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When Backroom Met Zealot

01 Apr 2024 | Fact Checks

When Backroom Met Zealot transcript

John Robson:

For the Climate Discussion Nexus I’m John Robson, and for the next few minutes I’d like to summarize for you the March 5th 2024 meeting of the Municipal Finance and Corporate Services Committee of the Ottawa City Council.

No wait! Don’t run away. Don’t touch that dial. I know it sounds painfully boring, and it was. But it’s at boring meetings of obscure committees like that one that wrong information keeps causing disastrous policy decisions, science and common sense go out the window, and then you and I are left wondering why we can’t have nice things anymore.

The turgid motion before the committee concerned the City of Ottawa possibly refusing to accept advertisements that support and promote the use of fossil fuels. And in fact, seem to be targeting one specific campaign. And the 18 presentations that were in favour kept repeating a handful of myths and falsehoods. But it’s a safe bet the councillors listening to them, if they even were listening, had no idea that any of it was wrong, let alone how to critique what they were being told.

Of course, the Councillors may not have been paying attention. It was certainly soporific. But you should pay attention, even if you don’t live in Ottawa, and aren’t a municipal politician, because I guarantee you that what happened in that committee, including passing the motion without debate, is happening in obscure committees and backrooms in your community too, at every level of government. And unless sensible people learn how to push back with facts and sound arguments, bad decisions will keep being made.

So stick around as I present a Climate Discussion Nexus Fact Check on the Ottawa City Council meeting.

Starting with the irony that nearly every presenter was in high dudgeon about “misinformation” from fossil fuel companies, and sanctimoniously flung out warnings about the “Risk of bad actors spreading misinformation” and so on while themselves getting things wrong in careless and often nasty ways.

For instance the first presenter cited, as her only actual example of what she termed misinformation, the claim that rising CO2 is good for agriculture. [timecode 2:06:59]. So, did she rebut any of the peer-reviewed literature showing this obvious fact, or explain why agricultural output has soared over the past 60 years? And the planet has greened?

No. Her rebuttal to all the evidence was simply: “Is that so true? I don’t think so.” Feeeelings, nothing more than feeeelings. She doesn’t think so because she doesn’t want to think so, and hasn’t actually researched any of the issues. She simply arrived with a full head of clichés, righteous indignation and, well misinformation.

Now there was a certain comic aspect to earnest young people, like the 3rd presenter, who read his script off a mobile phone wearing a T-shirt inside a heated building in Ottawa in March and piously renouncing fossil fuels whose role in his own pampered lifestyle he’s never bothered to investigate. But it’s not funny when policymakers believe such claims.

For instance about extreme weather. The intervenors, on the side of the motion, all felt that it was getting worse, directly due to climate. Thus, typically, the second presenter showed a slide of news stories about tornadoes that hit Ottawa in 2022 and 2023. But there is no secular trend in Ottawa tornadoes, due to carbon dioxide or anything else. And for the United States, which is much more prone to hurricanes and tornadoes than Canada, the trend over the last hundred years, and they keep careful numbers, is down, not up.

Almost as if they’d compared notes, virtually all the presenters claimed that refusing oil and gas company advertising was just like refusing tobacco company advertising, which the City of Ottawa has done since 2005. But even ignoring the obvious difference between CO2, a harmless part of the air that we breathe, both in and out, and tobacco smoke which is a proven carcinogen if we breathe it in, or out, and the problem of conducting democratic debates if we don’t trust citizens to spot bad arguments and try to protect them from speech that we don't agree with, none of the presenters spotted the blindingly obvious difference that our society is dependent on fossil fuels in ways that it never was on tobacco. Even if they are harmful, they’re also beneficial, and that makes a big difference when you're making practical policy decisions.

Cigarettes don’t heat our homes, cook our food, power manufacturing, keep the lights on and ensure we can transport ourselves around, including to city council meetings. But not one of these presenters conceded that for the foreseeable future we can’t do without reliable, affordable oil and gas even if their climate change theory is right.

Instead they all believed in a sort of climate Yeti called the “clean energy transition,” which has been frequently glimpsed by excited fanatics over the years, though they can only provide very hazy pictures and descriptions. Despite the fact that for the past 30 years despite all the money thrown at renewables, more than 80% of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels.

Whatever Ottawa City Council decides, or its bureaucrats, the world’s production and use of coal, oil and natural gas shows no sign of slowing down. And surely that's important to the discussion. But if these presenters knew it, and I’m not saying they did because I don’t think they had done their homework, if they did know it, they certainly didn’t say.

Instead, most of the presenters instead seemed to believe that their opponents were liars bent on incinerating the planet gratuitously for short-term profit. Which is a conspiracy theory, and conspiracy theories are no basis for debating issues or finding solutions. Particularly because they treat contrary arguments as malicious snares and seek to trample them underfoot rather than comprehending them, assessing them, and then answering them calmly and rationally on the basis of data.

No one in the discussion, for example, mentioned that many people around the world suffer terribly from lack of reliable electricity, particularly the poor. As we would ourselves if it were imposed on us, even here in a wealthy country.

