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The Alberta government’s inquiry into alleged foreign-funded campaigns against the province’s energy sector spent approximately $97,560 commissioning reports critics say downplay the climate crisis and veer into conspiracy.

“My jaw hit the floor pretty hard,” said Martin Olszynski, an environmental law professor at the University of Calgary who reviewed the reports as a participant in the inquiry.

The reports were posted to the website of the Public Inquiry Into Funding of Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns late Wednesday. The inquiry’s website says the reports don’t represent “findings or positions taken by the inquiry.”

One report is authored by Barry Cooper, a University of Calgary political scientist with close ties to the climate denial group Friends of Science, which has claimed climate change is caused by the sun. In it, Cooper questions without evidence if First Nations opposed to fossil fuel extraction were “coerced or bribed by environmentalist missionaries,” and linked the environmental movement to “Marxism.”

Reached by email, Cooper said he believes the climate is influenced by several factors, “from plate tectonics to solar radiation variability, earth orbital variability (e.g., Milankovitch Cycles etc.), atmospheric and oceanic oscillations, cloud cover and aerosol variations, and yes, greenhouse gasses.” (Scientific consensus is that human use of fossil fuels is the main contributor to the climate crisis.)

“The term ‘climate denialism’ as I am sure you know is a silly term analogous to holocaust denialism; that is, it is simply an insult,” Cooper said.

Another report by historian T. L. Nemeth claims a “transnational progressive movement” of environmental ⁠groups — including some with the backing from a foundation established by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who is often the subject of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories ⁠— are seeking to “fundamentally transform the western industrial capitalist economic system” in an “international assault” on Alberta’s energy industry.

“The spark or catalyst for an acceleration of this Great Transformation has been the coronavirus pandemic of 2020,” Nemeth wrote.

Energy In Depth, a project by U.S. oil and gas lobby group Independent Petroleum Association of America, also contributed a report. It argues that environmental activists have been given a “free pass” by news media, and that energy producers face them on an “uneven playing field.”

The Alberta inquiry spent approximately $97,560 commissioning reports that critics say downplay the climate crisis and veer into conspiracy. #ableg #cdnpoli

The $3.5-million independent probe, which delivered on a campaign promise from Premier Jason Kenney and was started in 2019, is meant to examine environmental groups the government says used foreign funds to campaign against Alberta oil and gas while allowing fossil fuel production to expand in the Middle East and United States.

In a phone interview Thursday, spokesperson Alan Boras stressed the inquiry has not yet come to a conclusion. The reports were “deemed to be important views” but aren’t the only ones being considered, he said.

“The reality is the inquiry, it has no mandate to speak to the status of the climate,” he said. “It's not about the climate, it's about foreign funding.”

The inquiry sought a variety of perspectives, Boras said.

“Anybody who contributes to the inquiry has a point of view, regardless of where they come from, whether they have a view on the status of the climate, wherever they fall in the spectrum of the debate,” Boras said.

“There's lots that's been written about changing climate and that information will also be considered within the mandate of the inquiry.”

The inquiry paid $6,125 to Cooper, $27,840 to Nemeth and US$50,000 to Energy In Depth for the reports, Boras confirmed.

Andrew Leach, an energy and environmental economist at the University of Alberta, said the reports raise questions about whether the inquiry is a good use of public funds, and whether it is even accomplishing the goal it was tasked with.

“I was just flabbergasted,” Leach said.

“That these are the voices the inquiry is seeking out is astounding… Is this even remotely what you’d expect with an inquiry with this kind of budgetary scope and latitude?”

Boras said the inquiry is largely centred on forensic accounting. Its budget has also gone towards that process, along with contractors doing legal and communications work and the commissioner’s salary, Boras said.

“More information will be reported on in due course,” he said.

The office of Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage redirected questions to the inquiry.

Inquiry report is due in two weeks

The inquiry’s final report is due on Jan. 31.

