A billboard located in west Edmonton made waves on social media last week. It said “beefier barley” in large letters, with a subheading that read, “Climate change will boost Alberta’s barley yield with less water, feeding more cattle.” The campaign was part of the university’s “Research Matters” initiative promoting university research on billboards and print ads in Calgary and Edmonton.
The “Beefier Barley” billboards were specifically promoting a 2017 U of A study into the future of Alberta’s beef production. But the ad campaign was quickly slammed by community members for promoting a “positive side” of the global climate crisis.
U of A professor Laurie Adkin called out the ads on Twitter, noting that the campaign and the study itself were causing “incalculable damage to [the university’s] scientific and ethical reputation.”
And both current students and alumni said the ads made them “embarrassed” to associate themselves with the university.
During a press conference Sunday, U of A president David Turpin said he understood the backlash
“It would not have been an ad that, if I had seen, I would have put forward,” he told reporters.
Where’s the beef?
The U of A study promoted on the billboard was published in 2017, and suggested that the beef industry will benefit from warmer temperatures and increased humidity. The study aimed to help beef producers plan for climate change.
The study was partially funded by the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency.
“When you talk about climate change, people always think about the negative side. This comprehensive study will help establish the idea that climate change is not always negative. In some areas of the world, people can benefit from increased CO2 gases, such as in this instance of barley crops in southern Alberta,” Monireh Faramarzi, the 2017 study’s author said when it was first released.
The “negative side,” of course, is rising global temperatures and the catastrophic effects that will have on communities and ecosystems. A watershed 2018 report from the IPCC warned that we have limited time to stop an irreversible rise of 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels.
According to the report, at 1.5 degrees of warming, small islands and major coastal metropoles like New York City, Mumbai and Jakarta risk disastrous flooding without costly sea barriers.
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Coincidently, controversy around the “Beefier Barley” billboards came at the same time as the Global Climate Strike, where millions marched to bring attention to the dangers of climate change.
Around 4,000 people attended the Edmonton march.
University vice-president out
In a statement Sunday, U of A vice-president of university relations Jacqui Tam took responsibility for the ad campaign and announced her resignation over the incident.
Tam initially defended the billboards last week, saying they highlighted the “complexity” of research.
“Research is always complicated; the problems and issues being explored are complex and multifaceted,” Tam wrote Thursday.
“Recent response to the “Beefier Barley” billboard highlights these complications and complexities. And the way in which these complex ideas have been communicated has itself caused debate and discussion. Sparking debate around discoveries and ideas is a key role of universities.”
However, on Sunday, Tam took responsibility and announced her resignation.
“The messaging on the ad called the reputation of the University of Alberta and its extensive research on climate change into question,” Tam wrote. “In the best interests of the institution, I am announcing my departure from the University of Alberta, effective immediately.”
WATCH: Researchers say the beef industry exacerbates deforestation in the Amazon.