The Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based think tank, is very concerned about education. So concerned, in fact, that they have taken it upon themselves to develop a new climate science curriculum for use in Canadian schools.
Needless to say, the educational value of the new program is highly doubtful. And it turns out that some of the funding for the project comes from an equally dubious source – a major shareholder of oil and gas company Encana who was also behind a misguided effort to foist the notorious contrarian film “Great Global Warming Swindle” on the British Columbia school system.
This story starts with comments made by sharp-eyed Deep Climate readers on the NOAA climate education defacement thread. Mauri Pelto was first off the mark, with the observation that the website of the Vermont State Climatologist featured a Fraser Institute publication called “Understanding Climate Change”. The 2008 booklet by Fraser staffer Nicholas Schneider, was a simplified contrarian account of climate change, based largely on a previous Fraser opus, the Independent Summary for Policy Makers (co-ordinated by Ross McKitrick). The booklet was not only available for download, but was also “distributed to 15,000 teachers and students”. According to the Fraser press release, the booklet took no position on the “debate” about global warming.
“This book doesn’t debate whether or not the world is warming or how much of that warming is caused by human activity. Instead it provides readers with a basic understanding of how scientists measure and study the climate, along with an outline of what climate scientists know for certain and what remains relatively unknown,” said Vanessa Schneider, Fraser Institute Director of Student Programs.
“By giving people an overview of the current state of climate science, they have more knowledge to better decide for themselves what kinds of policies are needed to deal with climate-related issues.”
Bill Miller of DesmogBlog had a good overview of this at the time.
Scott Mandia has been following up with Vermont in an effort to get the link removed, but along the way also discovered the latest Fraser travesty, namely “Understanding Climate Change: Lesson Plans for the Classroom”. Apparently, the first effort lacked sufficient propaganda, uh, I mean pedagogical, value and so has been revamped as a six-lesson plan, complete with worksheets and teacher guide. The authors are Holly Lippke Fretwell and Brandon Scarborough, both young aspiring economists with little scientific background. And it shows.
Things get off to a rocky start with a discussion of the scientific method. The Galileo card is played early (p. 4):
For example, Galileo was convicted of suspicion of heresy for teaching that the sun, not earth, was at the center of our solar system (as originally formulated by Copernicus). Today, we know this to be true.
Scientific knowledge advances when scientists have the courage to question conventional ideas and to propose new theories supported by all the available evidence.
In lesson 2, we learn that “El Nina” (possibly a newly discovered politically correct version of La Nina) is a more likely explanation for “flooding in the Midwest” than anthropogenic gloabal warming (strawman, much?):
The El Nina effect, the result of cooler-than-normal ocean temperatures, increased snowfall. The snowmelt in spring subsequently swelled rivers.
At every step, students are encouraged to use “critical judgment” to consider any and all hypotheses other than anthropogenic climate change, and to emphasize scientific “uncertainty”. So that teachers are clear on the direction, helpful final thoughts are provided at the end of each chapter. Some sample section ending comments:
Similarly, there is still a great deal of uncertainty about climate change. (p. 43)
It is important to consider many perspectives when analyzing an issue. People may get a biased view of an issue if they hear only one group’s hypothesis. The information provided by a variety of sources is much more enlightening. (p. 66)
It is important for students to understand that resources are limited. We cannot do everything; trade-offs must be made. This is as true for governments as it is for individuals. In addition, values are subjective and vary considerably among people. This is one reason why it is difficult for politicians to prioritize the many, often conflicting, demands of constituents. (p. 104)
This last comment gets to the heart of the matter. In fact, lesson 6 includes a summary of Bjorn Lomborg’s 2004 Copenhagen Consensus (p. 105). Possible global initiatives are helpfully summarized, and range from “Very good opportunities” such as disease control and trade liberalization (!) all the way to “Bad opportunities”, such as carbon tax and the Kyoto protocol. It turns out the world would be a much better place if we would just stop worrying about climate change, and get on with fixing “real” problems instead. That’s a very inspiring message for the citizens of tomorrow. Talk about educational basics – getting back to ABCs (“anything but climate”).
