Nurturing doubt about climate change is big business


On a cloudless morning in June, Tim Ball has joined a hundred-odd 
members of the Comox Valley Probus Club for a buffet of coffee, cinnamon 
buns and pink lemonade. As this group of retired business people wraps 
up its monthly meeting, Dr. Ball surveys the crowd and runs a hand over 
his suntanned dome.

He does not appear the least bit fatigued, which is remarkable 
considering that the 67-year-old former University of Winnipeg professor 
has spent much of the past couple of months crisscrossing the country, 
addressing community forums, business groups, newspaper editorial boards 
and politicians about climate change.

He has been nearly as dogged as Al Gore, whose own globe-hopping slide 
show is the subject of the hit documentary film An Inconvenient Truth.

But that is where their similarity ends.

Dr. Ball clutches a cordless microphone and smiles out at the sea of 
white hair. He teases the audience about their age, throws in a hockey 
joke, then tells the crowd that, unlike Mr. Gore, he is a climatologist, 
and he is not at all panicking about climate change.

"The temperature hasn't gone up," he asserts. "But the mood of the world 
has changed: It has heated up to this belief in global warming."

Over the next hour, Dr. Ball stitches together folksy anecdotes with a 
succession of charts, graphs and pictures to form a collage of doubt 
about the emerging consensus on climate change. There's a map of Canada 
covered in ice 20,000 years ago -- proof, he says, that wild swings in 
the Earth's temperature are perfectly normal. There's a graph suggesting 
that atmospheric carbon dioxide is at its lowest level in 600 million years.

Gaining momentum, he declares that Environment Canada and other agencies 
fabricated the climate-change scare in order to attract funding for 
propaganda and expensive attempts to model climate change using 

"Environment Canada can't even predict the weather!" he bellows. "How 
can you tell me that they have any idea what it's going to be like 100 
years from now if they can't tell me what the weather is going to be 
like in four months, or even next week?"

As proof of the climate-change conspiracy, Dr. Ball shows the crowd a 
graph with a kinked line jigging across it. This is the famous 
"hockey-stick graph" published by Pennsylvania State University 
scientist Michael Mann and his team in 1999, which shows temperatures to 
be fairly stable for hundreds of years, then rising rapidly in the past 
few decades. Mr. Gore, among many others, uses it to illustrate the case 
for global warming.

Dr. Ball claims that the Mann team "cooked the books," and that its 
blunders were confirmed just a few days previously, in a report to the 
Congress by the U.S. Academies of Science. "He threw out all the data 
that didn't fit his hypothesis," Dr. Ball says, without offering 
evidence to support the charge. His outrage is now as searing as the 
baking sun outside. "I personally think [Mann] should be in jail!"

In fact, Dr. Ball says, the real danger for Canada is not warming, but 
cooling: "It's like Y2K," he concludes. "We all just need to calm down."

He is met with raucous applause. It is as though a weight has been 
lifted from the audience's collective shoulders: What a relief to learn 
that this global crisis, one they keep hearing will bring extreme 
weather, submerge small island nations and devastate economies, may be 
nothing to worry about.

Few in the audience have any idea that Dr. Ball hasn't published on 
climate science in any peer-reviewed scientific journal in more than 14 
years. They do not know that he has been paid to speak to federal MPs by 
a public-relations company that works for energy firms. Nor are they 
aware that his travel expenses are covered by a group supported by 
donors from the Alberta oil patch.

Most Canadians recognize, of course, that fossil-fuel businesses could 
lose large sums if the federal government moves to curtail 
greenhouse-gas emissions.

But they may not realize that by quietly backing the movement behind 
maverick figures such as Dr. Ball, the fuel industry -- with its close 
ties to the party that brought Prime Minister Stephen Harper to power -- 
is succeeding, bit by bit, in influencing both public opinion and 
Canadian policy on global warming, including the international Kyoto accord.

An Ipsos-Reid poll released in May found that, despite increasing 
scientific evidence to the contrary, four of every 10 Canadians surveyed 
still agreed with Dr. Ball's assertion that climate change is due to 
natural warming and cooling patterns.

"He is a very entertaining performer, very slick," says Neil Brown, the 
Conservative MP for Calgary-Nose Hill, who attended a presentation Dr. 
Ball made to a caucus of Calgary Tories. "When someone shows up and 
tells me that the Earth is actually cooling, then it gets my attention."

