The age of accountability begins for climate denier groups

Recently we learned that the Competition Bureau is going to investigate several climate denier groups that have publicly misrepresented climate science on billboards and the web. This is great news for those who want an honest conversation about climate change.

Last December we helped six prominent Canadians apply for this investigation, arguing the denier groups have violated the Competition Act by making materially false or misleading representations about climate science for the purpose of promoting business interests, such as fossil fuel development. Then we asked you to support us by writing to the Commissioner of Competition. Many of you did — and it worked!

So, why would denier groups continue to misrepresent climate science when the overwhelming majority of credible climate science supports the reality of human-caused global warming? One likely motive is to protect fossil fuel business interests from cleaner, greener competition.

And wouldn’t you know it, just last week one of the denier groups highlighted in the application — Friends of Science — was revealed to be a creditor of now-bankrupt Peabody Energy. Once the world’s largest private coal company, Peabody’s bankruptcy has shed light on the funding it provided to a network of climate denier groups.

This comes as a coalition of U.S. states deepen their investigations into whether ExxonMobil defrauded investors through its notorious, decades-long misrepresentations of climate science. Sadly, we now know this saga has a Canadian connection. As far back as 1980 Imperial Oil, Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary, concluded in a report “[t]here is no doubt that increases in fossil fuel usage … are aggravating the potential problem of increased CO2 in the atmosphere”.

Meanwhile, even fossil fuel companies that have changed their tune publically on climate science are still denying that science in court. Syncrude, Canada’s largest tar sands operator, recently argued before the Federal Court of Appeal that “the production and consumption of petroleum fuels is not inherently dangerous”. Syncrude asked the court to rule that the federal government has no constitutional authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions using market mechanisms. This would have been devastating for national efforts to meet our Paris Agreement climate goals. Thankfully the court rejected Syncrude’s argument and dismissed its appeal.

What makes Syncrude’s position so galling is that its controlling shareholder, Suncor Energy, publically promotes its acceptance of the scientific consensus on climate change and claims to be “developing long-term, sustainable solutions” to the problem. Kneecapping the federal government’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions is no “solution” for Canada.

Overall it looks like the bottom is falling out of the climate science denial movement — and not a moment too soon. With temperature records piling up monthly the need to act on climate change couldn’t be more urgent.

We’re happy the Competition Bureau has taken the first step toward accountability for those who would misrepresent climate science to promote business interests. If the investigation uncovers evidence showing contraventions of the Competition Act it could lead to legal proceedings.

In the meantime, let’s keep moving Canada forward on climate change.