That’s why nations like India are determined to lift this crushing burden for their many impoverished inhabitants who suffer terribly from it. And why Canada could help them to do it without massive use of coal, by supplying them with our abundant natural gas, which would help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions from human beings as all these presenters, and apparently the entire city council, want to do.

But what was said of this aspect? Nothing. Or rather less than nothing, because a number of presenters instead took indignant exception to ads from an outfit called ClimateActionCanada.ca which are currently running on city buses and in city facilities, one of which said “Canadian Liquid Natural Gas Exports Will Reduce Global Emissions”.

The second presenter, who is from a government-subsidized activist group, objected that: “We know very well that they won’t.” But how does he know? He offered no facts, no arguments, just “We know”, like totally man. Uh OK, he did offer one argument: “What the industry calls natural gas is predominantly methane of course which traps heat in the atmosphere about 20 times more than carbon monoxide.”

But that’s only before you burn it, duuude. Afterward, science to the rescue. you get water and CO2.  But you get much less CO2 than you would if you extracted the same amount of energy by burning coal. So the bus ads are correct. And you're the one offering misinformation, with flippant ignorance.

Another presenter said, “The organizations behind these ads pretend to be pleading on behalf of Canada’s economy and are trying to convince us that fossil fuels, in particular liquid gas, methane in other words, are part of the solution to the problems presented by climate change. This is ludicrous. We know this isn’t true. This campaign of fossil fuel disinformation has been going on for decades.”

Yet again no facts, no evidence, just “We know” and “ludicrous”. And who’s really spreading “disinformation” when, again, methane is cleaner than coal, and also Canadian oil is produced more ethically than Saudi or Russian oil?

A number of presenters, again apparently sharing talking points, also claimed that burning fossil fuels causes precisely 34,000 premature deaths in Canada per year. But even in the unlikely event that this number is correct, none of them ventured a guess at how many Canadians would die per year prematurely if we stopped using fossil fuels. Including mentioning the well-established scientific fact that cold weather is far deadlier than hot weather even in warm countries, and certainly in cold ones like Canada.

Two presenters came from the well-heeled and very woke NGO For Our Kids, one of whom said that her 8-year-old son suffers from “climate anxiety”, was too afraid to sleep during Ottawa’s February thunderstorm and reported that seeing hydrocarbon ads worsens his anxiety.

And OK, I feel sorry for that kid. But the answer isn’t to deprive everyone else of free speech on an important public issue, it’s to teach parents to stop terrorizing their children with alarmist climate propaganda and then wilting when presented with unwelcome points of view. This child is growing up in one of the safest, wealthiest cities on Earth and has no reason to live in fear of a rainstorm or an advertisement.

Granted, a thunderstorm in February in Ottawa is uncommon. But it does sometimes happen, and not because of “climate change.” Rather, it happens when a warm front brings high winds and a rapid change in temperature, which is what happened this past February and also in 1981.

In that year, after a cold January, on February 11th a warm front pushed through the region, dumping 13 mm of rain and hitting the city with 46 km per hour wind gusts. The next day temperatures dropped 20 degrees, then promptly jumped to over 5 degrees and stayed unseasonably warm until mid-March. But back then, nobody blamed climate change, or panicked and terrified the children.

You’d think these presenters could afford to do homework, since they often represented well-funded outfits including, naturally, by government grants and big international environmental foundations. These groups pose as David, but they walk like Goliath.

The fourth presentation, for instance, was from Environmental Defence Canada, whose “staff” page lists 40 people and whose latest annual report boasts a budget of $4.4 million. And it takes some gall for them to complain about lobbying, especially when they show up and recite talking points in unison, before a government committee.

Now, to be fair one, presenter did have data, though it was just a single data point other than “Last week there was a thunderstorm in February”... again. And his data point was, “Yesterday was the hottest March 4 in recorded history in Ottawa.”

  1. It was. But he didn’t mention that the 2nd-warmest was in 1965, 3rd was a tie between 1974 and 1953, fifth was 1880, sixth 1889, followed by 1936 and 1894. In fact the only other 21st-century entry on that list was #10, and that was back in 2004. So there is clearly no trend, if you look at the data.

On the contrary, a typical rant, from the fourth presenter and on behalf of Environmental Defence Canada, said: “2023 was a disastrous year with climate-related disasters in almost every part of our planet including Ottawa and this year set to be even worse. We know that we’re on a catastrophic path and that unless we urgently transition off of fossil fuels we face the collapse of everything that sustains us.”

In point of fact there was nothing unusual about 2023’s weather. Of course some regions had odd things happen, including Canada’s wildfire spike. But the world is a big place and weather’s variable. The U.S. had a very quiet 2023 wildfire season. How does global warming cause a lot of wildfires in Canada and very few in the United States?

It’s more misinformation. And if you think lurid propaganda only comes from the untutored young, another presenter holding the odd-sounding title “Director of planetary health for the faculty of medicine at the University of Ottawa”, insisted that “climate change is the number one threat to the health of humanity”.

But, since he’s a doctor, you’d think he’d have checked what actually kills people. And it’s not weather and climate-related disasters, for which the death rate is the smallest it’s been in over a century.

