to their local newspapers. The smart money in climate change denial, as Daub explained, has moved on to new approaches.

So the days when the fossil fuel industry paid big bucks to get think-tanks, foundations, friendly academics and lobbyists to confuse the public and raise doubt about the powerful evidence climate change is real are thankfully coming to an end. As Daub said in a blog post last fall written with CCPA B.C. Director Seth Klein, "the climate deniers have now mostly been exposed and repudiated."

But as a result, she told the UVic conference, opponents of action on climate change have adopted subtler approaches. She named four main kinds of climate change denialism now commonly practiced in Canada, none of which requires participants to be embarrassed by having to claim aloud that the science of climate change isn't … well, scientific.

The Cheerleaders -- who tell us about our bright green market-based future based on the trinity of renewables, clean technology and carbon taxes without addressing the truly difficult question of how we actually manage the transition from fossil fuels, which won't be easy. They act as an echo chamber for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cheerleading, she observed.

The Pragmatists -- who recognize Western Canada's oilsands need a reputation makeover to give Canadian oil a better reputation abroad and win access to foreign markets. It's what Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is doing, Daub argued, when Alberta’s government uses carbon pricing and tougher environmental regulations in an effort to persuade Canadians we can have climate leadership and more oil and gas expansion at the same time. It's what B.C. Premier Christy Clark is up to when she touts the province's "climate leadership" to push LNG development and fracking.

The Skeptics -- who say, "we're behind this policy as long as it doesn't do what it's supposed to do." You know, like "revenue neutral" carbon taxes that don't result in industry paying more for carbon outputs. Groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers now acknowledge the need for a more effective approach, but warn us not to move too fast or change anything that might affect the Canadian industry's competitiveness. "It's actually a form of obstructionism," Ms. Daub argued.

The Indigenous Rights and Title Deniers -- who endorse reconciliation and Indigenous self-determination, but insist in the face of First Nations legal challenges on the legal right to push pipelines wherever they want.

All of these "new climate deniers," Daub said, provide "green cover for industries profiting from fossil fuels and pumping carbon into the environment."

As for those old "hard deniers," why would they bother? "Why take the flack when you can do the same thing and get the credit?"

Formally known as Mapping the Power of the Carbon-Extractive Corporate Resource Sector, the Corporate Mapping Project is financed by a $2.5-million partnership grant awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, plus $2 million in matching funds from partner organizations. SSHRC Partnership Grants support formal partnerships between universities and others to improve understanding of critical issues facing Canadians.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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