Saturday, August 11, 2012

Climate change skeptics losing PR battle

Stephen Maher, Postmedia News:

Ethical Oil is not a branch of the Conservative government, but it resembles one. It was founded by Alykhan Velshi, who left Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s office to set up the organization and now works in the prime minister’s office. The current executive director is Jamie Ellerton, another former Kenney staffer.

The organization and the government work hand-in-hand, aggressively countering opposition to the oil sands through diplomacy, public advocacy and legislation.

In the budget this spring, the government moved to starve environmental groups by empowering the CRA to withdraw the charitable status for any group that spends more than 10 per cent of its budget on political activities.

Tides Canada announced in May that it is being audited and other charities have voluntarily reorganized or deregistered to avoid audits.

I find this chilling, not because environmentalists should be allowed to shut down the oilsands and force us all to wear Birkenstocks and eat tofu, but because they have a valid role to play in public life.

And the tactics that the critics decry – using charitable status to shelter donations from tax, and using foreign money – are familiar to these critics.

Cooper is an ally of the prime minister from the days when the University of Calgary political science department was laying the intellectual groundwork for the conservative movement that now runs Ottawa.

In 2004, Cooper collected $507,975 from donors, and kept them in sheltered trust accounts at the university, which meant donors could receive tax receipts. Talisman Energy was the biggest donor, contributing $175,000.

The money went to what Postmedia News reporter Mike De Souza described as “an elaborate public relations project designed to cast doubt on scientific evidence linking human activity to global warming.”

The university set up the trust accounts at the request of a group of climate-change skeptics called the Friends of Science, whose name should be uttered with a theatrical wink.

And the Vancouver-based think-tank the Fraser Institute, which has produced videos and lesson plans that cast doubt on climate change, has received $500,000 in donations from the Koch Foundation, an American organization funded by the Koch brothers, who spend millions backing studies and campaigns disputing climate change.

Last month, in an unexpected setback to their campaign, a study they funded – by University of California physics professor Richard A. Muller – concluded that “global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct.”

The skeptics are losing the public relations battle, helped along by a calamitous drought and melting ice fields.

Continue reading here.

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