Originally allocated a budget of $2.5 million and set to be finished in July 2020, it received an additional $1 million and several deadline extensions last year, with Savage citing the COVID-19 pandemic as a main reason for the delay.

The probe’s terms of reference have changed twice since it began, with commissioner Steve Allan saying the inquiry didn’t have the time and resources to answer key questions.

Allan has come under fire for not reaching out to environmental groups the government has accused of participating in the alleged campaign, and the inquiry itself has come under fire from critics who say its foundation is a baseless conspiracy theory. In July, Alberta’s ethics commissioner concluded Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer did not breach conflict of interest rules in appointing Allan, who had donated to Schweitzer in the past.

The inquiry has produced an interim report that was submitted to the government but not released to the public.

The reports posted Wednesday are part of the inquiry’s engagement process. It has sought “direct feedback” from industry groups, academics, public policy organizations, environmentalists, business and government leaders and others, its website says.

The inquiry also invited 47 people and organizations to apply for formal standing as a “participant for commentary” and give feedback on the reports. Most chose not to apply, and in the end, 11 people and groups ⁠— including Olszynski ⁠— were selected to give feedback, the inquiry’s website says.

The inquiry has not published the names of the groups and people invited and selected to participate. Boras said that information might be shared later.

Olszynski posted a copy of his submission to the response Thursday. In it, he said the reports “minimize or outright dismiss the reality and seriousness of climate change, even though none of their authors appear to be trained in climate science.” He also noted the reality of climate change is important because genuine concern about the crisis is one explanation for why activists would campaign against Alberta oil.

“These reports are replete with generalizations, speculation, conjecture and even conspiracy,” he wrote.

In a phone interview Thursday, Olszynski said he participated because he was “concerned” Allan wasn’t receiving a “broad perspective on these issues.” Because Allan is bound by rules around procedural fairness, Olszynski said he has faith his concerns will be taken into account.

So far, the inquiry appears to be a mess of the Alberta government’s own making, said University of Calgary political scientist Melanee Thomas. Though some might have cut their losses by now, she added, the government seems more focused on ideology than reality.

“They want to craft an alternative narrative,” she said.

“It’s this idea that if you don’t agree with us about fossil fuels, you can’t be a good Albertan, and if you’re not a good Albertan, you’re not an Albertan.”

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
January 15, 2021, 07:24 pm

This story has been updated to correct the total amount spent by the Alberta government's inquiry to commission the reports.

January 18, 2021, 04:50 pm

This story has been updated to correct the name of the historian who authored one of the reports.

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Many thanks to both the author and the National Observer for helping ensure we “un-Albertans” are getting this information. A day doesn’t go by without wondering “what next”. Thank you for your diligence.

"The probe’s terms of reference have changed twice since it began, with commissioner Steve Allan saying the inquiry didn’t have the time and resources to answer key questions."

To be precise, Allan said the inquiry didn’t have the time and resources for fact checking. So ENGOs might very well be telling the truth about AB's oilsands industry. But Kenney, like PM Stephen Harper before him, will stifle them anyway. Scientists are next.
Everything is behind closed doors. Albertans have no clue what the commission is doing, and neither, apparently, does the commissioner.
No public testimony.
No interim reports issued to the public.
No media interviews.
No procedural rules issued until September 2020 — more than a year after the inquiry started.
Change of mandate mid-stream when the inquiry fails to turn up the damning evidence the govt was looking for.
Premier Kenney has just written the book on how NOT to conduct a public inquiry.
Total joke.
On taxpayers.

Energy In Depth, a project by U.S. oil and gas lobby group Independent Petroleum Association of America, argues that "energy producers face environmental activists on an 'uneven playing field.'"

That much I can agree with.
ENGOs are hopelessly outgunned by billion-dollar multi-national corporations, backed by political parties and governments with bottomless budgets, and the corporate media, which vigorously promotes industry's views and interests.

