Caribou running from truck hauling heavy machinery in northern Alberta. Source: warriorpublications.wordpress.com

Alberta Wilderness Association complains to APEGA about Friends of Science membership

I’m no friend of Friends of Science. Their climate denial is partisan and silly. But they do have a right to their opinions. And environmental groups shouldn’t try to silence them with attacks on their professional credentials and reputation. “A pox on both their houses” was the message from this Dec. 2014 column. Enjoy.

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Freedom of speech should also mean freedom from dirty tricks meant to stifle public discourse, if a recent spat between the Friends of Science and the Alberta Wilderness Association is anything to go by.

FoS is annoyed the Alberta Wilderness Association won’t give them space in its newsletter to rebut a criticism to which they took exception a few months ago. In a fit of pique, FoS asked its members to write Canada Revenue Agency asking for an investigation into activities of AWA because the group, according to a Canadian Press story, “receives funding from organizations that are heavily involved in criticizing the oil sands.”

Lest you think the environmentalists’ hands are clean in this little imbroglio, the FoS accuses the Alberta Wilderness Association of complaining to the Association of Professional Engineers and Geophysicists about the ethics of APEGA members – who apparently make up the bulk of FoS membership – belonging to a group that denies climate change is caused by CO2 and the actions of humankind.

This public spat is embarrassing for all involved. Or should be if it isn’t.

The CRA is already being accused by left-leaning think tanks and environmental non-governmental organizations (e.g. Broadbent Institute) of targeting them for tax audits while ignoring the political activities of right-wing groups that support the Harper Government’s political and energy agenda.

Asking the Canadian tax man to go after an opponent with whom you publicly disagree is mean-spirited and distracts from your message. The Friends of Science should be ashamed. FoS already has an image issue; most people of my acquaintance think of it as filled with cranks and conspiracy theorists. Its billboards blaming climate change on the sun are mocked and dismissed on social media.

Underhanded attempts to enlist the CRA in its battle with the wilderness association will only further entrench those opinions.

But I’m not prepared to let the Alberta Wilderness Association off the hook.

APEGA regulates the practice of engineering and geoscience in Alberta, and professionals in those disciplines can’t practice without APEGA licensing. The organization has a strict code of ethics for its members that is taken very seriously. I have more than a decade of interaction with oil and gas engineers and in my experience engineers are cautious, risk-averse, and they don’t lie. Ever.

When they put their stamp on their work they put their professional reputation on the line. If that reputation is damaged, so too is their career.

Therefore, accusing them of an ethical breach is a serious matter.

Membership in a group that disputes the prevailing orthodoxy in climate science is hardly an ethics issue. Scientists and engineers should be encouraged to dissent, not whipped into line by their professional association.

The AWA complaint (assuming the FoS accusation is true, the Alberta Wilderness Association wasn’t available for comment as of publication time) is frivolous and petty and should never have been lodged in the first place.

As I have explained in other columns, who funds which environmental or industry group is a red herring. What matters is the science and the facts. If Canadians take their eyes off science and the facts we run the risk of allowing the greatest debate of this century – whither energy? – to degenerate into bickering and finger pointing.

Shame on the Friends of Science. Shame on the Alberta Wilderness Association.

Both organizations should get back to the public debate and forget about the petty infighting. Immediately.