The scientific mainstream is unequivocal that global warming is real, 
happening at a rate unprecedented in human history, and most likely 
caused mainly by man-made greenhouse gases. Last year, the national 
academies of science of all the Group of Eight industrial nations, 
representing most scientists in the developed world, sent a joint 
message to their leaders urging prompt action.

In February, the United Nations and the World Meteorological Society's 
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which brings together 
more than 2,000 scientists to review tens of thousands of peer-reviewed 
papers on climate science, will release its fourth report. The authors 
say it will contain a warning that human-caused global warming could 
drive the Earth's temperature to levels far higher than previously 

Andrew Weaver, the Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and 
Analysis at the University of Victoria, and a lead author of a chapter 
in the upcoming IPCC report, gives a frustrated sigh at the mention of 
Tim Ball's cross-country tour.

"He says stuff that is just plain wrong. But when you are talking to 
crowds, when you are talking on TV, there is no challenge, there is no 
peer review," Prof. Weaver says.

Like other senior scientists, he charges that Dr. Ball's arguments are a 
grab bag of irrelevancies and falsehoods: "Ball says that our climate 
models do not [account for the warming effects of] water vapour. That's 
absurd. They all do."

Likewise, he says, Dr. Ball's claims that climate change could be 
explained by variations in the Earth's orbit or by sunspots are 
discounted by widely available data.

Many of Dr. Ball's other points are easily refuted. Consider the 
hockey-stick graph: He was right that the U.S. Academies of Science had 
delivered a review of climate science to Congress.

But their report concluded that temperatures in the past 25 years really 
have been the highest in 400 years. Moreover, the panelists assured 
reporters that there was no evidence at all that the Mann team 
cherry-picked its data -- completely contradicting what Dr. Ball told 
his audience in Comox.

"What Ball is doing is not about science," Prof. Weaver says. "It is 
about politics."

Leaders throughout Europe have accepted the IPCC position on climate 
change, and have been looking for ways to take collective action, 
primarily via the Kyoto accord. Yet North Americans have lagged behind, 
hamstrung by a lingering debate in the media and among politicians about 
climate science.

How did this doubt take hold?

In a now-infamous 2003 memo, U.S. pollster and consultant Frank Luntz 
advised Republican politicians to cultivate uncertainty when talking 
about climate change: "Voters believe that there is no consensus about 
global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come 
to believe the scientific issues are settled, their views about global 
warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make 
the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate," wrote 
Mr. Luntz (the italics are his own).

Nurturing doubt about climate-change science has become big business for 
public-relations companies and lobbyists south of the border.

 From 2000 to 2003, Exxon Mobil Corp. alone gave more than $8.6-million 
(U.S.) to think tanks, consumer groups and policy organizations engaged 
in anti-Kyoto messaging, according to the company's own records. Those 
groups promote the minority of scientists who still dispute the IPCC 
consensus on climate change, creating the appearance of widespread 
scientific disagreement.

Mr. Luntz met with Mr. Harper in May, but the Conservatives already had 
adopted his advice. The Prime Minister was emphasizing that climate 
change was but an "emerging science" long before he cancelled an array 
of programs designed to promote energy conservation.

For example, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, the MP for 
Edmonton-Spruce Grove, has talked up the flaws of the Kyoto accord, 
while steadfastly rejecting its modest emission-reduction targets. On 
June 30, the government simply got rid of its main climate-change 
website (, which once contained 
educational materials for teachers.

However, given the resonance of the climate-change issue with most 
Canadians, political leaders cannot afford to denounce mainstream 
science too loudly. That task has instead been taken up by activists in 
the Conservative Party's Alberta heartland.

Over the past four years, a coalition of oil-patch geologists, Tory 
insiders, anonymous donors and oil-industry PR professionals has come 
together to manufacture public consent for Canada's withdrawal from 
Kyoto. Through a Calgary-based society ironically dubbed the Friends of 
Science, they have leveraged Tim Ball and a handful of other "climate 
skeptics" onto podiums and editorial pages across the country.

While the federal government stalls, the skeptics preach doubt, 
softening the public for a diluted "made-in-Canada" climate policy. Dr. 
Ball acknowledges that when he meets with business leaders and 
politicians, he advises them to weigh the high price of action against 
more cost-effective "lip service."

These efforts may help delay emissions caps for years. Not bad for a 
campaign that began with a bitch session among a clutch of oil-patch 

"We started out without a nickel, mostly retired geologists, 
geophysicists and retired businessmen, all old fogeys," says Albert 
Jacobs, a geologist and retired oil-explorations manager, proudly 
remembering the first meeting of the Friends of Science Society in the 
curling lounge of Calgary's Glencoe Club back in 2002.

