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This is part two of a four-part series adapted from the feature “A data-based dismantling of Jason Kenney's foreign-funding conspiracy theory,” originally published on Oct. 3, 2019.
When Jason Kenney claims, without evidence, that Alberta’s oilsands have been targeted by a cabal of American philanthropic foundations, he speaks with the confidence of someone who thinks his claims are unfalsifiable, impossible to disprove. And he’s cynically betting that Canadians, unwilling or unable to investigate the matter on their own, will give him the benefit of the doubt.
But he’s wrong. His claims are, in fact, falsifiable. We know this because we examined them: After nine months spent investigating public charity records on Candid, America's most comprehensive foundation and charitable monitoring site, we found that every core tenet of the foreign-funding conspiracy theory is false. And, in this four-part series, we will prove it by systematically debunking nine key myths associated with Kenney’s scare-mongering rhetoric.
To know whether Canadian oil production is unduly targeted by large foundations, it's essential to compare funding between countries and regions. Is funding to Canadian environmentalists disproportionately high?
That data has never been presented until now.
Here it is.
According to Candid’s data, since 2009 over 100,000 charitable foundations and non-governmental funders have granted some $700 billion to recipient organizations worldwide.
Of that number, roughly 1,800 private foundations committed more than $4.9 billion specifically to climate initiatives. Just five foundations granted half of that figure.
Of that nearly $5 billion, American-based recipients received an overwhelming $2.9 billion — or 59 per cent — of all climate grants. Almost $2 billion was divided between the European Union, China and India.
$51 million went to Canadian climate projects, of which roughly $40 million was granted to dozens of small organizations organized as the Tar Sands Campaign, and most of the balance went to the Montreal-based Global Campaign for Climate Action
This chart, assembled from Candid data, shows that all Canadian climate grants combined garner just one per cent of all foundations' climate grants around the world.
Foundation spending on climate change by area served (2009-2020)
Considering that Canada is the world's fourth-largest producer and exporter of crude oil, and holds 10 per cent of the world's known oil reserves, almost all of which are in the Alberta oilsands, it's actually quite remarkable how little international climate funding we attract.
In any event, there's no rational basis to argue Alberta is a "whipping boy," as is colourfully claimed so often.
This one set of data should really put an end to any conspiracy theory, but let's continue.
Myth 2: Environmental funders give a free pass to U.S. oil and gas projects, allowing American production to soar while Alberta stalls.
Despite dedicated, disruptive and hotly contested environmental campaigns in each country, output in both Canadian and American oil sectors grew dramatically more than anywhere else in the world over the last decade.
And it's false that environmentalists have given a pass to the American fossil fuel industry. There's a multi-front battle royale going on across the U.S., involving many of the same or similar players as in Canada.
For example, using the identical narrative to Jason Kenney, ExxonMobil is claiming it's the victim of a Rockefeller-hatched conspiracy, while being locked in a fierce legal melee with authorities in New York and Massachusetts.
If the Rockefeller family is attacking Exxon and the American fossil fuel industry, and they are, how can they be working to help American oil interests while exclusively targeting Alberta?
In fact, environmental activists have so enraged the American oil and gas industry that it spent tens of millions of dollars successfully lobbying multiple state governments to criminalize their protests.
This video, produced for the Colorado fracking industry by the industry front group Environmental Policy Alliance, attacks coastal elite environmentalist outsiders, using a narrative that sounds awfully familiar:
That messaging was crafted by industry PR consultant Richard Berman, who was recorded in 2014 advising American oil executives that they were in an "endless war" against environmentalists, and to succeed they had to be prepared to "win ugly."
That battle has been joined. Environmental groups have targeted all U.S. coal; fracking in New York, Pennsylvania, and Colorado; oil development in California, offshore drilling in the Arctic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico, West Coast coal ports and pretty much all pipeline and transportation projects anywhere in North America, including Texas.
In Texas, where protesters could face 10 years in prison, 31 Greenpeace activists were charged earlier this month after protesters suspended themselves from a Houston bridge to block tanker traffic.
The claim that environmentalists or funders are letting American producers off the hook is baseless.
Nor can it be argued that environmentalists have suppressed oil production anywhere in North America.
Despite Kenney's protests that American productivity has far outstripped Canada's, those numbers don't hold up either.
According to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, American production more than doubled between 2008-18. Yet, according to Natural Resources Canada, so did Alberta's oilsands production. Overall, Canada's oil and gas production has grown by 67 per cent over the same period.
By comparison, according to BP's numbers, the rest of the world’s production flat-lined.
As Jason Kenney knows, Alberta’s problem isn’t productivity, it’s pricing.
Myth 3: Pipeline opposition grants dominate foreign funding in Canada.
According to Candid's data, international foundations, almost all American, have granted roughly $2 billion to Canadian non-profits and institutions over the last 10 years. Only $40 million, or about two per cent, has gone to pipeline opposition.
The great majority of international grants, almost 80 per cent, support scientific research, health, education, Canadian international aid programs and other civil society objectives.
For example, Alberta universities and their associated foundations have received over $40 million from foreign funders in that period, about the same amount as the Tar Sands Campaign. More than half of that funding comes from American government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Defense.
An additional 25 per cent of foreign grants support large land and marine conservation projects like the Canadian Boreal Forest Initiative and the Great Bear Rainforest, usually with matching grants by various levels of government, including the Harper government.
At two per cent of all foreign grants, the Tar Sands Campaign is a purely marginal play on the Canadian non-profit landscape.
Major international grant support in Canada (2009-2020)
Ironically, the most dominant foreign funder of Canadian non-profits and institutions by far is the United States government. With grants exceeding $660 million over the last decade, the U.S. government accounts for about 33 per cent of the $2 billion Canada received in foreign funding.
Oddly, this has never come up in foreign funding conspiracy talk. If anyone were looking for a prime suspect in foreign interference to benefit American interests, they could do a lot worse than the actual U.S. government.
The next largest funder is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, contributing $537 million — much of that funding research at the University of Manitoba.
By comparison, the infamous Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), that notorious bête noir of the Canadian non-profit world, is one of the smallest contributors of all, at just $4 million.
Rockefeller environmental grants amount to just two dollars per thousand in Canadian foreign grants.
Next, in Part 3: "Is the Tides Foundation really the 'funding and co-ordination juggernaut' behind anti-pipeline activism?"
Other installments in the series:
Part 1: Jason Kenney foreign-funding conspiracy theory is false -- and we can prove it
Part 3: Is the Tides Foundation really the 'funding and co-ordination juggernaut' behind anti-pipeline activism?
Part 4: Exposing the Canadian oil sector’s victim complex, giving overdue credit to Indigenous and environmental activists, and drawing conclusions.