The Vancouver Sun’s Op-ed Denying a Climate Crisis a Symbol of Wider Journalistic Malpractice

A journalist’s role is to seek truth, especially in the face of an emergency. But the media is not doing its job.

BC wildfire
‘By publishing op-eds such as this, their newspaper isn’t serving the truth. It is polluting the public square by propagating what the best science tells us are untruths about the most pressing problem of our age.’ Photo BC Wildfire Service.

Right now, Europeans are likely suffering because of the climate crisis. Sweltering heat waves have broken records across the continent, pushing temperatures into the 40s. Those temperatures have caused deaths, much disruption and misery.

So I was disappointed when that misery coincided with the Vancouver Sun’s publication of an op-ed column by University of Guelph economics professor Ross McKitrick claiming we only have a “vague inkling” that we “might” be in a climate emergency a “decade from now.”

That comment may surprise some readers of the Sun, which has a storied past and was the most-read newspaper in Western Canada according to the most recent report from News Media Canada. After all, many of them have already experienced that emergency as a result of the climate change-fuelled wildfires which devastated British Columbia in 2017 and 2018, cloaking the Lower Mainland in smoke. It may also surprise readers who have seen this summer’s satellite images of the Arctic on fire.

And it would almost certainly surprise the scientists who authored three major peer-reviewed studies on climate change that were published a day after McKitrick’s column. Commenting on those studies for the CBC, climatologist Gavin Schmidt said they underline the fact the global heating we are seeing is “unusual in a multi-centennial context” and that we are to blame for it.

In fact, we have much more than a “vague inkling” that there is a climate emergency given the voluminous scientific research and observable evidence supporting that conclusion.

For example, in October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned our carbon emissions must be about 45 per cent of what they were in 2010 by 2030 to avoid increasing the risk of extreme heat and drought in the future. Seven months later, another United Nations group warned a million species are threatened with extinction due to human activity, including climate change.

And according to a 429-page report that the British Columbia government quietly released last week, climate change could have catastrophic consequences for the province.

Yet McKitrick seems to ignore this kind of research and evidence in his 655-word commentary, which was published online on July 23 beneath a headline that included the words “Reality check” and made it into print the following day.

Instead, the Fraser Institute senior fellow alleges those alarmed about the climate emergency make their case by rattling off “unsubstantiated slogans about the weather getting worse and more extreme.” Moreover, he appears to believe that because a handful of local conditions don’t indicate a climate emergency, the effects of global heating won’t be felt by all of us. This is the same as saying there isn’t an epidemic because your household hasn’t been infected yet.

McKitrick’s arguments benefit the corporate and political interests who have frustrated and continue to forestall attempts to take climate action.

And by publishing this op-ed and others like it, newspapers such as the Sun are creating a journalistic crisis.

Our principal responsibility is to find and tell the truth. Indeed, democracy hinges on us doing that because without the truth it’s impossible for the public to make the informed, rational and empathetic decisions expected of us in a democracy. And, in the coming months and years, no decision will be more important than how we decide to respond to climate change, both individually and collectively. MORE

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Conspiracy theory of ‘foreign-funded’ tar sands opposition reveals ugly truth

The process of dehumanization, whether around the world or closer to home in Postmedia’s conspiracy-pushing columns, splits our species in two

Image result for ricochet: Conspiracy theory of 'foreign-funded' tar sands opposition reveals ugly truth

The attendees of last month’s “Big Guns” Stampede breakfast put on by Calgary’s oil and gas industry were there for the pancakes, sausages, and “frac juice” cocktails, not the speeches. And so, over the happily chattering sea of cowboy hats and plaid, I had to listen hard just to make out parts of the following:

“We have been beaten to death by the eco-alarmists…. We’ve got people, foreign-funded, taking us to task…. To the eco-alarmists: You have touched the bear. You have awoken the giant. We’re pissed and we’re not going to stand for it.”

Vague public heraldings of coming retribution against foreign-funded environmentalists are generally not part of my childhood memories of Stampede breakfasts. But, then, in those days, Albertans weren’t being told they’re the targets of a coordinated plot.