"We all had experience dealing with Kyoto, and we decided that a lot of 
it was based on science that was biased, incomplete and politicized."

Mr. Jacobs says he suspects that the Kyoto accord was devised as a tool 
by United Nations bureaucrats to push the world toward a global 
socialist government under the United Nations. "You know," he says, "to 
this day, there is no scientific proof that human-caused CO{-2} is the 
main cause of global warming."

He managed to insert that last message into the Canadian Society of 
Petroleum Geologists' official statement on climate change in 2003.

But he and his fellow Friends of Science decided that if they wanted to 
have broad influence on climate policy, they needed money to stage 
events, create publicity materials, commercials and a website, and reach 
the media and politicians. Dr. Ball spoke at the group's first fundraiser.

But the event didn't raise enough for the group's plans. There was 
plenty of money for the anti-Kyoto cause in the oil patch, but the 
Friends dared not take money directly from energy companies. The optics, 
Mr. Jacobs acknowledges, would have been terrible.

This conundrum, he says, was solved by University of Calgary political 
scientist Barry Cooper, a well-known associate of Mr. Harper.

As is his privilege as a faculty member, Prof. Cooper set up a fund at 
the university dubbed the Science Education Fund. Donors were encouraged 
to give to the fund through the Calgary Foundation, which administers 
charitable giving in the Calgary area and has a policy of guarding 
donors' identities. The Science Education Fund, in turn, provides money 
for the Friends of Science, as well as Dr. Ball's travel expenses, 
according to Mr. Jacobs.

And who are the donors? No one will say.

The money is "not exclusively from the oil and gas industry," Prof. 
Cooper says. "It's also from foundations and individuals. I can't tell 
you the names of those companies, or the foundations for that matter, or 
the individuals."

When pushed in another interview, however, Prof. Cooper admits, "There 
were some oil companies."

The brilliance of the plan is that by going through the foundation and 
the university fund, donors get anonymity and their donations get 
charitable status. In the past two years, the Science Education Fund has 
received more than $200,000 in charitable donations through the Calgary 
Foundation. Yet its marketing director, Kerry Longpré, said in June that 
she had never heard of the Friends of Science. The foundation, she said, 
deals only with the university, which is left to administer donations as 
it sees fit.

Prof. Cooper and Mr. Jacobs both affirm that the Science Education Fund 
paid the bills for the Friends' anti-Kyoto video, Climate Catastrophe 
Cancelled. It features Canada's most vocal climate skeptics, including 
Dr. Ball, University of Ottawa hydrologist and paleoclimatologist Ian 
Clark, Carleton University paleoclimatologist Tim Patterson, University 
of Ottawa lecturer Tad Murty and retired meteorologist Madhav Khandekar, 
who has done communications for the oil-industry-funded Cooler Heads 

It also includes Sallie Baliunas, a senior scientist with the George C. 
Marshall Institute in Washington, a fiercely anti-Kyoto think tank that 
has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Exxon Mobil.

Roman Cooney, the University of Calgary's vice-president of external 
relations, insists that the Friends of Science is neither affiliated 
with nor endorsed by the school. And when he saw the university's coat 
of arms on early copies of the anti-Kyoto video, Mr. Cooney ordered 
Prof. Cooper to remove it.

There is a letter-sized piece of paper bearing the words "Friends of 
Science" taped to the wall in Kevin Grandia's Vancouver office. From 
that single sheet, he has strung a web of string, leading to the names 
of individuals, free-market think tanks, private companies and 
charitable foundations. And from them more strings lead, invariably, to 
the names of energy corporations.

Mr. Grandia is being paid full-time by James Hoggan and Associates, a 
public-relations firm, to examine the connections between fossil-fuel 
companies, the climate skeptics and the PR industry itself.

"Follow the money trail," says Mr. Grandia, ball of string in hand. "Why 
the hell do all of these lead back to oil and gas?"

Take Fred Singer, a former professor of environmental sciences at the 
University of Virginia, who supplied one of the charts for Dr. Ball's 
slide show. A string leads from Mr. Singer's name straight to Exxon 
Mobil, which has given $20,000 (U.S.) to his Science and Environment 
Policy Project, according to the oil company's 1998 and 2000 grant records.

Other strings loop from Mr. Singer to Shell, Arco, Unocal, Sun Energy 
and the American Gas Association. In a Massachusetts Superior Court 
deposition, he acknowledged that he had consulted for all those 
companies, as well as the Global Climate Coalition, whose members in 
industry spent tens of millions of dollars to fight the Kyoto accord in 
the 1990s.

