They call themselves Friends of Science. Their mission? To stop legislators from “being overzealous with taxpayers’ money on climate policy” at the COP21 talks in Paris. The group has bought up billboards in major Canadian cities and splattered them with “clever” messages like “The sun is the main driver of climate change. Not you,” and “Climate – change your mind.”
Nine months after Advertising Standards of Canada ruled the ads misleading, they keep cropping up. Environmental law non-profit Ecojustice has responded by filing an official complaint with Canada’s Competition Bureau on behalf of six prominent environmentalists. Stephen Lewis, Tzeporah Berman and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change lead author Danny Harvey, among others, are calling for a criminal investigation.
The formal request for an investigation identifies two other groups, the International Climate Science Coalition and Heartland Institute, but FoS is the only one erecting billboards in Canadian cities.
“The Competition Act makes it an offence to knowingly or recklessly make a false or misleading representation for promotion of business interests,” says Ecojustice lawyer Charles Hatt. “This is an attack on science.”
Who’s funding FoS remains a mystery, but the last publicly available documents show that Talisman Energy, Canada’s largest indie oil and gas producer, donated $175,000 to the nonprofit in 2004. Talisman now says it’s since changed its stance on climate change, unlike Friends of Science.
“These denier groups use the same ‘open question’ strategy pioneered by shills for the tobacco industry,” says environmental activist Berman. They plant a seed of doubt so the average person thinks the science isn’t settled.
Billboards around Alberta also warn of the costs of climate action, that phasing out coal-fired electricity will mean “billions diverted from health care.” The group clearly didn’t consult Alberta’s medical association, which has been lobbying to end coal use.
Says Hatt: “We’ve just come through a decade where science was being undermined for ideological and political purposes. The last thing we need is groups actively trying to confuse people and delay corrective action.”
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