Consulting is a lucrative business if you can get it. Doubly so if you can traffic in conspiracy theories with no public accountability.
Case-in-point: a homeschooling teacher was paid a cool $US27,840 ($35,939) to author a climate denial report for an Alberta government-backed commission. Featuring a mix of wild-eyed conspiracies about science and a cabal of journalists, world leaders, and activists, it makes the climate denial flyers put out in the waning days of the Trump administration look rigorous by comparison.
Before we dive into the report, a little context. Alberta is heavily reliant on extracting tar sands to keep the economy going. It’s also the most conservative province in Canada (my Canadian wife allows that it may be a close second to Saskatchewan). Basically, it’s Texas but with all-dressed potato chips.
With the world turning away from tar sands due to the increasingly tenuous economics, to say nothing of the deleterious climate impacts of one of the dirtiest forms of extraction on Earth, the Albertan government has refused to face the music or plan for a diversified economy where oil revenue shrinks. Instead, it began an “inquiry” in 2019 into foreign anti-energy campaigns with $US3.5 ($5) million to blow and no accountability. According to the FAQ on its website, the commission behind the report is exempt from provincial public records requests, won’t do media interviews, and basically ruled out fact-checking as too time-consuming and expensive. And that’s how we’ve ended up with a nearly $US28,000 ($36,145) report full of the tiredest climate denial on Earth. Seriously, this is how the “science” section starts:
“Climate change, the successor to global warming and global cooling before that, is a useful vehicle, pretext, or as Terrence Corcoran describes it “a marketing tool”, to pursue and achieve a voluntary relatively non-violent overthrow of capitalism and our current modern industrial society.”
Yes, it’s the “but it used to be called global warming” bit, though it does come with exciting new language tying it to the overthrow of capitalism. The irony, of course, is that “climate change” is a term popularised by Republican pollster and messaging guy Frank Luntz for the George W. Bush administration to use because it sounded less scary than global warming.
That’s just the warm-up, though. The section trots out all the hits you know and love in the climate denial oeuvre. The report notes the Earth’s climate is cyclical, a fact well-documented in science and also not a reason for the current levels of unprecedented warming. It dredges up Climategate, a hacking scandal from 2009 that involved climate scientists’ emails being selectively quoted to cast doubt on science, which even the most ardent deniers barely mention anymore. Among other words the report’s author really wanted to make sure you see with emphasis are “computer models,” “models,” and “all” of the models are “wrong.”
The report also mentions that the Environmental Protection Agency labelled carbon dioxide pollution, which the report paints as an attempt to “demonise carbon dioxide” and has shades of a Trump energy adviser who compared carbon dioxide to the Jews during the Holocaust. To justify this, the report even busts out my absolute favourite “gotcha” — that carbon dioxide is not pollution because (original emphasis because of course) “it is a gas essential to all life on Earth.” Of course, carbon dioxide is essential to life. So is water, but drink too much and you die. It’s all extremely unhinged from anything remotely resembling scientific inquiry, let alone reality.
The science section of the report ends by highlighting an oft-used graph showing tropical temperatures in the upper atmosphere gathered by satellites vs. models. The upper atmosphere is a favourite of climate deniers since it’s warming less rapidly than the rest of the planet. It is, of course, not where any humans live, and how fast it’s warming is only of minor importance to us. But nevermind you. The report notes that that graph “should be enough to motivate governments that have signed the Paris Agreement to withdraw and abandon the harmful climate policies, including an energy transition, that will lead to a catastrophic decrease in their citizens’ quality of life.”
This is truly the Mt. Everest of climate denial, all commissioned by an Albertan government-backed inquiry for, let me remind you, $US27,540 ($35,551). “But Brian,” you may be asking, “how do you know this person is not qualified?”
Tammy Nemeth, the report’s author, does indeed have a PhD and has studied fossil fuel energy relations. But that does not make one a climate expert. Moreover, in a resume obtained by Earther, Nemeth lists her current profession as a homeschool teacher for grades three through eight in the UK. Look, no shade at all to Nemeth or any other teacher paying their bills. But it strikes me as a little odd for a government-funded commission to pay one — even one with a PhD — tens of thousands of dollars to write a report full of the most crackpot theories about climate science out there, to say nothing of a report littered with other conspiracy theories about journalists. (Full disclosure: I used to work at one of the outlets mentioned in the report, and Earther participated in Covering Climate Now, a program the report smears as part of a conspiracy theory.)
The commission also doled out $US50,000 ($64,545) to Energy In Depth, a website best known for attacking journalists and researchers paid for by the Independent Petroleum Association of America. The reports and other documents will inform a final report released within 90 days of the end of this month authored by the commissioner of the inquiry. The final report doesn’t include climate science in its purview, which makes Nemeth’s choice to go off on a denial tangent all the more odd and a wasteful use of the inquiry’s financial resources.
Unfortunately, with no public accountability of records, it’s hard to understand why Nemeth was selected. In response to questions about why Nemeth was selected, Alan Boras, a communications consultant for the inquiry, said in an email that it “learned of Ms. Nemeth and her work during its research, and she was subsequently invited to contribute as the Inquiry wanted to hear from a broad range of perspectives.”