Mr. Grandia's boss, James Hoggan, chuckles when he sees the wall of 
paper and string. Mr. Hoggan, whose clients include Alcan, CP Rail, 
Norske Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation, has assigned two of his 
19 staffers to this bit of intra-industry tail-chasing. (It is supported 
by a donation of $300,000 from former Internet entrepreneur John 
Lefebvre, now an environmentalist and philanthropist.)

Mr. Hoggan says he got involved simply because he was angry that his 
peers in PR were muddying public understanding of climate science. "For 
years, there have been these kind of campaigns that are aimed at 
manipulating public opinion, and not necessarily manipulating it in the 
direction of good public policy, but trying to fight government 
regulations that will cost industry money.

"It happened with the tobacco industry. It happened with the chemical 
industry. It happened with the asbestos industry. And now it's happening 
with climate change," he says.

"It makes me extremely angry. I don't think that the people who are 
involved in this should be able to get away with it. My goal is to find 
out as much as we can about these people and make it public. Who are 
they? Who is paying them? What motivates them? How is it they can sleep 
at night?"

Several of Mr. Hoggan's peers show up on Mr. Grandia's Friends of 
Science spider web. First is Morten Paulsen of the PR giant, 
Fleishman-Hillard, who wears three hats. In one, he's a long-time 
Tory/Reform/Canadian Alliance activist -- the co-chair of the Alberta 
Conservatives' 2006 convention, and one-time director of communications 
for Preston Manning. In another, Mr. Paulsen is the registered lobbyist 
for ConocoPhillips Canada, the country's third-largest 
oil-and-natural-gas production and exploration company.

Mr. Paulsen also happens to be the registered lobbyist for the Friends 
of Science. Indeed, he used to be listed as the main public-relations 
contact on the Friends' website. Then, in June, his Tory connections 
were revealed on Mr. Grandia's blog ( Mr. Paulsen's name 
no longer appears on the site.

Then there is Tom Harris, Ottawa director of the High Park Group, which 
is a registered lobbyist for the Canadian Electricity Association and 
the Canadian Gas Association.

Mr. Harris has written several essays attacking Kyoto and the science 
behind climate change for the National Post and the CanWest newspaper 
chain. In his articles, he quotes several members of the Friends of 
Science advisory board -- including Dr. Ball and Profs. Khandekar, 
Patterson and Murty -- but he never mentions his own connections to the 
Calgary organization.

In 2002, for example, Mr. Harris organized the Friends' first Ottawa 
press conference in 2002, and helped to make their video, according to 
Mr. Jacobs. And as recently as May, he organized a trip to Ottawa for 
Dr. Ball, paying him $2,000 to give a presentation to federal MPs.

The election of a Conservative government to Ottawa, after all, 
presented a golden opportunity for the Friends of Science to try to 
reopen the debate on Kyoto. This spring, they circulated thousands of 
Climate Catastrophe Cancelled DVDs among politicians and news outlets, 
ran a radio ad on stations in Alberta, put up a website, and jetted Dr. 
Ball across the country for face time with media, business and politicians.

The climax of the spring campaign was an open letter to Mr. Harper, 
printed in the Financial Post and other CanWest newspapers on April 6. 
The letter, signed by "60 experts in climate and related scientific 
disciplines," exhorted the Prime Minister to hold public consultations 
on the government's climate-change plan.

Members of the climate and meteorological science establishment quickly 
noted that only a third of the names on the petition were Canadian. Many 
of them were economists and geologists, not climate experts. One of 
them, Gordon Swaters, a professor of applied mathematics at the 
University of Alberta, later said it had been unclear what he was 
signing and he disagreed with the letter completely.

Several of the other signatories had received money from the oil, gas 
and coal industries in the United States -- Patrick Michaels of the 
University of Virginia, for example, was handed more than $100,000 for 
climate skeptic work by the coal-based Intermountain Rural Electric 
Association this July, according to the Associated Press.

"These people are ignorant. Well-meaning, but just plain ignorant," 
fumed Ian Rutherford, executive director of the Canadian Meteorological 
and Oceanographic Society, which represents 800 Canadian atmospheric and 
oceanic scientists and professionals.

