It is always difficult to know what to publish on Earth Day. It’s been around for 34 years, which means that much of what’s worth writing about has already been covered. Then there’s the question of whether to inform your readers with facts, inspire them with positive stories about solutions or just overwhelm them with the beauty and wonder of nature.
Despite the challenge, it’s still a little perplexing why one of Vancouver’s two major newspapers published, on Earth Day, a column about climate change that is so poorly written, so haphazardly argued, so lacking in any genuine concern for the truth, that had a freshman submitted it in one of the university courses I teach, I would have given it an F.
The column to which I refer, “Earth Day is cult indoctrination,” was published by The Vancouver Sun on April 22 as a “guest editorial” by Michelle Stirling-Anosh. Nothing I read in the mainstream media shocks me anymore, and most of it doesn’t even deserve a response, but Stirling-Anosh’s contribution to the climate change debate is worth some critical attention, if only as a warning to others.
Although she did cobble together a few of the selective and decontextualized “facts” commonly used by climate change deniers, Stirling-Anosh’s real currency is fear. Earth Day, she claims, is nothing but an insidious opportunity to “bombard” us with treacherous “appeals to protect the earth for our children.”
This may seem like a laudable goal to most of us — I’d certainly like my daughter to enjoy a planet at least as healthy and livable as the one my parents bequeathed to me — but Stirling-Anosh is quick to point out this irresponsible barrage of dangerous information is part of a campaign of “agenda-driven indoctrination” to brainwash our children “that would make Stalin proud.”
To support her claim equating climate scientists and activists with mass-murdering dictators, she cites a report, published by a UK non-profit with close ties to fossil fuel companies and the climate denial community, which reached the terrifying conclusion that “global warming/climate change propaganda has infiltrated every aspect of education.”
Apparently, the 'Climate Change Cult' has convinced universities not to push students into “hard sciences like petroleum engineering (sic) or geosciences” (you’d never know it from a stroll around the University of Calgary). Elementary schools, too, “have successfully destroyed the basics of scientific inquiry in children,” though she forgot to provide a reference for this ‘factoid.’
Putting aside the factual inconsistencies, you’re just left with the vague and nefarious “they” who are out there in our schools, terrorizing children with the terrifying consequences of climate change, inducing in them a psychological state, similar to Stockholm Syndrome, that leaves them bereft of critical thinking skills and “unable to liberate themselves from their tormentors.” Which, of course, then allows the ‘Climate Change Cult’ to tell them how they “should live, as well as … what they should think.”
Who would spend the time and energy writing such a hopeless piece of drivel? According to her byline, Stirling-Anosh is communications manager for Friends of Science. Ah ha. Five minutes of research on the Internet indicates that she is, as one might have deduced by now, an ideological soldier in the legions of faithful climate change deniers.
Friends of Science is a controversial public relations project, funded by Big Oil through the University of Calgary, whose raison d'être is to cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific evidence that indicates human activity (namely, burning fossil fuels and levelling forests) is causing the temperature of the planet to rise dangerously high. (In case you missed it: 97 per cent of the world’s climate scientists agree that manmade global warming is real and that the burning of fossil fuels is a significant factor.)
She is also a research associate for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, another think tank that goes out of its way to debunk reputable climate science. On LinkedIn, she calls herself a “creative writer,” not in the realm of novels and poems but in the dark art of “corporate communications.”
Perhaps most enlightening is her blog, DarkGreenDevils, dedicated to the “dense network of interests keen to manipulate markets and make you, the taxpayer, pay for ideological dreams of ‘free’ and ‘clean’ energy.”
To quote from one among many paranoid rants, Stirling-Anosh argues that, “Self-important artists pose a threat to life as we know it. Such as using their advanced communications skills to advocate for eco-causes, the science of which they know nothing about, they are killing industry and causing global warming through all their hot air.”
Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on Stirling-Anosh. In a way, I almost feel sorry for her. It’s as if she’s the one who has been indoctrinated into a cult, the Cult of Free Market Extremism, where ideologues dispense with imagination and critical thinking and gather together to worship at the altar of the mythical “free” market. It is this unassailable belief, rather than the falsity of the causes and costs of climate change, that makes the notion of regulating greenhouse gas emissions out of existence (and creating a clean energy economy) such a heresy.
But none of this explains why The Vancouver Sun would publish this column at all, never mind on Earth Day. When I first read the headline “Earth Day is cult indoctrination,” I thought the paper was putting us on, a late April Fool’s joke of sorts. Or perhaps the editors were aware of just how absurd it is and were trying to be ironic. But then I discovered the Sun’s sister newspaper, The Province, published a similar column by Stirling-Anosh two weeks earlier.
The Province column is another attempt to convince us that “global warming stopped before [the] Kyoto [Protocol] was even implemented,” and that, the “overall benefits of ‘carbon’ far outweigh the alleged social costs.” Both of which are patently untrue.
In a democracy where freedom of speech is sacrosanct, there’s little to be done about voices like Stirling-Anosh. But the editors of the Sun and the Province should know better. Please don’t insult the intelligence of your readers by printing baseless propaganda written by PR hacks lurking in the darkest corners of the oil industry. Climate change is too dangerous and we’ve already dithered for too long. Leave what little space you have for climate coverage for those with more honorable intentions.
Jeff Gailus is the author of Little Black Lies, about the use of propaganda in the war over the future of the tar sands. Originally from Alberta, he now lives in Missoula, Montana.
Image Credit: Edward Musiak via Flickr