Barry Cooper, UofC political scientist: “The term ‘climate denialism’ as I am sure you know is a silly term analogous to holocaust denialism; that is, it is simply an insult."
"Climate denialism" sounds like a counterfeit of Cooper's own coinage. No one denies (the existence of) climate. He's right. That is a silly term.
People who play piano are pianists. People who routinely and reflexively reject/ignore/downplay evidence for anything are deniers.
People who routinely and reflexively reject/ignore/downplay the scientific evidence for man-made climate change are climate change deniers.
People, corporations, and industries deny all sorts of things.
For decades, the tobacco industry engaged in campaigns of denial and deception, paying PR firms and scientists-for-hire to play down the dangers of tobacco smoke. Fraud, plain and simple.
Fossil fuel companies followed the same playbook. Even engaged some of the same scientists-for-hire to publish "studies" and provide "expert" testimony to cast doubt on the science.
The fossil fuel industry knew about the climate perils of its product at least by the late 1970s (likely even earlier), but deliberately sowed doubt for decades. Industry obstruction continues today. Predatory delay.
Check out the Drilled podcast.

Shell and Exxon scientists warned company officials about global warming due to fossil fuel combustion decades ago. For decades, oil & gas companies incorporated potential impacts of global warming into their infrastructure design and planning while publicly casting doubt on the science and obstructing regulations. Oil companies operated on the precautionary principle while trying to prevent the public from doing the same.
"Big Oil braced for global warming while it fought regulations" (LA Times, 2015)
"One of Exxon’s chief scientists told senior management in 1978 that the temperature would rise at least four degrees Fahrenheit and that it would be a disaster. Management believed the findings – companies like Exxon and Shell began redesigning drill rigs and pipelines to cope with the sea-level rise and tundra thaw."
"Bill McKibben: Winning Slowly Is the Same as Losing", (Rolling Stone, Dec 1, 2017)
Oreskes, Naomi and Erik M. Conway: "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming"
"Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. Remarkably, the same individuals surface repeatedly—some of the same figures who have claimed that the science of global warming is 'not settled' denied the truth of studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. 'Doubt is our product,' wrote one tobacco executive. These 'experts' supplied it."
"The oil mogul brothers, the greatest potential beneficiaries of the Keystone XL pipeline, have used their immense financial resources to support groups that advocate delay and inaction on climate change. Indeed, most of the residents in the Potemkin village of climate change denial receive or have received Koch funding. Prominent recipients include Americans for Prosperity, which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars supporting climate change-denying politicians; the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which was instrumental in blocking GHG emission regulations during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations; and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has pushed state bills seeking to undermine environmental regulations, deny the risks of climate change and undermine efforts to incentivize renewable energy."
"Deniers club: Meet the people clouding the climate change debate" (Washington Post, Sep 16, 2016)