"The Friends of Science are driven by ideology and some kind of a 
misplaced understanding of how the world works. Many are what you would 
call paleogeologists. Looking at the geological record, they see 
evidence of wild swings in climate. Of course these swings are there: If 
you go back hundreds of millions of years, 40 million years, even 
400,000 years, you will find wild swings in temperature over long 
periods of time. But that's irrelevant. There was hardly any life on 
Earth, let alone human life, at that time. So their time scale is all 
out of whack.

"None of them ever come to our scientific conferences. They know they 
would be laughed out of the building. The stuff they say, some of it is 
so nonsensical it's hardly worth discussing."

In its own letter to the Prime Minister, the Meteorological and 
Oceanographic Society objected to the Friends' complaints about a lack 
of debate, pointing out that Canadian climate scientists from 
universities, government and the private sector participate actively in 
the IPCC's international reviews. The government, it argued, should be 
relying on IPCC reports for good scientific information.

But various levels of government have gone on to give Dr. Ball an 
audience. This spring, he addressed the Alberta Tories in Calgary, as 
well as the province's standing policy committee on energy and 
sustainable development. On his trip to Ottawa in May, he met with the 
Ottawa Citizen editorial board, and gave his slide show to a half-dozen 
federal Conservative MPs and a clutch of Tory staffers. (Dr. Ball is not 
listed in the federal government's Lobbyists' Registry.)

He made a particular impression on Brad Trost, MP for Saskatoon 
Humboldt: "It really broadened the perspective. You know, maybe there is 
more uncertainty on [climate change]. Maybe we need to put more research 
into this to get a better idea," Mr. Trost says. "Just like the Y2K 
problem, we were a little oversold on that one. You sort of wonder. Just 
because something is repeated often, it doesn't make it true."

"In public relations," Mr. Hoggan says, "we call this the echo-chamber 
technique. You have Tim Ball saying the polar bears are fine. Then you 
get Tim Ball's PR guy writing the same thing. And then Tim Ball takes to 
the road, talks to reporters and does press briefings, making sure the 
message is repeated over and over.

"The effect is to delay public judgment on climate change, and thereby 
delay policy."

In his speeches and interviews, Tim Ball consistently denies any 
know-ledge that he is receiving funds from oil companies.

"I wish I was being paid by them," he deadpanned at his Comox show. 
"Maybe then I could afford their products."

Like Mr. Jacobs, Dr. Ball says he doesn't know, and doesn't want to 
know, who forks out the money for his expenses and activism. He simply 
wants to talk about the science, and will do so to whomever will listen.

Certainly, climate skepticism isn't exactly making Dr. Ball rich. He 
says that although he has earned as much as $5,000 for speeches to 
industry groups such as lime producers, he more frequently gives talks 
for free.

He is a warm, likable character, and there is no reason to believe he is 
not sincere in his concern for science and public policy. He clearly 
relishes the spotlight, and seems to grow taller, sharper and brighter 
on stage. He punches the air with his microphone, and breaks out into a 
broad grin at the crowd's response to his jabs at Environment Canada.

Still, it must take something more than conviction to propel him through 
the more than 100 barn-burning speeches he gave across the country in 
the past year. He angrily claims that his stance has led to being denied 
research funding from Environment Canada, although he admits that he has 
not personally applied for federal climate-research funding in more than 
a decade.

One old colleague at the University of Winnipeg puts Dr. Ball's passion 
down to sheer anti-authoritarianism. "He is a contrarian. He lives to 
challenge authority," says the professor of geography, who would speak 
only anonymously.

"If the IPCC scientists suddenly recanted," he jokes, "Tim would be the 
first one out there saying, 'Wait a minute, global warming really is 
happening!' "

Dr. Ball's adversaries acknow-ledge that skeptical inquiry serves to 
make the science better. They just wish he would conduct new research 
and practice his skepticism on the pages of the peer-reviewed journals.

For his part, Dr. Ball insists that the reason he lobbies so tirelessly 
on the issue is his frustration that the skeptics' arguments aren't 
reflected in the pronouncements of scientific institutions such as the 
IPCC. Perhaps so, but his hard work is helping weaken the power of such 
internationally respected institutions.

The proof, for Friends of Science founder Albert Jacobs, is in the policy.

"Our success is very recent, and our success is tied to the Conservative 
government," Mr. Jacobs says. "Rona Ambrose, she has been tearing down 
that Kyoto building."

The next big challenge, he says, is to reach children. The Friends of 
Science is now lobbying to have its message included in the grade-school 

Charles Montgomery is the Vancouver-based author of The Shark God. Its 
Canadian edition, The Last Heathen, won the 2005 Charles Taylor Prize 
for Non-fiction.

Native News North
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