If they were recognized as fully human, we would need to undertake a rapid transition away from fossil fuels in order to protect their inviolable rights.

Across the country’s media for the past year and a half or so — particularly in outlets owned by Canada’s dominant corporate media empire, Postmedia — one can find piece after piece after piece about long-running machinations by U.S. charities and foundations to interfere with Canadian politics by fomenting tar sands opposition throughout the country.

It culminated and reified at the start of last month with Alberta premier Jason Kenney announcing a $2.5-million government inquiry into “foreign-funded special interests” opposing the tar sands. And it will likely resurface again in the Conservatives’ federal election campaign later this year.

There is no reason to take the actual claims of this (absurd) narrative seriously, as other writers have argued in detail.

Rather, what we ought to be concerned about is the narrative’s popularity, because what it reveals is something ugly at the heart of the climate crisis: the importance of dehumanization.

The uses of unpeople

A grisly sorting is underway. As climate change forces our political and economic systems to contend with the problem of who really matters, it is sieving us into two species: people, whose rights are inalienable and deserve full respect and consideration, and unpeople, whose burdensome rights and humanity get stripped away wherever they interfere with state-capital aims.

Those who can be degenerated into unpeople perform a crucial function for the contemporary order. If they were recognized as fully human, we would need to undertake a rapid transition away from fossil fuels in order to protect their inviolable rights. Having a humanity that can be conveniently stripped away, however, permits something clearly more important: the prolonging of the period during which the economy can stay wedded to the old energy infrastructure; the ultra rich can horde the wealth we might otherwise marshall towards a renewable energy transition; and political elites can hold power by campaigning as though we need not make a choice between continued fossil fuel dependence and a habitable climate. (Consider how just last month it was determined to be in the public interest to proceed with a tar sands mine, despite adverse effects on Indigenous communities.) MORE

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Climate change and biodiversity should be top headline news

We are ill served by traditional media. A list of reliable sources is found here

Image: Philip Bump/Flickr

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report in October warning of how quickly we’re advancing toward irreversible climate chaos, it led the news — for a day. A massive study in May by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services about rapid wildlife extinction met a similar fate.

In Canada, issues like legalization of recreational cannabis pushed aside the climate report, and news about the birth of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s baby buried the biodiversity report everywhere.

In early April, I read front-page stories in the Vancouver Sun about Brexit and the SNC-Lavalin scandal. The third page had a single column headlined, “Grim climate report released,” about an Environment and Climate Change Canada review by 43 scientists showing Canada is warming at twice the global average rate, even faster in the North.

Why aren’t these reports dominating front pages, financial sections and newscasts, highlighting the enormous societal and economic implications? British Columbians know well that climate change is real. We’ve seen glaciers that supply much of our water retreatingmountain pine beetle outbreaks destroying billions of dollars’ worth of trees, smoke from massive wildfires darkening skies for weeks, acidified oceans killing shellfish, and rising seas threatening coastlines.

In an April speech to the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation‘s Covering Climate Now conference in New York, respected U.S. broadcaster Bill Moyers pointed to research showing, “The combined coverage of climate change by the three major networks and Fox fell from just 260 minutes in 2017 to a mere 142 minutes in 2018,” and “about 1,300 communities across the United States have totally lost news coverage, many from newspaper mergers and closures.”  MORE

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B.C. Appeal Court’s Trans Mountain ruling may not be quite the slam-dunk Alberta thinks it is

 

An undated stock photo of work on the Trans Mountain Pipeline Photo: Facebook
Photo: Facebook ​

The unanimous ruling Friday by the British Columbia Court of Appeal that the B.C. government does not have the constitutional authority to control what goes inside the federally regulated Trans Mountain pipeline is being hailed as a great victory in Alberta.

Church bells didn’t actually ring on Friday, but the general tone of media coverage of the decision by five justices of the B.C. Court of Appeal was that it was “a great victory for Premier Jason Kenney” and a “humiliating court defeat” for B.C. Premier John Horgan.

Both of the passages in quotation marks were actually written in Postmedia’s Calgary Herald, which may be limbering up for the Toronto-based corporation’s hoped-for new role as part of Kenney’s partisan “war room” anti-environmentalism operation.

