By Friday, I’ve got to decide whether I believe in climate change (or at least how to defend my inclination to say I do). By Friday I’ve got practice tying a tie (or at least wielding a desert fork). By Friday, I’ve got to learn how to pronounce ‘bitumen.’
Or at least glance at photos of oil-soaked baby sea otters without flinching.
I’m off to a conference on ‘Communicating Energy’ this Friday, to study the industrialist position on the oil sands, the Enbridge Pipeline, and the ‘liberal left’. The indoctrination I’ve received at university over the last five years make it tough to admit that I’m going to enjoy this conference, but really, I’m pretty darn excited. It’s not often that a university student in BC is given the opportunity to study an alternative perspective to the (green) party line, or question the sacred truths of the institution. The last time I witnessed such an event was at the 2014 NASH, and it caused a number of student journalists* to finger the presenter and run sobbing from the room.
*Otherwise known as The Cream Of Our Youth, or The Hope Of The Future.
I sound a little bitter, and bitter I might be. Anybody who has to swim regularly through the turbulent waters of Facebook walls and Twitter feeds is going to become bitter, if only because of the ugly nature of the general debate. A meme reposted by George Takei does not an cogent argument make, whether it claims that Walmart is secretly run by neo-Nazis or that the oil sands are causing a rash of twelve-legged demon moose sightings in Athabasca. Let’s not even talk about the ones that claim we can meet all the U.S. energy requirements by turning highways into giant solar panels…
At least not while fully clothed and sober.
I’m excited because it’s not often I walk into a room and get accused of being a liberal (a refreshing novelty), or stumble upon the opportunity to see ‘Big Oil’ in action. I’m being flown to Toronto, dined (and hopefully wined), and roomed, all simply to get me to listen to a little alternative rhetoric. Will the representatives of the oil-garchy possess massive warts and fangs? Possibly. Will they try to slip me cash under the table to influence my future coverage? Hopefully. Will finding another perspective allow me to clarify my understanding of the energy debate in Canada? Definitely.
In anticipation of the coming fireworks I’ve been researching the weekend’s presenters, a group which might be perfectly summarized as ‘the usual suspects.’ They are, in no special order:
1. Ezra Levant (author of Ethical Oil)
2. Marc Morano (director of ClimateDepot.com)
3. Janet Annesley (communications at Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers [CAPP])
4. Phelim McAleer (co-director of Fracknation)
5. Alex Epstein (Centre for Industrial Progress)
I can almost hear the gasps, almost see eyes widening. According to many environmentalists, a worse collection of cheats, murderers, card-sharks, whores, and lay-abouts would be hard to find this side of Parliament Hill. Still, if you aren’t familiar with these names, let me spell the situation out for you…
1. Ezra Levant – Host of the Sun News staple The Source, author of Ethical Oil, and bane of the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Levant gets slapped with slander suits with surprising regularity, yet keeps winning despite fierce opposition. He’s often considered Canada’s version of the typical Fox News anchor, but the surprising truth is that, behind the whining, Levant is scary smart. I saw him take on a room full of student journalists in Edmonton and easily emerge victorious (which is impressive, but doesn’t bode well for The Hope Of The Future).
2. Marc Morano – Poster journalist of the political and social backlash against the climate change movement, Morano is intensely right wing. His website looks like it was created by small children and is populated by articles that seem to have a more political than scientific agenda. He’s a recipient of several real media awards, and one rather unusual one (Media Matters’ Climate Change Misinformer of the Year).
3. Janet Annesley – When we talk about ‘Big Oil’ lobbying Harper for perks and cuddles, what we are essentially discussing is Annesley’s job. She’s Vice President (Communications) for the biggest oil lobby in Canada, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). This may sound like a horrifying job to those of you who believe that the oil sands are extracting liquid Satan, but political lobbying is as traditional in democracies as Little League and apple pie. Obviously the petroleum lobby has more resources and political capital to draw upon then say, the iniversity student lobbies, but that alone does not make them an inherent threat to humankind. Whether Annesley herself is in fact a threat to humankind is unknown. I’ll have to shake her hand before I decide.
4. Phelim McAleer – McAleer’s famous documentary Fracknation is an essence a rebuttal to Josh Fox’s Gasland and Gasland 2. It delves into the public hostility to everything ‘frack’, and debunks the more obvious propaganda in Fox’s films. Remember the flaming water tap in Nowhereville, Wyoming? Nothing to do with fracking. Remember the garden hose spewing flame like a suburban flammenwerfer? It’s attached to a gas vent not a water line. I haven’t watched Fracknation yet, so I’m assuming for the moment that it’s as pathos-indulging and nauseatingly self-righteous as most other documentary I’ve seen, but I am glad that someone bothered to call Fox on his movie magic. As I’ve always said, drop a documentary director off in Israel for a couple of days and he or she will discover four unreported civilian massacres, three previously undiscovered species of camel, two fool-proof plans to solve conflict in the Middle East forever, and one ossuary which indisputably contains the bones of Jesus Christ.
Useful people, those documentary makers.
5. Alex Epstein – As far as I can tell, Alex is the wildcard in the group. A journalist who has written for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, Alex is an Ayn Rand admirer who discusses something he calls “the philosophy of industry and environment.” He is the president and founder of The Centre for Industrial Progress, and runs a podcast titled “Power Hour” discussing contemporary energy and industry issues. A better writer than speaker, Epstein is as heavily right wing as Morano, and offers consulting services to besieged companies:
(Eg.) “As an executive or communications professional in the energy industry, your industry and your company face formidable attacks by so-called environmentalists that can put a halt to your projects and sabotage your bottom line.
CIP is unmatched in its ability to successfully out-message “environmentalists” and turn their supporters into your supporters”
All in all, it’s going to be an exciting weekend. Oh, and did I mention that I have a coffee date scheduled with Levant? If anyone has a question for the big guy let me know. I might even ask it.
It’s time for some logic, some crude logic. It’s time to smear some refining oil on those manatees of misinformation, those seagulls of slander, those penguins of pathos…
Those otters of obsoletism.