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By Michelle Stirling, Communications Manager, Friends of Science Society ©May 15, 2020
On May 11, 2020, Carolyn Sale posted a commentary on the Ryerson Centre for Free Expression blog, expressing concerns about the response to an open letter that some 265 academics had signed. The academics are opposed to any federal financial support for Alberta’s blockaded oil/gas/oil sands sector.
Sale is an associate professor of English and film studies at the University of Alberta. Sale notes in the post that she benefitted from conversations and correspondence with Professor Laurie Adkin of the U of A, who is one of the lead authors of the joint letter of the 265 academics.
Sale seems to be under the impression that the academic freedom of the scholars who signed the open letter is somehow under threat because members of the public have expressed their opinions about what the academics wrote. She seems to think that academics are perfectly within their rights, and in fact, are performing a valuable public service, by expressing their views as public intellectuals, but somehow when other organizations, like “Friends of Science Society” respond and inform the public of their views on the matter, then there is something threatening or ‘invidious’ about this application of Canada’s guaranteed Charter Right of Freedom of Expression. (Constitution Act 1982, Part I, Section 2(b))
In our initial rebuttal, an open letter to the Prime Minister, we simply argued the evidence against the claims of the academics. The academics had advocated for abandoning financial support for the energy sector and instead taking climate action in the form of supporting “an economic recovery plan that encompasses a green transition.” The academics also claimed that decisions were being made behind the scenes and that broader society was not party to them. They did not present such evidence. In fact, civil society and environmental groups have dozens of lobbyists in Ottawa who are in and out of ministerial offices day in and day out and countless point and click campaigns to MPs are driven by environmental nongovernmental organizations (ENGO) and social justice groups like Stand.Earth, Ecojustice, David Suzuki Foundation, etc.
Contrary to Sale’s claim, nowhere in our rebuttal did we advocate for people to contact the academics. However, the academics had had their letter published in the National Observer, a newspaper that claims readership of millions of people, and there they had published the list of signatories, their respective universities and organizations and the phone numbers of the lead authors.
Actions have consequences. Academic freedom does not include automatic protection from hearing the responses of taxpaying citizens whose livelihoods are at risk due to the hard-line position these academics have taken on the energy sector and whose hard-earned cash underwrites the Ivory Tower. Many commentators were likely flabbergasted at the fact-free diatribe of the 265 academics on the presumed ‘green transition’. Everything in the developed world is made with the energy or product stream of oil, natural gas, and coal. So, there cannot be any ‘green transition’ without the energy sector. This kind of ignorance from a group of 265 academics is unforgivable. One wonders if academic freedom includes the right to be energy illiterate.
As we pointed out in our rebuttal, all forms of energy are made from fossil fuels. We provided evidence by Chris Ragan of Ecofiscal Commission that there are no fossil fuel subsidies to Canadian oil (contrary to claims of the academics); we showed evidence that the number one public priority in 2018 was improved health care. In descending order of priority were: controlling government spending, deficits and debts, helping stimulate the creation of good quality jobs, keeping the cost of living from rising, reducing poverty and income equality, etc. – but of that list of 14 items, climate change was dead last as a public priority. This from an Abacus Data/Ecofiscal survey of 2018. Instead of improved health care, Canadians got pushed into climate change. This was thanks to the overwhelming influence of academia, civil society, environmental groups, and green crony institutional investors and sovereign wealth funds. Governments jumped on the climate change bandwagon, and now Canada is plunging into long-term, virtually irreparable economic harm, because they did not listen to the people who elected them, and were caught with a struggling health care system, unprepared for a pandemic. The consequences are this massive economic crash, illness, deaths and sorrow. Can these be dismissed as inconsequential versus climate claims? No.
Subsequent to our initial letter, which was sent to several hundred journalists across Canada and the US, the group Action Alberta picked up the link. Our letter was not picked up by any of the press. It was not published as high-profile news, as the letter of 265 academics was in the National Observer. We also posted our letter on our social media and perhaps in total these efforts might have reached 100,000 people. The National Observer story reached millions. Clearly, the academics have full academic freedom and a very friendly, influential relationship with the press.
In light of this, one would have to say there is a media lock-out on freedom of expression for dissenting views. You would think that National Observer, which has frequently published commentaries about Friends of Science, would have been the first publication to pick up our rebuttal letter and publish it with equal prominence to that of the 265 academics, so as to stimulate open, public debate and Freedom of the Press.
After our initial rebuttal letter, one of our contributors, Robert Lyman, decided to write a short report to try and educate these academics and the general public about where public funds come from to pay for important things like public education, hospitals and infrastructure. Lyman is an Ottawa energy policy consultant. He was a federal public servant for 27 years, working mostly on the greenhouse gas file and related policies, and was also a diplomat for 10 years. He wrote “Biting the Hand that Feeds You” which Sale refers to in her post. In that document, Lyman points out that: “Provincial governments pay about 70% of the operating costs of the universities, including, of course, these professors’ salaries, so where universities get their funds matters. The universities that are the beneficiaries of oil industry taxpayer support are not responsible for the political activities of the professors they employ, but they might be expected to exercise a certain disdain when the professors include their university affiliations in a letter for which no such affiliations were required.”