"Environmental sociologist Riley Dunlap … was intrigued in the '90s when he recognized a "counter-movement" to climate activism.
'You get these almost always conservative counter-movements that emerge when the first movement is pushing society, with some success, in a progressive direction.'
Dunlap identified the members of the movement as 'contrarian scientists, fossil fuels corporations, conservative think-tanks, and various front groups,' along with 'a bevy of amateur climate bloggers and self-designated experts, public relations firms, astroturf groups, conservative media and pundits, and conservative politicians.'
Over the last three decades, a series of investigative news stories as well as academic research revealed additional evidence of 'organized climate change denial.'
In 1991, a New York Times story described how a campaign by coal-burning utility companies and coal producers aimed 'to 'reposition global warming as theory' and not fact.'
In 1998, leaked documents from the American Petroleum Institute described its plan to boost uncertainty about climate change. Those documents describe a global communications action plan where 'victory will be achieved when … recognition of uncertainties [around climate science] becomes part of the 'conventional wisdom.'
Dunlap: 'The conservative movement/fossil fuel complex quickly adopted the strategy of 'manufacturing' uncertainty and doubt (perfected by the tobacco industry) as its preferred strategy for promoting skepticism.'"
"How 'organized climate change denial' shapes public opinion on global warming" (CBC, Sep 27, 2019)
A 1988 confidential Shell report called "The Greenhouse Effect" warned: "By the time the global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even to stabilize the situation."
"Instead of alerting the public and changing their business model, companies deliberately promoted scientific uncertainty about climate change to delay laws that might limit carbon emissions."
"Why Big Oil faces court cases that echo the litigation against Big Tobacco in the '90s" (CBC, Oct 24, 2019)
"Exxon learned from its own scientists about the consequences of climate change as early as 1977, but chose to curtail its research and eventually worked to deny the findings."
"Exxon's Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels' Role in Global Warming Decades Ago"
"Exxon conducted cutting-edge climate research decades ago and then, without revealing all that it had learned, worked at the forefront of climate denial, manufacturing doubt about the scientific consensus that its own scientists had confirmed.
"This series was named a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, and has earned national recognition from many other quarters…"
"Exxon: The Road Not Taken" (InsideClimate News)
"The Fraser Institute is known for sharp critiques of clean energy policies. Since 2008, the research organization has received more than $500,000 in funding from the billionaire American Koch brothers, whose affiliates have poured more than US$88 million into groups that have seeded doubt on climate change science since the late nineties."
"Experts say Fraser Institute report on coal and clean air is "scientifically flawed" (National Observer, Feb 22nd 2017)

Cooper rejects mountains of evidence that fossil fuel companies promoted apathy, confusion, and delay around the urgency for climate action. Downplayed the perils of global warming. Hired scientists to promote spurious theories that cast doubt on greenhouse warming.
Prof. Cooper denies climate change denial. What shall we call that? Climate change denial denialism?
The fossil fuel industry knew about the global warming problem a long time ago has obstructed climate solutions, funded climate denial, opposed alternatives, campaigned against carbon pricing, lobbied to weaken and delay regulations, attacked ENGOs, co-opted Big Green groups, and supported politicians and parties who oppose change.
Kenney's not very public inquiry into ENGOs' funding and his War Room bunglers are just more of the same.
P.S. Not sure about the term "political scientist", either. Political scientists don't do science. Political scientists are scientists like economists or historians are scientists. Put three of them in the same room together, and get four different opinions.

When I saw that, my reaction was, "Hang on, this guy's a holocaust denier too?"
I mean, sure, "holocaust denier" is an insult. That's because the Holocaust really happened, the evidence is copious and clear, and the only people pretending otherwise do so because they have a racist agenda they don't want tarnished. Saying you're that kind of person is an insult because they're BAD PEOPLE . . . not because the term is somehow meaningless.
Given which, he's right, the two terms ARE analogous. Anthropogenic climate change is real, the evidence is copious, and the only people pretending otherwise do so because they have a monetary agenda they don't want blocked, and their desire to profit personally is so great they don't care if it dooms the world. As with holocaust denial, saying you're that kind of person is an insult because they're BAD PEOPLE . . . not because the term is somehow meaningless.

This should be compulsory reading for anyone still under the illusion that the Alberta UCP is simply the latest manifestation of Alberta's traditional 'conservative values'. Stacking the deck, ignoring the climate emergency, relying on the ignorant statements from Barry Cooper of 'Friends of Science' infamy, and trotting out poor George Soros as the boogey man funding this 'war against Alberta' pure Trumpism.

It's how conspiracy theories and the alternative realities they construct, have the long term effect of creating wing nuts and looney tunes.......all too ready to subvert their own democratic systems in aid of puffed up know nothing leaders.

Trump is the Prototype but Jason Kenney's government is far too full of a gaggle of imitators. Even Alberta's energy industry, CAPP and associates, should be embarrassed. I'm looking forward to their statements in the weeks ahead.

Timothy Snyder should also be compulsory reading. It's not just climate lies. It's a descent into authoritarianism if no one stands up to it. Challenging these lies is not 'someone else's job', it's on all of us to speak truth to power.

Humans are remarkable at managing cognitive dissonance. Perhaps a gene we share with lemmings.

