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Climate-change denial, bias characterize papers commissioned by 'anti-Alberta' energy campaigns inquiry

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Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allan (Image credit: Government of Alberta)

An "engagement process update" published Wednesday night by the so-called Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns reveals inquiry head Steve Allan commissioned reports by climate-change skeptics and a fossil-fuel industry advocacy group in the United States.

A critical submission to the $3.5-million inquiry by University of Calgary law professor Martin Olszynski called the three commissioned reports "textbook examples of climate change denialism."

"All of them minimize or outright dismiss the reality and seriousness of climate change, even though none of their authors appear to be trained in climate science," Prof. Olszynski wrote in his submission, which was published yesterday on the U of C law faculty's blog.

"These reports are replete with generalizations, speculation, conjecture, and even conspiracy," he said. "The matter of climate change denial is particularly important because it underpins the rest of the narrative in these reports, i.e., that other interests have opposed the oil and gas industry -- including Alberta's -- not out of genuine concern for the climate or other environmental impacts but rather for some nefarious -- perhaps even Marxist … purpose."

A bluntly worded CBC story yesterday summarized the paid work as "junk climate-denial science, bizarre conspiracy theories and oil-industry propaganda."

Strikingly, one of the reports, by newspaper columnist and University of Calgary political science professor Barry Cooper, includes a discourse on the supposed ties between Marxism and environmentalism.

Marxism, opined the professor, is "a widely held ideological view among social scientists who engage with the question of environmental philanthropy." Alberta's taxpayers paid Cooper $6,125 for this and similar insights.

Cooper claims in his bio that a copy of his book was found by Seal Team Six on Osama bin Laden's bookshelf. He was involved in an effort in 2008 to use two U of C research accounts to funnel funds to the Friends of Science, described by The Globe and Mail at the time as a Calgary-based anti-Kyoto group with ties to the federal Conservative Party. The Globe described Cooper as "a vocal critic of individuals who have 'bought in to the global warming panic.'"

The inquiry also paid $27,840 for a report by Tammy Nemeth, a PhD historian based in the United Kingdom, and US$50,000 to Energy in Depth, a group set up by the Independent Petroleum Association of America. That led University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach to dismiss the Washington, D.C.-based organization as "the propaganda arm of an oil industry group."

In other words, Leach said of Energy in Depth in one of a number of amusing tweets on the topic, "it's a foreign funded advocacy group." Although not, presumably, one of the ones Commissioner Allan is interested in reporting on.

As for Nemeth, she has only a microscopic online footprint. It is unclear whether she has an academic position. One wonders how the inquiry found her.

"The effect of all of this is that the Commissioner has spent nearly C$100,000 to commission these -- and only these -- reports," wrote Olszynski, "which the inquiry has acknowledged all approach the subject matter of the inquiry from a common perspective. Simply put, it is troubling that the inquiry did not commission any reports from the alternative perspective and, with respect, is suggestive of bias."

Of course, critics of the inquiry have long assailed it as biased, politically motivated, and possibly in violation of the Alberta Pubic Inquiries Act, under which it was organized. The supposedly public inquiry has been conducted almost entirely behind closed doors.

It was established by United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney soon after his election in 2019, another promise made, promise kept from the election campaign in which he vowed, if never quite in these words, to Make Alberta's Oil Industry Great Again.

The engagement document also revealed that the inquiry has approached only 47 individuals and groups to comment, and only 11 bothered to respond.

All this, said Ecojustice Canada Society yesterday, "underscores the inquiry's total lack of legitimacy."

Granted, Ecojustice has a dog in this fight. It's challenging the legitimacy of the inquiry in court. Still, it's hard to dispute its conclusion that "the fact Commissioner Steve Allan thought it relevant to commission and consult reports denying the reality of the climate crisis is just another example of how deeply flawed and biased Premier Jason Kenney's inquiry into so-called 'anti-Alberta' campaigns is."

The inquiry is scheduled to report on January 31. It has had two extensions already, however, so it's always possible the government will give it another one. It's not as if that would keep us in much suspense.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image credit: Government of Alberta

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