As for Canada in particular, the main causes of death here are the usual wealthy-country suspects: cancer, heart disease and dementia. None of which are attributable to climate change, although of course if you Google you will immediately find someone claiming that they are.

And in fact, in the meeting a physiotherapist who works with special needs kids insisted to Ottawa council that “Oil and gas carbon emissions pose an existential threat to the children that I work with every day as a physiotherapist”. And she cited air from forest fires in 2023, again unaware that while 2023 was a peak year in Canada, the trend even here has been down since 1990. See, you have to Google to know that kind of stuff.

This presenter also cited heat domes like the one in BC in 2021 that she claimed killed over 500 people in one day. But as we showed in our recent video on heat wave hype, that was an extremely rare event that experts attributed not to greenhouse gases but to meteorological “bad luck”. And the overall level of discussion was shockingly poor.

The word “tradeoff” passed nobody’s lips. In the minds of all the presenters but one, fossil fuels are all costs and no benefits. The fact that in a city like Ottawa hundreds of thousands of people pay millions of dollars each year for fuels to run their cars and heat their homes has nothing to do with adults making rational choices about improving their lives, on the basis of a free exchange of information. Rather they’ve been bamboozled by a few posters on bus shelters and in hockey arenas.

Which one presenter even complained were deceptive because a bright green background for white text made people associate natural gas with environmental quality. Seriously, would you let people vote who were such malleable sheep? That they couldn’t be shown a particular background colour on an ad? And while I’m at it, don’t governments focus-group colour schemes in their ads? Don’t political parties do it?

Now, there was one presenter who opposed the motion. That’s Ottawa resident Robert Lyman. He’s a retired energy economist who’d spent 40 years working on energy, transport and the environment, mostly for the federal government. So, as he pointed out, he was the only one there with relevant knowledge and experience.

And then, in addition to noting the empty symbolic nature of banning the ads, he added that attacking the values of oil and gas companies meant attacking the values of those who buy their products, not to mention all the other products that are dependent on fossil fuels for their manufacture, such as pharmaceuticals, and of course the cell phones those kids were reading their presentations off. And Lyman also defended free speech as vital to making good decisions.

Now of course Ottawa city councillors backed themselves into a climate-clown corner when they declared a climate emergency in 2019 and then signed something called the “Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty” in 2022, as if oil and gas were not merely as dangerous as tobacco, but as lethal as nuclear weapons. And it may be that such nonsense brought them temporary praise from the militant fringe, but militants, including these presenters, are apt to insist that having joined the cult you must now drink the Kool-Aid.

So it’s at this point that councillors need to stop virtue signalling and deal with reality. And here it’s no comfort to think maybe they weren’t actually listening to a word of it, maybe they were answering email or checking Facebook or something, since when the stream of presentations mercifully ended they voted unanimously for the motion in about eight seconds, with no discussion.

It doesn’t matter whether you live in Ottawa or not. It’s you who will pay the price for these emotional slogans and misinformation in the corridors of power, wherever you live, unless you push back with facts and logic.

For Climate Discussion Nexus, I’m John Robson and that’s our fact check on the flood of nonsense that engulfed Ottawa city councillors on March 5 of this year.


6 comments on “When Backroom Met Zealot”

  1. I have researched weather predictions and doomsday predictions from global cooling to global warming over the last '70 years and it seems most predictions have proved to be mostly wrong! I dispare that Gen Z and the baby boomers are so easily brainwashed!

  2. Hello John,
    Great analysis of proceedings at the Ottawa City Council Meeting.
    Are you planning to send them this video and its transcript?

  3. I was born on January 16, 1949 in Kirkland Lake Ontario, which is way up in the northern part of Ontario. My father had difficulty driving my mother to the hospital because heavy rains had flooded the roads between the two snow bags, and it was very difficult to traverse. Obviously, as a result of climate change. Sarcasm on.

  4. Five years ago my city council declared a non-existent climate emergency.One councillor voted against it,and I was the lone dissenting voice of the
    dozen or so speakers on this so-called declaration.But things have changed,if only slightly so far.I wore some of my CDN merch(a T-shirt) in the checkout line at the grocery store.The female cashier commented positively and said she knew what message I was trying to convey!I was surprised,but pleased!
    She said she would look at CDN's site.Good for her!Good for all of us!

  5. Come on now, "...Gen Z and the baby boomers are so easily brainwashed!" Us 'Boomers' are 78 thru 59 years old and are generally more grounded, except for the far-Leftist Progressive Faculty members. You seem to have neglected; The Gen 'X'ers, 58 thru 39 years, who are also mostly Far-Leftist Progressive Socialist Democrat Faculty and the 'True Believing' Hart and Sole of the current College Campas Pro-Hamas & Anti-Jewish "Occupy Everywhere" riots; The thoroughly indoctrinated MILLENNIALS!!! (39 thru 19 years old). The poor little lost Generation 'Z's 18-tru-0 years old are the smallest cohort of the above Mobs

  6. Have you all been made aware of ICLEI Canada? A non elected group that have infiltrated municipal and federal governments?
    https://icleicanada.org (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives) (WEF?)
    Have a look !

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