When it comes to misinformation, oil and gas in Alberta is analogous to big tobacco, in which case, Kenney would tell us to light up... its good for us.

While it’s true Kenney’s “inquiry” spins false conspiracy theories designed to suppress citizens’ inclination toward political action against petro-industry climate change, and might be true that it succeeds to some extent, the design appears to be failing. President Biden’s nixing of the KXL pipeline from the Bitumen Mines of Albetaria is just the latest example—and the stuck-pig squealing is significant, if not a precise measure of a movement that rolls on ponderously, unstoppably.

Time is of essence when it comes to global climate change: negative impacts are not longer forecast, they are here and their mounting ecologic, economic, and social costs are already predictable with substantially greater precision than ever before. One measure is, as the above summary clearly shows, the craziness level of conspiracy theories now having passed the horizon of remote statistical plausibility and plunged into absurdity and desperation now easily corroborated in decibels of peeved, resentful caterwauling. Kenney, for example, is pathetic and his remaining base so dense, soon not even light will escape.

This squealing gets louder the closer one gets to it, meaning it’s no longer ubiquitous but, rather, isolating gradually into what can be analogically described as localized redoubts or laagers of circled wagons aiming defensive fire in every direction—that is, aimlessly. As such, the defenders can, between prayers and culling ranks of dissenters, blame anyone for anything they want, even to the point of absurdity. Their delusion trends from analogy to it’s own, self-righteous logic, especially when the figurative redoubt happens to be a real one: a remote location in easily defended, inhospitable terrain where recruits retreat to safely recuperate and prepare for vengeful recovery of what laager proselytizers claim has been unjustly denied them.

And, as it happens, Alberta has served as a redoubt a number of times before: in the 1890s for Latter Day Saints fundamentalists fleeing prohibition of polygamy when Utah confederated to the USA, Canadian Métis seeking confederation to Canada before them, and, before them, Plains Aboriginal nations seeking soon-to-be extirpated buffalo. Today’s bitumen industry is as coincidental to all that as the sandy deposit just happens to be located in a once- and still-serviceable redoubt by geographical fact.

How much remote location contributes to the redoubt mentality Kenney has ginned amongst his electoral base was once measured by whoops and hollers with his new party’s convincing 60% electoral support in 2019. How much his subsequent unpopularity indicates an erosion of that siege mentality is probably obscured by other factors like his government’s market fundamentalist public service cuts and mishandling of the Covid pandemic, for examples. But there’s no doubt bitumen mining and smelting are under siege as alternative energy sources gain market share at its expense and the market for super-heavy petroleum tanks. Political activism has forced democratic governments to make the kind of decisions President Biden did just days after taking the office won in November last. Political activism is working and —not ‘but‘—time’s a wasting. It’s not a chasm between the two, not anymore.

Kenney attacks action on petroleum pollution by activating tit-for-tat and confusing partisanship with ‘patriotism’ (Wexit fosters the illusion that the federated province is an independent nation). Dissonantly tooting a dog-whistle alternating with a hog-whistle, the satyr Kenney populates his wagon laager with a muster of intolerant fantasts ginned on supremacist religiosity for whom ‘politics’ means opinion and ‘rights’ are tantamount to teaching Biblical creationism in high school science class. But, with a dearth of market for buggy whips, spinning wheels and low-grade petro-sludge, his phalanx of low-brow bikers and red-neck truckers can’t sally very far from their bitumen-mine redoubt. And now that the old new President has read the old young Prime Minster the US Constitution and USMCA, Kenney can only watch the relieving posse rein their steeds and mosey back to Ottawa with the tip of a short-brimmed hat.

As Kenney climbs down from the wagon wheel a dusty soldier of odium asks, “He’s a comin’ tuh save us, ain’t he?” In his hand, a tattered poster reading: WANTED—FOR TREASON—JUSTIN TRUDEAU—DEAD OR ALIVE.

“Nah, it was just a mirage...”