Lonely NRSP "experts" Shouting into the Wind

Here 's a bit of pathos, the lonely lament of a couple of public relations has-beens who can no longer get anyone (other than Financial Post Editor Terence Corcoran) to answer their phone calls.

The mournful victims here are Dr. Tim Ball and Tom Harris (right), the nominal brains behind the Natural Resources Stewardship Project (NRSP, or Not Really Science People). In this article, printed in the business pages of the National Post, Ball and Harris complain that, even among Canadian Conservatives, “open discussion of the vast uncertainties (my emphasis) in climate change science has been declared off-limits.” Which is to say, the Tories no longer invite industry-funded climate-change deniers like Tim Ball to their policy sessions. This change in Tory policy is particularly hurtful to Harris because he once worked as an assistant to the MP who is currently the Tory Environment Committee Chair, Bob Mills. While in the good old days, Harris could count on Mills to attack Kyoto and climate change science, Mills is now demanding that experts who appear before the Commons Environment committee actually have, well, expertise. (For a sense of the alternative, for the kind of people who Ball and Harris call “science realists,” look at our Denier of the Day section.)

This is incredibly promising on two counts. First, in the six or seven weeks since the old industry-backed denial group Friends of Science remade itself as the NRSP, this has been one of very few notices the group has earned in the mainstream media. It appears that only the wilfully blind (stand up Terence Corcoran) can still ignore the fact that NRSP is a public relations group bent on confusing people about climate change and not an “environmental organization.”

Second, it's delightful to see the Conservatives treating climate change a little bit seriously. They have an unusual opportunity to take leadership on this issue. They have support in the oil capitals of the country (from Edmonton, Calgary and Fort McMurray to St. John's and Fort St. John) and they are clearly coming to recognize that the Canadian people want action, not further denial and delay. The Tories have a unique chance to do the right thing - to create a climate change policy that is sensible, achievable and palatable in Alberta. They have a chance to preserve the environment even as they protect national unity.

It seems obvious that, if they do that, they will win back the support they have squandered in Eastern Canada - and especially in Quebec. If they don't, they will find themselves further marginalized - like Tim Ball and Tom Harris - an Alberta party able only to sow resentment and bitterness when the new Liberal champion comes in to clean up their mess. Seems like a no brainer for any Conservative who hopes to retain power.


While the mainstream press reaction to the NRSP is indeed gratifying, I see little evidence that the Conservatives are “treating climate change a little bit seriously”, except as a political issue to be managed. The goal continues to be to convince Canadians that something is being done, while avoiding any actual meaningful regulation of greenhouse gases in the coming decade. Neither Stephen Harper nor Bob Mills have ever accepted the scientific consensus on climate change - quite the opposite in fact.

Moreover, there is little doubt that Stephen Harper is beholden to the most retrograde Aberta oil interests, such as Imperial Oil and Encana. For instance, Gwyn Morgan, ex-CEO of Encana, has been a supporter and fund-raiser for Harper ever since Harper's leadership run for the Canadian Alliance.

Gwyn Morgan, of course, has been a vocal critic of the Kyoto protocol and is a longtime climate change “skeptic.” Don't forget that the “made in Canada” alternative to Kyoto, was first proposed by the departing CEO Robert Peterson of Imperial Oil, just before he returned to ExxonMobil headquarters in 2002. To this day, Imperial Oil has yet to endorse the scientific consensus on climate change, although they downplay previous statements like: “On the key question of whether carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are causing the climate to warm beyond the range of natural variation, there is certainly no consensus in the global scientific community.” (Imperial Oil Review, Autumn 2000).

Even today, Imperial Oil continues to call for further research on this question. There is truly an “Axis of Oil” running from Alberta and Texas to the governments in Ottawa and Washington. Nothing will change substantially - at least until the next elections, although we can expect the Conservative spin machine to try and sell a dressed up version of the Clean Air Act.

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