The first statement is obviously untrue, beyond the fact the ruling was the one longed for by Kenney and his new United Conservative Party government. Kenney literally had nothing to do with it.

As for the second statement, a better case can be made for that given the unanimity of the court’s decision, but it is unclear whether Horgan’s government ever expected to win this case, the outcome of which was confidently predicted by most legal scholars.

Remember, B.C. brought this forward as a reference case, to see if its argument for its right to regulate the contents of modes of transportation passing through the province’s territory would pass muster. So, by losing and being prepared to try again, it can be argued it wins politically by demonstrating its good intentions to the Green Party MLAs propping up its tenuous hold on the B.C. legislature in Victoria, and to voters who might next time be tempted to go Green. MORE

Jason Kenney fiddles (with climate policy) while Alberta burns

 

“Think of climate obstructionism in Alberta today as a three-legged stool. Postmedia and commentators like Smith are one leg, the Kenney government is another, and fossil fuel industry lobby groups are the third.”

A wildfire at Loon Lake on the Ashcroft First Nation Reserves in British Columbia in 2017. Photo: Shawn Cahill/Creative Commons
Photo: Shawn Cahill/Creative Commons ​

It is an irony, though not a particularly satisfying one to observe, that while Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government moves swiftly to repeal Alberta’s carbon tax, the province is aflame, with more than 5,000 Albertans required to leave homes and communities in imminent danger of destruction.

It is only May. The leaves on most of the elm trees on my street in St. Albert have not even appeared yet. In other words, it’s barely spring. God only knows what things will be like around here by midsummer. Smoky, I imagine.

Well, get used to it. It gets harder by the day to deny the reality of global climate change. One of the effects of this inconvenient fact on Alberta’s part of our planet is that there are going to be more frequent and more severe forest fires — the kind that destroyed large swaths of the town of Slave Lake in 2011, Fort McMurray in 2016, and which are now threatening High Level.

“Fire driven weather is ‘new reality’ for Canada and elsewhere, expert cautions,” said the headline on the news summary of an episode yesterday of The Current, CBC Radio’s daily news analysis program hosted by Anna Maria Tremonti.

Tremonti’s interview with Ed Struzik, author of Firestorm: How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future and a fellow of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, was playing on the car radio as I drove to work. Fire-caused weather that results in dynamic, fast moving fires is “the new reality,” Struzik was saying. “We saw it in B.C. in the last two years, and Alberta the year before, Waterton National Park. Ontario got hit hard last year. I think this is what we’re going to be seeing more of every summer.”

Bill 1, An Act to Repeal the Carbon Tax, was introduced in the provincial legislature on Wednesday and will take effect on May 30. A federal carbon tax will likely replace it, although Kenney has vowed to fight that in the courts. The position of this bill atop of the government’s radical agenda is intentionally symbolic and tells you everything you need to know about where Kenney really stands on climate change. MORE

Postmedia hires former Kenney staffer to lobby Alberta government on involvement in ‘energy war room’

Read with care: By joining Jason Kenney’s ‘war room’, Postmedia is apparently going to be supporting neoliberal resource development and attacking environmental concerns more openly.  

Calgary Herald building

Lobbyist registration reveals company that publishes newspapers in at least 34 Alberta communities has hired former UCP campaign director Nick Koolsbergen to lobby Alberta government

Documents filed with the Alberta Lobbyist Registry reveal that Canadian media behemoth Postmedia — which owns the National Post, Edmonton Journal, Edmonton Sun, Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, Vancouver Sun, The Province, Ottawa Citizen and many others — is actively seeking to become “involved” in Premier Jason Kenney’s “energy war room.”

The lobbying records state Postmedia hired Kenney’s former campaign director Nick Koolsbergen to “discuss ways Postmedia could be involved in the government’s energy war room.”

Kenney proposed the creation of a “war room” during Alberta’s most recent election campaign. The war room — which the UCP said in its campaign platform will run on a $20 million budget — will “fight fake news and share the truth about Alberta’s resource sector and energy issues.”

Kenney named several organizations, including prominent charities, environmental groups and multinational companies, suggesting they may be early targets of the war room. MORE

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