Denis Lemire did not plan to become an online troll. But after Alberta's UCP government infiltrated everything from his morning commute to the ads on his favourite podcasts with "blatant misinformation," the father of three said he felt impelled to act.
For months, he had been bombarded with roadside billboards and online ads funded by the Alberta government attacking federal clean electricity rules. The draft federal rules will transition Canada's grid to renewable sources by 2035, with an exception for the use of "some" fossil fuels as a backup.
Despite Alberta being home to a booming renewables industry, the UCP in September launched an $8-million ad campaign to push back. The so-called "Tell the Feds" campaign targeted people in Alberta, Ontario, Brunswick and Nova Scotia with ads claiming the proposed rules will lead to higher utility bills and power shortages.
For Lemire, the "misinformation" campaign was one "absolutely disgraceful" expenditure of Albertans’ tax dollars too many. So when a fellow renewable energy and Tesla enthusiast told him the website domain name telltheUCP.ca had not been claimed, he bought it for $12.
Lemire's website mimics the Alberta government's original: He used a similar white font on black, with pictures of buildings at dusk in the background. Like the original, he included a form users can fill out to send a message to the government — except instead of supposedly messaging federal officials, Lemire's website claims to send a note to the UCP.
The tech worker by trade even managed to ensure the text and icon displayed in his website's thumbnail tab were identical to the UCP original.
While he jokes he's "a smartass by default," Lemire emphasized the website was primarily designed to push back against the UCP's leviathan climate disinformation campaign. With a rapidly closing window to prevent catastrophic climate change, climate disinformation was singled out last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a "barrier" to effective action.
False or misleading information about the climate has "contributed to misperceptions of the scientific consensus, uncertainty, disregarded risk and urgency, and dissent," the panel warned. Particularly dangerous is "opposition from status quo interests," with researchers blaming fossil fuel companies and other industry groups and governments for fuelling climate misinformation.
"The only riding that our provincial government listens to is oil companies," Lemire added. "Our premier is really just three oil companies standing on each other's shoulders in a trenchcoat pretending to be a qualified leader."
Denis Lemire did not plan to become an online troll. But after Alberta's UCP government infiltrated everything from his morning commute to the ads on his favourite podcasts with "blatant misinformation," the father of three said he had to act.
While the campaigns pumped out of the Alberta government's so-called "energy war room" are particularly prominent in Canadian climate misinformation, they're not alone, with industry and conspiracy theorists also fuelling the social ill.
Take B.C. and Ontario, where Canada's National Observer revealed earlier this year that public gas utilities FortisBC and Enbridge are greenwashing and fudging numbers to expand natural gas infrastructure. Or the shadowy coalition of conspiracy theorists blocking municipal climate efforts based on debunked climate denial myths.
Researchers find social media gives space for myths promoted by pro-fossil fuel influencers to amplify. With minimal restrictions and oversight on harmful climate content, platforms are easily flooded with misleading or outright false information about the climate crisis and measures to deal with it.
Or as Lemire put it: "Bullshit spreads around the country before the truth can put its shoes on."
While he is motivated to ensure his kids inherit "a world that is livable," Lemire said that part of his passion for renewables is economics. Alberta is "at a turning point" where it is cheaper for consumers to use renewables and electric vehicles than their fossil fuel-powered counterparts, he said.
He lives that reality daily. He has solar panels on his roof that typically generate more power than he needs and a Tesla, meaning he pays almost nothing to power his house and get around town. That's a far cry from many Canadians slammed by high gas and utility bills.
Some might be convinced to take up renewables, he said, but with disinformation like the "Tell the Feds" campaign flooding the Internet, they are "going to encounter bullshit at every step of the way." TelltheUCP.ca was an effort to have a "voice of reason out there" for fellow Canadians seeking information about renewables — and those frustrated with Danielle Smith’s government.
Still, he is not beholden to the website. It took less than an hour to create, not that he has had time to promote it widely. It also could be made more complex: for instance, the comment form is not yet able to actually message UCP officials, an easy upgrade he hasn't made yet. If a fellow disinformation crusader approached him for the domain to build a more comprehensive website, he'd be "happy to pass it on."
But there is one exception: "Anybody but the UCP."