In a too clever-by-half analogy, “normative” and “positive” judgments about tobacco use and climate change are contrasted. Of course, the analogy is a smokescreen, so to speak, to present the idea that the only possible “positive” judgments about greenhouse gas emissions are relatively innocuous statements about emission levels (in contrast to the clear health risks posed by tobacco). Thus is the work of thousands of scientists clearly demonstrating anthropogenic global warming blithely dismissed. The reference also reminds us that the Fraser’s record on smoking is dubious; one 2000 case study claims “second-hand smoke provides a splendid example of junk science producing junk public policy.”
It would be too depressing to enumerate all the bogus science encountered along the way, much of it in the form of well-worn contrarian talking points. Suffice it to say we learn that “correlation is not causation” and that temperature change leads CO2 in general (p. 14). And that human emissions are only a small part of CO2 emissions (p. 27).
As is sometimes the case for such publications, the acknowledgments page tells you all you really need to know:
The Fraser Institute wishes to acknowledge the generous support of Mr. Michael Chernoff and the Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation.
It turns out that the Hecht Foundation supports “complementary and alternative medicine” (46%), but also gives generously to “economic education” (34%). At least there is no pretense that any science might be involved.
Michael Chernoff is in a different category altogether. Here is the oil industry donor par excellence, apparently willing to support any anti-AGW nonsense.
As noted in Queen’s University alumni magazine (cached at Zoominfo) Chernoff was a geologist who started a small exploration company that struck it big in Ecuador. His company, Pacalta, was taken over in 1999 by Alberta Energy Company, which soon became Canadian oil and gas giant Encana. Thus did Chenoff become an Encana board director until 2006, and a major shareholder.
In 2007, Chernoff made a controversial offer:
High schools that accept free copies of Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth are being offered free copies of The Great Global Warming Swindle to round out their lessons.
Mike Chernoff, who readily acknowledged his ties to the oil industry, made the offer through his charitable family foundation, saying if schools want to promote critical thinking among students, they should show them both videos.
“The intent would be that neither documentary could be shown without showing the other for balance,” he said Wednesday.
The Vancouver Sun enthusiastically endorsed Chernoff’s initiative, while taking one or two gratuitous shots at Al Gore:
Indeed, this is what education should be about. During the screening of these films, and follow-up discussion and assignments, high school students will be detached from their iPods long enough to consider their individual and collective approach to climate change. They will weigh the “evidence” the films use to build the case for or against drastic measures and apply critical thinking skills to assess the social and environmental cost of policies designed to combat climate change. It might encourage them to examine their personal lifestyles and determine their own carbon footprints, which will be a whole lot less than that of Al Gore, the former United States vice-president who stars in An Inconvenient Truth.
… Could the science be wrong or, more insidiously, doctored? If the planet is doomed no matter what we do, should we do nothing?
Surely, it is only a coincidence that the Vancouver Sun’s editorial page editor is none other than Fraser alumnus Fazil Mihlar.
Meanwhile, over at the Ottawa Citizen, Chernoff expressed his desire to achieve “balance” in material presented to students:
[Chernoff] admits that Mr. Durkin’s movie has some extreme views, but he still plans to use his charitable organization to distribute copies of the film in Canadian high schools.
“I would say that you have to go over the top, and I think that’s exactly what the kids need is (to see a movie that makes them say) ‘Hey, Dad, we saw this film and these guys say that Gore’s crazy,’” said Mr. Chernoff, who now sits on the board of a couple of smaller Canadian oil and gas companies. “I may also feel that it’s over the top, but I think that’s what’s required.”
So this recent collaboration between Chernoff and the Fraser Institute makes eminent sense and is only the latest in a long association with Encana bigwigs. Retired Encana CEO Gwyn Morgan is a longtime Fraser trustee and is now one of three vice chairs. And, of course, it’s a given that Encana has been a significant contributor to the Fraser Institute. But that’s a story for another time.