(February 16, 2018) Lawrence Solomon: I’m called a lobbyist for the oil industry, a shill, a mouthpiece, and some not-so-nice words, too, all of it made up.
This article first appeared in the National Post
Anyone who can read knows I’m in the pay of the oil industry, as is Energy Probe Research Foundation, an organization I helped found in 1980 and where I’ve remained since. It’s hardly a secret. Check the comments after my recent columns on the dangers of bicycle lanes — or any of the many others debunking the conventional wisdom on global warming or renewable energy — and you’re likely to see my critics warning readers of my affiliation with Big Oil. Chatter on social media sites like Twitter and Reddit as well as the mainstream press magnify the warning, lest someone be swayed by my facts without realizing who’s funding them.
Except I’m not funded by Big Oil, or even Little Oil. Neither is Energy Probe, which receives no corporate donations at all, let alone donations from the oil industry. I’m called a lobbyist for the oil industry, a shill, a mouthpiece, and some not-so-nice words, too, all of it made up.
Last year in a feature for Vice called “A Look into Canada’s Most Controversial Environmental Organization: What is Energy Probe and why is it anti-climate change?”, the writer, a historian of sorts named Ryan O’Connor, noted my “talent for securing funding — albeit from questionable sources, such as the oil industry.” In fact, I not only don’t have this fundraising talent, I don’t even try, and neither does anyone else at Energy Probe. The few fundraisers Energy Probe enlisted — this would have been circa 1990 — soon quit, upon discovering that corporations and governments alike shun maverick organizations. Energy Probe was instead sustained by the general public, both through small donations and revenue from the sale of our books and other products.
I’m called a shill, a mouthpiece, and some not-so-nice words, too. All of it made up.
The urban myth that Energy Probe is dependent on the oil industry is twinned with mockery of Energy Probe’s bona fides as an environmental group. Yet Energy Probe was Canada’s original anti-nuclear organization and original promoter of conservation and renewables, at a time when these positions were so controversial that CBC refused to run our TV ads promoting energy conservation and condemning polluting the planet.
Energy Probe is the group whose call for the creation of the Mackenzie Valley commission led to the scrapping of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline; the group that helped sink the oilsands expansion in the 1980s; the group that helped end the nuclear industry’s expansion; and one of the first groups to warn about the potential dangers from global warming. None of this seems to matter to the social justice warriors populating social media and controlling content at Wikipedia. When Energy Probe changed its position on global warming a decade ago — that’s when we determined that the alarmism was not only largely fraudulent but also led to policies harming the environment — Energy Probe’s history was spun to recast us as faux environmentalists.
Where does the myth of oil industry funding come from? In Energy Probe’s early days, before the advent of the social media echo chamber, it was held as conventional wisdom in the nuclear industry, which thought we were funded by an oil industry fearing competition. This was an ingenuous, if mistaken, belief. There was also a disingenuous basis for the claim.
After the OPEC oil crisis of 1979, world oil prices shot up to the then-astronomic price of US$40 a barrel, but our governments refused to let consumer prices rise, leading us to overconsume. Energy Probe launched a campaign, “The Cost of Cheap Oil,” calling for removal of the subsidies and charging Canadians the market price to induce energy conservation. But no one — not governments, not industry, not the Consumers Association of Canada — leant support. Even the oil industry itself, ever timid, refused (despite the benefit to its bottom line) for fear of stoking bad press.
To shame the oil industry, Energy Probe wrote some 150 Canadian oil companies, challenging them to support our case for charging world oil prices for the good of the Canadian economy and environment. We simultaneously issued a press release announcing our challenge to the oil companies, and then followed up by lamenting the oil industry’s failure to take a principled position. A few oil companies did support our campaign; their combined funding amounted to about $10,000. That was the early 1980s and a basis for implications by the likes of the Vice historian — he is also Wikipedia’s current source — that Energy Probe shills for the oil industry.
This article won’t end the myth. On the contrary, it will feed it. Reread my first sentence, and then wait for it to be cited, out of context, by those who don’t know, and don’t want to know, any facts that might disturb them in their safe spaces.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe. Email: LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com.