Opinion: Alberta needs the 'war room' to challenge energy ignorance

Too many reporters have bought into poorly conceived advocacy positions, and fail to provide readers with balanced information

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage (left) launch the Canadian Energy Centre in December 2019. Image: Deborah Jaremko/JWN

The Canadian Energy Centre – also called the “war room” – is online, publishing featured stories, reports, briefs, analysis, perspective and even an Energy IQ quiz. It’s all aimed at distributing information about energy (primarily oil and gas) in Canada.

The topics are diverse, ranging from pipelines and oil products to climate, renewables, people stories, Indigenous relations and even discussions about the energy future.

It seems pretty positive and useful. Stories are generated by professionals with expertise, and former journalists on staff ensure the articles are tight and well-written. Most pieces put forth facts and informed opinion on very specific topics without ranging into debates or making negative comments about opponents.

Only a few, like the Dec. 10 piece A Matter of Fact directly address anti-industry advocacy. The article adds relevant information and perspective, in this case, to an article published by the Corporate Mapping Project lobby site that recommends divestment from oil and gas producers. A Matter of Fact has no attacks or negative statements, although the Corporate Mapping Project report abounds in faulty assumptions and poor analysis ripe for rebuttal.

So why are we seeing negative commentary in mainstream media about the Canadian Energy Centre?

The Globe and Mail headlined an article “Experts wonder, what is the point of a war room?” In it, a journalism professor opines that “writers for the centre are passing themselves off as journalists without any obligation to follow the same standards or subject themselves to the oversight of editors of media councils. He stated, “The mission of this organization is to provide a particular point of view, and it does leave out a lot of legitimate perspective on the energy industry.”

Then, the Calgary Herald and National Post published “Alberta’s energy ‘war room’ singles out climate activist,” written by Canadian Press reporter Bob Weber. It focused on a story about a parent’s concern over climate change activist Steven Lee being being allowed to speak to children in Alberta’s public schools.

Weber’s report was generally supportive of Lee’s 3% Project presentations to high school students – going so far as to defend some themes – and frames the Canadian Energy Centre’s attention as “intimidating.” The reporter then followed up on Christmas Eve with another story: “Journalists to staff in Jason Kenney’s ‘war room’: stop calling yourselves ‘reporters.’”

The irony in these positions is incredible.

In early summer 2019, the Globe and Mail published two articles: “LNG’s Big Lie” (by Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) and “Liquefied natural-gas boom is undermining climate change action” (by Mia Rabson of the Canadian Press). Both stated that natural gas (and LNG) has a very high greenhouse gas emissions profile – comparable to coal.

In neither case did the Globe provide any informed analysis of these positions. It was left to me and several other professionals conversant with the science and engineering to point out that the articles were authored by anti-oil and gas advocacy groups, who generated erroneous conclusions based on faulty assumptions and contrived analysis.

The Globe didn’t publish rebuttal articles offered to them, although the Calgary Herald did publish a Cody Battershill rebuttal of the second piece.

The 3% Project claims that it “seeks to build consensus for climate change action,” and also looks at “artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, genetic engineering.” However, its website and project handbook reveal an organization promoting hard-core green/social justice values. There is complete focus on climate change – no balance, no discussion, no consensus (not to mention no AI). Instead, it’s simply a very specific and limited point of view. Consider these quotes from the handbook:

  • “Public education for youth influences their parents and is the best weapon against disinformation by the fossil fuel industry.”
  • “We urgently need a campaign that shakes the entire nation as waves upon waves in a short time span. 3% Project is designed to do exactly that.”
  • And the ridiculous little advocacy nugget that Weber’s article chose to defend: “Canada’s current subsidies to fossil fuels amount to $46.04 billion per year.”

As master debunker Blair King observed, it takes far more words and effort to effectively debunk false advocacy positions than it does to state them.

Besides, why should we have to? Most of the 3% Project’s questionable positions have been discussed (and refuted), but Project promoters refuse to acknowledge alternative positions or the scope of the debates. You’re either in complete agreement with them or you’re “indifferent” or in “climate denial.”

Their fossil fuel subsidy position is built on politically-motivated assumptions discredited by economists and governments around the world. King summarized the arguments nicely.

The Canadian Energy Centre’s story on the 3% Project poses questions about a few of that organization’s positions and gently suggests additional facts to be considered. The article is so innocuous that 3%’s Lee dismisses the messaging as “common tactics” – no intimidation.

Far more pointed criticism is merited. If my children were still in high school and the 3% Project came calling, I would ask, “Why are they not building their critical thinking skills by being challenged to consider the many legitimate alternative viewpoints around complex issues of the day?”

So why do we need the Canadian Energy Centre?

Because many journalists in mainstream media are not meeting journalistic standards. They’ve adopted the pop science approach of pseudo-environmentalists, and have bought into the cartoon images of grasping, immoral resource industry leaders. They fail to seek expert opinion, and have not expended the effort to construct balanced, analytical stories around energy and climate.

In that light, when the president of the Canadian Association of Journalists is quoted in Weber’s article as calling the Canadian Energy Centre a “PR firm” dispensing “Orwellian” writing, one sees a desperate attempt to cover the inadequacies of a group with many members that have forgotten the principles they claim to champion.

There are excellent journalists out there who do understand that energy and climate issues are complex and intertwined – and that nobody has the right answers yet.

But there are also reporters who have bought into poorly-conceived advocacy positions, and fail to provide readers with balanced information from a spectrum of professional experts.

That suggests to me that the modest beginnings of the Canadian Energy Centre are a good start – and that much greater efforts to restore balance and scientific integrity to complex climate and energy debates are badly needed.

© Troy Media


Editor’s note: jwnenergy.com editor Deborah Jaremko is joining the Canadian Energy Centre as director of editorial content in the next week.

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