Critics denounce ‘climate-change denialism’ reports commissioned by Alberta inquiry

A $3.5-million Alberta government public inquiry into alleged foreign-funded anti-energy campaigns has posted commissioned studies that experts say are based on junk climate-denial science, bizarre conspiracy theories and oil-industry propaganda.

“If you read any of this stuff, it really strays into Marxism and conspiracy theory and George Soros and Bill Gates,” said Andrew Leach, an energy and environmental economist at the University of Alberta.

“It is astounding to me.”

Recently, the Public Inquiry Into Funding of Anti-Alberta Campaigns posted on its website that it had invited 47 people or organizations to apply for standing as a “participant for commentary” in the inquiry.

The 11 who applied and were granted standing received a package of materials to review, including several reports commissioned at the request of inquiry commissioner Steve Allan, a Calgary forensic accountant with close ties to the government of Premier Jason Kenney.

One of the commissioned reports was written by Barry Cooper, a University of Calgary professor of political science. In 2008, the Globe and Mail reported that a university audit had revealed Cooper was in charge of two research accounts that were used to funnel money to the Friends of Science, a controversial organization that had ties to the federal Conservative party and calls human-caused climate change a “myth.”

In turn, Friends of Science used the money to produce and pay for radio ads in key Ontario ridings during the 2006 election campaign, the Globe reported.

In the report Cooper wrote for the Alberta inquiry, he falsely referred to “the growing scientific skepticism regarding the so-called consensus view regarding anthropogenic climate change,” when in fact scientific consensus on the cause of climate change has been growing.

Another commissioned report, by historian Tammy Nemeth, claims that a “transnational progressive movement” is attempting to overthrow the “modern western industrial capitalist society” by infiltrating institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank, as well as university departments and corporations.

“The foot soldiers, the shock troops, of the larger movement,” Nemeth wrote, are environmental non-government organizations, “or watermelons, as James Delingpole has coined — green on the outside, red (socialist) on the inside.”

Nemeth recycled a number of old arguments that natural cycles are responsible for rising CO2 levels and increased global temperatures — claims that have been debunked in multiple peer-reviewed scientific studies.

Allan paid Nemeth, a home-school teacher in England, nearly $28,000 for the report.

Energy In Depth, an offshoot campaign of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, was paid $50,000 US for a third commissioned report, titled “Foreign Funding Targeting Canada’s Energy Sector.”

Energy and environmental economist Andrew Leach says the reports lack academic rigour and stray into conspiracy theories. (CBC)

“This is a multimillion-dollar inquiry with subpoena power and public inquiry power,” Leach said. 

“And what we are getting, the first indication of any kind of research they have gathered, is commissioned reports from industry front groups and people with a questionable history on exactly the types of topics they are trying to look into.”  

At a news conference Thursday, NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said she was shocked by the waste of taxpayer money “to support and solicit anti-science, climate-denying ridiculousness.”

“I think that it sends a horrible message to international investors, it undermines our energy industry,” Notley said, calling on the government to cancel the inquiry and to fire Allan.

Allan declined an interview request Thursday.

‘Textbook examples of climate-change denialism’

In a post on the University of Calgary law faculty blog Thursday, professor Martin Olszysnki said, “by and large, the commissioned reports are textbook examples of climate-change denialism.”

Olszynski is an expert in environmental and natural resources law and policy who was granted standing as a participant in the inquiry in October. The blog post contains his review of the reports. 

University of Calgary law professor Martin Olszynski, who reviewed the reports, said they are ‘textbook examples of climate-change denialism.’ (Martin Olszynski)

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

In an interview with CBC News, Olszynski said he was “dumbstruck” when he first saw the commissioned reports.

He said they tie together individual statements and clippings, “suggesting they are all part of one cohesive, coherent sort of master plan. And that, of course, just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

“And then throwing in, again, notions of Marxism and these kinds of weird intentions; again, all by conjecture,” he said. “Trying to piece together a story when at the end of the day, the only sort of credible way to think and talk about these things is to talk to the [environmental] groups themselves.”

In a news release, environmental law charity Ecojustice — a named target of the inquiry — said “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.”

Ecojustice is challenging the legitimacy of the inquiry in court.

“Commissioner Allan has already demonstrated time and again that Albertans should not take his findings seriously,” the news release said. “If it wasn’t already obvious, the commissioner’s latest update of climate denier reports makes it clear: This inquiry lacks any shred of credibility.”

Controversial inquiry

In July 2019, Kenney announced his United Conservative government would spend $2.5 million on a provincial inquiry into “foreign-funded special interests” and their campaigns to stop oilsands development.

Since then, Alberta’s energy minister has added $1 million to the inquiry’s budget and pushed back the deadline for Allan’s final report to the end of January.

But even as the government poured more time and resources into the inquiry, it has several times amended its scope and scale, ultimately limiting what the inquiry is expected to yield. 

In a September 2020 update to his inquiry’s terms of reference, Allan said he won’t be able to fact-check whether statements critical of the province’s energy industry are misleading or false, calling that a “colossal undertaking” he cannot accomplish under his mandate.

At a news conference Thursday, NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the inquiry’s commissioning of the reports actually undermine the province’s energy industry and sends a ‘horrible message’ to investors. (Facebook)

The inquiry is now two weeks away from its deadline and has not, as required by the legislation governing the inquiry, given notice to Ecojustice, the Pembina Institute and several other environment groups that Allan has found any evidence of improper or hidden funding. 

Leach said notwithstanding the previous widespread criticism of the inquiry, these commissioned reports further show it is not achieving its goals.   

“Is this even getting close to the type of exploration that Albertans who are concerned about these things expect for multiple millions of dollars? The answer is no.”

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