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Suzuki and Tree-Huggers: Prepare for War

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THE GAME is over. It's now all-out war.

This week, David Suzuki and his foundation came under attack by the ironically named Ethical Oil group, a new American anti-environmental video has been making the rounds online, and the $500,000 Koch brothers contribution to Canada's right-wing Fraser Institute made the news.

I don't know which of these I find most disturbing. Or maybe it's the combination of the three that we should find most disturbing. Because what we're seeing is the politicizing and distortion of science. And frankly, we will need a clear scientific perspective if we're to have any hope of keeping our complex human support system going on the planet.

David Suzuki is a scientist. Though he has become a communicator and an activist, nevertheless, it is science that informs him and motivates him. It's more than coincidental that Suzuki and his foundation have come under attack by the oil lobbyists just after the federal government accused the Canadian environmental movement taking money from and being under the influence of "foreign interests."

Back in February, Brian Jean, a Conservative member representing Fort McMurray and the tar sands region of Alberta announced that he planned to table a private member's bill aimed at outlawing foreign donations to Canadian environmentalist groups.

For those who missed it, this is tied to the oil industry's push to get federal approval to build the Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to the B.C. coast to export tar sands oil, the Conservative government's support of the industry plan and the inevitable public and environmental push-back against the plan. The Suzuki Foundation was caught in the cross-fire as pro-industry anti-environmentalists began to pressure the organization about its political advocacy activities.

Responding to the pressure, Suzuki resigned from his foundation so he could "speak freely without fear." But, one wonders, or at least I did, why should Suzuki have anything to fear?

The answer came a week later, when EthicalOil.org, with strong ties to their spiritual leader, Ezra Levant, and to the Conservative party, then hired a lawyer and drafted a 44-page letter to have the Suzuki Foundation's charitable status revoked by Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for allegedly violating the tax laws governing the amount of political advocacy the foundation is allowed to pursue under Canadian tax laws (10 per cent of its total work). Apparently there will be an investigation that should tie up the foundation for months or even years.

Well. That was a rather large cannon ball fired at the foundation's hull; the first man overboard being Suzuki himself.

Ethical Oil, name clearly revealing its true function, was now attacking the ethics of others -- instead of those real but ever-so-irritating environmental issues. Issues such as the actual environmental impact of tar sands oil mining and the potential environmental risks of the proposed pipeline.

Meanwhile, in seeming lockstep with Ethical Oil, the Conservative government has fired up its own war machine on the environmental movement, giving the tax department a windfall of $8 million (this in a time when the CBC budget is being slashed) to enforce the rules on charities and not-for-profits. Yes. There seems to be good reason for Suzuki's choice of the word "fear."

Fear was the weapon of choice once again in a slick but subversive little propaganda video I saw circulating on the net this week. It's called "If I Wanted America to Fail." The video opens with a headshot of a clean-cut young man who delivers a lyrically poetic rant about the evils of environmentalists and their support of "expensive energy" (alternatives such as wind and solar) and their opposition to sources cheap energy (read: fossil fuels), the oil companies and the American way of life. The video is being promoted as "going viral.".

Watching it as a career marketing person, I couldn't help feeling that this was right up there with outright political propaganda complete with misleading information and half-truths, just like most of the commercial advertising we see today.

The difference, of course, between this new "Fail" video and commercial advertising is the fact that the commercial audience knows that the companies are telling one side of the truth to sell products. The propaganda videos, on the other hand, don't have that unspoken preface. The audience is encouraged to view them as "truth." But what gives them away is their emotional appeal rather than the weight of real physical evidence.

What is most maddening is that the new anti-environmentalist approach has become a war on actual fact, a war in which everything is turned away from actual reality toward what the audience interprets is simply a war of conflicting opinion.

But the laws of physics, unfortunately, can't be suspended to accommodate anyone who chooses to disbelieve the physical laws. Cigarettes do cause cancer. The world is not flat, whatever Thomas Friedman's sense of humour might say. The polar icecaps are melting. And fossil fuel is a non-renewable resource, spin it however we may.

The final news item was the Koch brothers' donations to the Fraser Institute, which pretty much puts the cherry on it in my view. The donations were among the largest handed out by the oil billionaire brothers according to their U.S. records, though the donations were never made public by the Fraser Institute; it took the Vancouver Observer to do that.

For its part the Fraser Institute has been actively involved in influencing and shaping Canadian government policy for decades, while claiming to be "not political and non-partisan." I guess it's one of those suck-and-blow things. What is clear is the Fraser is anti-environmentalist. You can find gems on its website such as: "New video urges Canadians to 'Question the Hype' about global warming," and "Sustainable water exports possible with reformed Canadian water policies," and this classic, "New report details over-looked scientific evidence against simplistic climate alarmism." And it's offering these anti-environmentalist materials to classroom teachers, so your kids can become anti-environmentalists--just as its Koch-funded American counterparts are doing in the U.S.

I don't know about you, but I don't think that the current concern among the vast majority of the world's climate scientists about climate change is "alarmism." I also don't think most Canadians want to start exporting their fresh water to the U.S. or the rest of the world for that matter, unless I've missed some significant new development. And I want my kids to learn how to love the environment, not hate the environmentalists who are trying to protect their future.

But the Fraser Institute, and the people who finance them to influence Canadian policies, certainly do want those things.

So what's really happening? How can the average Canadian separate the real science from the BS? Or the bad opinion from the good?

The simple answer? It's all about motivation. Just ask yourself who stands to gain the most cash and control of our natural resources from any government decision. And there's your answer.

Hint: Somehow I don't think we need to worry about Suzuki selling off our resources to foreigners for a profit -- or for a lifetime seat in the Senate. Do you?

The good news in this declaration of war on the environmental groups is that the wealthy pro-industry forces, through their recent slam-dance tactics, have now openly acknowledged that these "tree-huggers" are highly effective at representing the public's interests. The battles may have escalated but this war is far from over.