A disturbing pattern is emerging...

This is my last blog of the year so I want to begin by sincerely thanking you for being part of the most exciting year of my campaigning career. In 2011 we probably had one of highest participation rates for email campaigns in all of Canada. Again, thank you.

Today I want to tell you about a disturbing pattern emerging in the public dialogue on environmental issues that has the potential to do significant damage to the environmental movement and our ability to positively influence public opinion. Influencing public opinion, after all, is how we have achieved the great change in how the natural environment is viewed and treated, so it’s important to understand what is happening.

It first came to my attention when CBC reported a meeting between Alberta government officials and the oil industry to jointly develop common messaging on fracking, to assuage public fears, of course.

And as you probably know, last week Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent announced Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol citing the threat of a $14 billion ‘fine’ were Canada to remain. This is completely untrue - there are no fines under the Kyoto Protocol. The bogus $14 billion number was first put forth by the industry-friendly think tank Fraser Institute.

So government and industry are now speaking from the same playbook while testing messages through their surrogates. Why? What’s the real goal? The answer is industry wants unfettered access to Canadian resources and the government wants to help them get it. Period. But to do it they must first gut environmental protection (kill environmental assessments, fire scientists, stop monitoring pollution, etc.).

In this context discrediting the environmental movement at every turn while attacking its sources of funding and ability to communicate is not only a necessary measure – it’s key to their strategy. After all, once our ability to influence public opinion is destroyed they’ll have a free-hand to build, dig, drill, dam and burn whatever, wherever and whenever they want.

To help discredit the environment movement we are seeing, for the first time in Canadian history, a new breed of well-funded anti-activists emerge. Given large podiums to spew their clever sound bytes of disinformation, they employ neo-conservative (Republican) tactics, particularly the mean-spirited slur.

There have always been those who disagree with us, but for most of my career I can honestly say that industry and governmental officials engaged the environmental movement in fact-based and (mostly) honest dialogues. Even though we often disagreed, we pursued issues and sought solutions – and we did it in a respectful manner. That era is obviously over.

A couple of examples of the new anti-activists include Ezra Levant, the architect of the ‘Ethical Oil’ campaign, and Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO) - whose only purpose appears to be undermine Ontario’s Green Energy Act, science be damned.

Regarding Levant’s Ethical Oil gang, they say we support the oppression of women because we don’t support the Tar Sands. Their twisted logic implies because we don’t support Tar Sands we MUST therefore support Saudi Arabia (and poor treatment of women). It’s worth noting that the Prime Minister and many senior members of his government now regularly use the term ‘Ethical Oil’ accompanied by the same disingenuous argument. It’s no secret that a large part of the environmental movement’s supporter-base is educated women, so it’s no coincidence.

On the wind front, in addition to their litany of ridiculous claims about adverse health and environmental impacts from wind turbines, the WCO anti-activists repeat over-and-over the same old untrue line that the environmental movement (including Sierra Club Canada) is somehow bought-and-paid-for by the wind power industry and Ontario government.

It’s funny how Ezra Levant and WCO never reveal their sources of funding.

WCO didn’t like our report “The Real Truth about Wind” and sent me a notice threatening a libel action if we didn’t retract it. Note: I’ve been an outspoken activist for 30 years and this was the first time I was ever victim of a SLAPP suit. I later learned other individuals and organizations had also been hit with WCO SLAPP suits and threats of legal action.

Just last week Ezra Levant suggested foreign billionaires were funding environmental groups to oppose the Tar Sands and the Northern Gateway pipeline, and named Sierra Club as a major receiver of such funds (we are not, by the way). These new anti-activists don’t let the truth get in their way. They know they just have to repeat the same untruths over-and-over-and-over again. Perception is reality in their business, after all.

Before the week ended Federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver said he’s concerned about the environmentalist movement’s opposition to the Tar Sands, in particular the ‘significant role’ played by U.S. charitable foundations’ in funding the campaign. He stated these (unnamed) ‘foreign interests’ were interfering with Canada’s “nation building pipeline”.

So we are unpatriotic too, I guess. Funny, I never thought of myself as unpatriotic.

2012 is shaping up to be the toughest we have seen in forty years. More than ever we need your continued participation in our campaigns and your financial support. Can you help us with a donation of $50, $100 or $500 dollars?

It’s up to people like us to maintain strong public voices for conservation, wildlife protection, action on climate change and environmental regulation. If you and I don’t stand up for the planet, who will?

Please make a donation today. I promise to make every dollar count in 2012.

Sincerely,

In solidarity,

John Bennett, Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada
jb@sierraclub.ca

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