Clearly, Lyman is not of the mind that professors should be censored, but he does question why these academics are blind to how their institutions and pay cheques are funded, and notes the questionable ethics of using one’s university affiliation as if to imply that the institution agrees with the open letter. Likewise, the fact that the academic letter fails on so many factual grounds means the academics at the University of Alberta, and possibly other institutions, have likely breached the U of A’s ethical code guidelines. The U of A claims to be one of the top 5 universities in Canada. Are its professors acting with appropriate decorum, intellectual honesty and with arguments founded upon evidence in their letter which appropriates their university’s name, as if the institution allies with their views?
In Robert Lyman’s “Biting the Hand that Feeds You”, he did incorporate the list of names that had already been published in the National Observer story, because he felt that it would only be fair for citizen/taxpayers to know who signed the letter and to have an opportunity to express their appreciation and gratitude to these public intellectuals for “Just doing their job” and exercising their “academic freedom in Premier Kenney’s Alberta” as Sale puts it.
Professor Sale should recognize that citizen/taxpayers do not have access to the front page of the National Observer to express their responsive views. They only have the phone or email.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. The academics expressed theirs, some members of the public responded, and we have expressed ours. No one has been silenced in Premier Kenney’s Alberta, though certain academics in Canada, including from the U of A, have tried to silence us. Professor Sale refers to McCarthyism in discussing the public climate in Alberta, but has she ever spoken out about DeSmogBlog, the organization that publishes the ‘blacklist’ of the climate change world? What of the academic freedom of those scholars that DeSmog so denigrates?
The University of Alberta claims in its twitter slogan that it is dedicated to ‘uplifting the whole people’. The U of A motto “Quaecumque Vera” means “Whatsoever things are true”. It is hard to see how these academics are attending to the truth or uplifting the people, when they are advocating for mass unemployment in the energy sector where Alberta is a global competitor. Meanwhile these academics are pushing for tax-subsidized green crony capitalism. In Michael Moore’s “Planet of the Humans” and this peer-reviewed paper many environmental groups are revealed to be paid proxies for ‘green’ renewables billionaires. Many of these parties have been identified as participants in the Tar Sands Campaign against Alberta.
Sale objects to a perceived commonality in arguments from Friends of Science Society, Alberta Action, and Buffalo Group, none of which have any formal relationship. If it is a problem for Sale that some similarity of thought is found in open letters in a time of economic crisis, what does she say about the formalized multi-million dollar collusion of the foreign-funded and strategized Tar Sands Campaign partners and their destructive impact on her university, city and province? This was not a campaign to simply criticize oil sands activity or advance environmental concerns. Its objective, as stated in the Tar Sands Campaign strategy document: “With regard to tar sands specifically, our long-term goal is to stop the production of this fuel.”
This is a decades-long geopolitical green trade war against Alberta. Wouldn’t Professor Sale want there to be a war room to fight back – to protect us and stand up for the facts, and for Alberta’s natural riches and beleaguered citizens?
Note that all these sources on the Tar Sands Campaign are easily found on-line.
I endorse academic freedom. I assume that Sale’s demand for academic freedom will extend to the right of all science, economic and social policy experts to hold dissenting views on climate change.
Dr. Madhav Khandekar is one of our Canadian scientific advisors, a former U of A professor and research scientist with Environment Canada for 40 years. He is a former WMO regional climate expert and past expert reviewer of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) 2007 report. In 2000, the Alberta government commissioned Dr. Khandekar to do a review of the science behind the Kyoto Accord (forerunner to the Paris Agreement). His report was entitled “Uncertainties in Greenhouse Gas Induced Climate Change.”
When I interviewed him in 2018, he explained that eighteen years later, the same uncertainties still hold “and there are many more.” Dr. Khandekar said that contrary to early estimates, climate sensitivity (warming effect) of carbon dioxide is nominal, and “even if there is no attempt made to reduce human CO2 emissions worldwide, the maximum warming that we will get, will be no more than 1 °Celsius.”
Dr. Khandekar was also an expert reviewer of the reports for the NIPCC – the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change.
Those scientists found that natural factors are the overwhelming force driving climate change.
These are crucial matters that surely should be presented in the public forum and not silenced. Today Mark Carney threatens firms with bankruptcy if they do not toe the line on his falsely catastrophic view of climate. But climate prophecy has failed him. This week Norwegian investors pulled out of the oil sands, citing ethical concerns about greenhouse gas emissions. What if those concerns are invalid? Aren’t universities the proper forum for open, civil, scientific and economic debate? To uncover “Whatsoever things are true”?
Thanks to Carolyn Sale’s advocacy work on academic freedom, we look forward to the University of Alberta being the first to host an International Climate Conference Challenge. We propose that the working title be: “Dissenting Views: No Climate Emergency – We do Have Time.” We are pleased to offer liaison to the CLINTEL Climate Intelligence group of over 800 international scientists, scholars and professionals as a resource for presenters.
In the interests of open, civil debate, I will ask Ryerson’s Centre for Free Expression to post my commentary as a counterpoint to that of Carolyn Sale.
Note: I stand for open, civil debate and am opposed to violence and harassment.
Michelle Stirling is the Communications Manager for Friends of Science Society. These are her personal views. Stirling’s work on the 97% consensus, climate change and wildfire, and petro-gender politics can be found on SSRN. She has also published an ebook of letters called “My Tar Sands Tipping Point with CBC”. Stirling is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists.