Climate Drewhaha: financing a documentary with a point of view is advocacy, not defending free speech

Posted on March 27, 2017, 2:28 am
7 mins

PHOTOS: Wildrose Energy Critic Drew Barnes, at right, on the steps of the Alberta Legislature one cold day in 2016. Below: Wetaskiwin-Camrose NDP MLA Bruce Hinkley (Camrose Canadian photo), Calgary Currie MLA Brian Malkinson, and National Post commentator and documentary maker John Robson (screenshot).

Is Wildrose Energy Critic Drew Barnes actually surprised he’s drawing fire for putting some of his own money into a documentary that questions the belief widespread among scientists, though not necessarily the Opposition party’s base, that humans are causing global climate change?

Apparently so.

Now, this may not have surprised you, but I confess it surprised me. After all, I always thought Mr. Barnes was one of the smart ones in the Opposition party’s caucus in the Alberta Legislature.

The shots – and, judging from the recipient’s reaction, the even-more-stinging social media mockery – started coming Mr. Barnes’s way last week after word leaked out he was putting some of his own money into a crowd-funding effort for the documentary project by John Robson, a National Post contributor whose personal website describes him as an “invited professor” at the University of Ottawa.

As an aside, if you’ve never heard the term “invited professor,” neither have I. Perhaps it’s the same thing as a visiting professor. Or maybe it means adjunct professor. Whatever, Dr. Robson has a PhD, from the University of Texas at Austin, which is a very good school. His doctorate is in American history, however, which in case you hadn’t noticed is not a science. Dr. Robson appears to be attached to U of O’s History Department, so what do you want to bet the course he teaches isn’t in climate science?

The story about Mr. Barnes seems to have come to light when a sharp-eyed someone in the NDP Caucus office noticed Dr. Robson on social media thanking Mr. Barnes, who is also the Wildrose MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, for his donation.

The NDP caucus put out a statement quoting Wetaksiwin-Camrose MLA Bruce Hinkley to the effect that if the Wildrose Energy Critic doesn’t want us to think he’s a climate-change denier, he really ought not to help bankroll movies that will try to dismiss climate science as “pseudoscientific scaremongering.”

“We’ve seen a disturbing pattern of climate change denial from Mr. Barnes, who has promoted dozens of social media posts denying climate change and calling climate science a fraud,” Mr. Hinkley said. “Albertans want their MLAs to focus on jobs and supporting a strong energy industry. In promoting these theories, Mr. Barnes hurts the reputation of our energy industry and does nothing to make life better for the people we were elected to represent.”

The subsequent Twitter battle seems to have caught the eye of a reporter for a Calgary talk radio station and the argument quickly escalated into a full-scale brouhaha – or, perhaps I should say, Drewhaha.

Calgary-Currie NDP MLA Brian Malkinson gave an interview to News Talk 77 in which he pointed out that Alberta recently had two pipelines approved by the federal government “because we took action on climate change because we believe it’s real.” He went on: “Mr. Barnes by supporting this movie puts that at risk.”

At that point, if Mr. Barnes could have throttled Dr. Robson, I imagine he would have. And if Mr. Barnes’s party leader, Brian Jean, could have throttled him (metaphorically speaking, of course), I imagine he would have too.

Mr. Barnes’s reaction in media and on social media was anguished – and highly defensive. He insisted he’s not a climate change denier – he just wants to support free speech. “I’m a believer that Albertans are entitled to as much information as possible about the things that affect our lives,” he told News Talk 77.

He accused the NDP of being afraid to “have a conversation on climate change” – which seems odd, seeing as they were having a conversation on climate change right then, and with him!

On Twitter, he went further, acting like another delicate little right-wing snowflake and accusing the NDP of “bullying” him because they “don’t want transparent conversation about best policy.”

Mr. Barnes need not worry. No one is trying to bully him into shutting up. On the contrary, I imagine the NDP was delighted at his contribution to this conversation and hopes he has more to say about it. Absolutely no one – least of all his opponents – questions his right to free speech!

Mr. Jean, as noted, is probably less enthusiastic for the same reasons as the NDP is pleased – because whatever Mr. Barnes’s motives were, his action tends to make the right-wing Opposition look and sound like climate-change deniers who actually do hurt Alberta’s chances of getting pipelines built. But then, Mr. Jean isn’t known to be a particular fan of Mr. Barnes anyway, or vice-versa.

Meanwhile, unless he wants us to believe he’s supporting Dr. Robson’s project for its artistic merits, the only plausible explanations for Mr. Barnes’s support of the project are that he supports its point of view, or he thinks if enough people are persuaded climate science is bogus it will help the Alberta right’s electoral chances.

In other words, pretty much what the NDP is saying.

Sorry, but there’s no escaping that financing a documentary with a point of view is engaging in advocacy, not defending free speech.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

25 Comments to: Climate Drewhaha: financing a documentary with a point of view is advocacy, not defending free speech

  1. Farmer B

    March 27th, 2017

    Listened to John Robson being interviewed on QR 77 radio the other day talking about his film, at the time I thought this will ruffle some feathers! Anyway I digress. Let me get this straight climate change denial will put pipeline developement at risk? So are you saying that politically we must show our belief in climate change to continue to develope and export our resources? Doesn’t the developement of one that being a pipeline increase the other that being climate change? Or are you following Barrack Obama’s example of talking about the need to improve our environment while your country doubles its oil production and builds over 19200 kms of pipelines while you are President? Look at the world climate green fund in which developed nations are to put 1% of our GDP into a fund to help under developed countries transition to a greener future. The reality is that just like in Alberta taxing carbon is all about redistributing wealth and probably with some justification lowering the standard of living in developed nations. Now to save you the trouble, I don’t consider myself a climate change denier but I am a climate realist. What I mean is this, if the theories about C02 are correct there is enough C02 in the atmosphere already to cause the temperature to rise and we all aren’t going to stop driving our cars or heating our homes tomorrow so I think we have to also look at adaptation and putting in place policies that will allow humanity to flourish in a potentially warmer world.

    Reply
    • Val Jobson

      March 27th, 2017

      Yes, we have already produced enough CO2 to cause some warming; but as we continue to produce CO2 we will make it a lot warmer, faster. We need to adapt to what we’ve done, but we also need to stop making it worse.

      It’s not going to get a little warmer then stop. It’s going to keep getting warmer, unless we change what we do.

      Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      March 27th, 2017

      Hi Farmer B,

      All of your points are valid – we are not going to stop driving tomorrow, and there is enough added CO2 in the atmosphere that adaptation steps are necessary. What is really necessary is that we start to work on preventing things from getting worse.

      The situation is like a ship headed towards an iceberg. If we try to do a sharp 90 degree turn, the boat will go over. That is the doomsday scenario conservative commentators are thinking about when they describe the horrors of trying to fix climate change. Nevertheless, we can start to turn the ship’s wheel to avoid the iceberg. As the ship slowly starts to change direction it will initially continue to move closer to the iceberg, which is the contradiction you describe with regards to building pipelines while taking introductory steps toward addressing climate change. In time the ship will hopefully miss the iceberg.

      Climate change deniers, however, are refusing to see the iceberg, and want us to continue heading towards it, which will bring a ‘Titanic’ result.

      Our society is essentially addicted to gasoline. The first step towards solving any addiction is to acknowledge there is a problem, and deniers aren’t willing to do that.

      Reply
      • Farmer B

        March 27th, 2017

        The more I think about it Bob the more I am confused about the connection between being a climate change believer and the ability to build pipelines. In fact politics in Alberta gets more confusing each day. The NDP ran on getting off the energy royalty roller coaster yet in their latest budget they point to a recovery in energy royalties as our path to a balanced budget. Before the last election Rachel Notley was fully against the Keystone XL pipeline, now she is touting all the new jobs and the opening of new markets for our oil that the approval of this pipeline will bring. And perhaps the most perplexing stance for an NDP politician is the lecturing of Brad Wall on raising taxes after she adopted 58 of 59 tax increases proposed by Jim Prentice, raising both personal and corporate income tax above what he proposed and imposing a carbon tax. But my main question is can you really be for increased oil developement and more pipelines and still realistically be a proponent of climate change?

        Reply
        • Bob Raynard

          March 29th, 2017

          I really think the solution to climate change has to come from the demand side. To this end the carbon tax is a good start. As fuel gets expensive enough people will start to cut back their energy usage. When demand falls your oil development question will answer itself.

          Reply
        • political ranger

          March 29th, 2017

          I never thought that ir would come to this FarmerB, but … On your last point we are in complete agreement, or at least, bewilderment.
          Being pro-increased petro development is not the same as being pro-petro development in the same way as running some distance to catch the bus is not the same as running the same distance in the Olympics. One is much more committed than the other.
          To follow the analogy a bit further; a climate change proponent, as you say, who is advocating for actions to mitigate that climate change is not just a spectator watching the race but is not even in the arena at all.
          There is no connecting tissue between a position that supports additional pipelines to carry increased petro-production and the position that climate change is real and we ought to do something about it. Only in Albaturda where reality has been suspended, ignored actually, since Klien took over, in favour of the political ‘realities’ could such a statement be considered worthy of sober reflection. It’s completely crazy.

          Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      March 27th, 2017

      I agree that we will have to do some adapting to climate change. But that’s also going to cost money and require sacrifices, probably equal to, or even greater, to the prevention measures that you view with disdain. All that to say, to all those who use the adaptation argument as a smokescreen for a ‘do nothing because I don’t want to make sacrifices’ argument, be careful what you wish for.

      Reply
    • Albert

      March 29th, 2017

      Ahh Farmer B. Is there an A Farmer? Maybe in Saskatchewan, but I digress. Are you a cagey advocate of austerity? Unemployment as the key to prosperity? Government as the problem? So. Should we end hobby farm tax breaks and fuel subsidies? How about crop insurance? How about the corporatization of agriculture? Are you a fan? Such a soft spoken plutocrat you are!

      Reply
  2. jerrymacgp

    March 27th, 2017

    Is it truly a “documentary” if it’s bogus pseudoscience?

    These climate-change deniers try to argue that the Earth’s climate has been changing, with warming periods and colder periods, Ice Ages and hotter periods, for eons (well, perhaps not their young-Earth creationist brethren… but I digress), and that humanity can do little to change that. Of course, that’s true, to a point. But natural climate change moves very slowly, with one degree of warming or cooling taking hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. This gives the ecosystem, and the life forms that inhabit it, time to adapt through evolutionary processes (again, those creationists won’t buy any of this, but that is a topic for another day). And yet, extinctions do occur, even if the only climate change is natural and gradual.

    Anthropogenic climate change is quite different. Instead of taking millennia, it happens over mere decades, and lately has caused measurable shifts in global mean temperatures in the lifetime of one human being. This is a pace far too fast for any ecosystem to adapt, and is even too fast for our human-built artificial habitats to be adapted. Coastal infrastructure is threatened by rising sea levels, species that were once confined to the tropics can now migrate north into once-temperate zones (think the mosquito species that carry West Nile, and Zika virus), and once-lush forests now experience periods of drought. We have seen multiple extinctions in recent history, and habitat destruction, caused both by human activity and by climate change, is one of the contributing factors.

    That doesn’t mean natural climate change doesn’t happen. It only means that there are two parallel processes at work, one which is slow & gradual, and the other which is sudden and sharp; it is the second one which we seek to control, while continuing to allow nature to adapt to the first.

    Reply
    • lar

      March 27th, 2017

      All true, JerryMacGP, but there have been instances of very rapid climate change that had nothing to do with human beings – the Younger Dryas is an example, in which mean temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere declined by 2-6 C over a period of decades, about 12,000 years ago. The thing is, nobody would argue that this was anything other than catastrophic for people alive at the time, and if those people had been reliant upon an agricultural economy, it would have been even worse.

      Reply
  3. Maria

    March 27th, 2017

    Is climate change denial the new “lake of fire” ?

    Reply
    • Maryinga

      March 29th, 2017

      Essentially as of 2017 I believe climate change denial is the new stupid. Watch the Donald get it on tweetering about ‘clean coal’. Or watch the CBC interview with a coal miner in need of medications to the tune of several thousand a month because he worked as a coal miner for years and has black lung disease.

      Speaking of being intellectually challenged…that poor man, and his wife, still support Trump, b

      Climate change denial is just another turn of the screw in the generalized denial that fossil fuel extraction and much of the fossil fuel based products we use have negative health effects. Many of us live in denial of one kind or another, till it kills us.

      With climate change however……..the consequences of burying our heads in the sand are larger….and potentially more permanent. Climate change denial is closer to a crime against life….

      My hope is that nobody is going to buy it for much longer

      Reply
  4. Brent

    March 27th, 2017

    Great article David. I would argue that historical research methods are indeed scientific. Anyone with a PhD in history should have explored the subject with enough rigor to know that the past is littered with the ruins of societies which vanished because they did not respond to changing climate, or failed to look after their fragile environment. Alberta’s NDP government should be applauded for their vision and leadership in both areas. It will be interesting to see how history remembers Mr. Barnes’ opposition to their efforts.

    Reply
    • Lars

      March 27th, 2017

      Historians’ (or at least anthropologists’) responses to the evidence of cultural collapse due to sudden-onset climate change seems to be greatly affected by ideological considerations, however. Look at the responses Jared Diamond got to his work in this line.

      Reply
  5. Maria

    March 27th, 2017

    If Global Warming is not caused by people, then the cause must be farm animals. The Wildrose should encourage farmers to get rid of their cows and pigs and convert to growing vegetables. We may not need the carbon tax. We can always buy beef from Saskatchewan – they need the money. I’ll start my crowdfunding site at once for a film about the benefits of veggies (kale is in high demand).

    Reply
    • Lars

      March 27th, 2017

      Unfortunately the consumption of kale contributes to the production of some pretty wicked greenhouse gasses.

      Reply
  6. Val Jobson

    March 27th, 2017

    Robson specializes in American History; his opining on climate science shows no evidence of research or expertise in the area. He cites his friend Tom Harris, who has been a paid climate denier for many years. He also hangs around at the Rebel, so we know he keeps very bad company.

    Here’s a blog post criticizing an article by him

    http://russilwvong.com/blog/posts/2015/03/29/john-robson-on-global-warming/

    and his response: http://policyoptions.irpp.org/2015/03/31/robson-on-wvong-on-robson-on-climate/

    His writing on climate doesn’t look substantive to me.

    and his response http://policyoptions.irpp.org/2015/03/31/robson-on-wvong-on-robson-on-climate/

    Reply
    • Val

      March 27th, 2017

      sure, even according to Leonardo DiCaprio, the greatest scientist of all time: “it’s terrifying, and it’s what people are talking about all over the world”.
      and can you imagine, we must deal with this terrible thing every winter.

      b.t.w. another great scientist, Al Gore, lately disappeared. any idea why? did the climate get better or he had rise enough fund to enjoy rest of his life?

      Reply
    • Maryinga

      March 29th, 2017

      Thanks for this. All these clowns need is for the intelligent minority to do nothing. Thankfully, recent events seem to be waking many of us up. Go to Rebel media just once or twice and you can get a pretty clear picture of the intellectual prowess and research capabilities of that crowd.

      Reply
  7. Bob Raynard

    March 27th, 2017

    Another great post, David.

    Apparently people yet to accept the reality of climate change don’t like to be called ‘deniers’, so we need another term. I suggest unicorns, the species discovered by the group of Irish scientists known as the Rovers. Unicorns, of course, met their demise by playing a silly game while the climate was changing around them. Although the archeological evidence is incomplete, preliminary research seems to indicate their games were on ATVs, 4 X 4s etc.

    Reply
  8. March 28th, 2017

    It is very difficult to deny climate change.

    Seems to me that most of the people who are denying are doing so for financial reasons or for political reasons.

    And those why deny it for political reasons in whole or in part generally offer no solutions. Their solution is to oppose and hope that they can garner public support for doing nothing. Kick it down the road.

    There was a reason why the CEO’s of some of the largest O&G players in Alberta were on the platform in support of Rachael Notley when she made her environment announcement.

    These are very smart people. They are engineers, scientists,investors-all forward thinkers. They are at the helm of building Alberta’s future.

    It is unfortunate that we do not have more of this type of individuals and this type of leadership across the political spectrum. Not surprised about the WRP. I think the party is unsure of what it wants to be when it grows up and matures into adulthood.

    Reply
    • Maryinga

      March 29th, 2017

      Not even sure if the Wild Rose has any intentions of grwoing up and maturing into adulthood. Not everyone has to you know. Some become addicted to adolescent behavior and keep repeating the performance well into middle age.

      Reply

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