‘Intimidating:’ Alberta’s energy war room singles out climate campaigner

Steven Lee was perhaps the first person scrutinized by the centre

Steven Lee, 25, a longtime activist who began the Foundation for Environmental Stewardship in 2012, poses in this undated handout photo. Lee has spoken in hundreds of classrooms around the country about challenges for today’s young people posed by everything from genetic engineering to artificial intelligence to climate change. But it wasn’t until he gave a talk in Airdrie, just north of Calgary, that his message drew the attention of a government agency — Alberta’s so-called “war room.” THE CANADIAN PRESS

Steven Lee has spoken in hundreds of classrooms around the country about challenges for today’s young people posed by everything from genetic engineering to artificial intelligence to climate change.

But it wasn’t until he gave a talk in Airdrie, Alta., just north of Calgary, that his message drew the attention of a government agency — Alberta’s so-called ”war room.”

“I’m a reporter with the Canadian Energy Centre,” the phone message said.

“Our website is launching next week and we will be writing a story about the 3% Project, which has raised concerns among some parents who reached out to us following presentations at their children’s schools.”

Lee had just become perhaps the first person scrutinized by the centre, a $30-million government-funded operation intended to correct what it sees as misinformation about the province’s energy industry. It recently opened its office in downtown Calgary.

“Government cracking down on you — I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that,” Lee said.

“A few individual parents angry with what I’m saying is understandable. But when a government agency formally and officially approaches you and your work, that is intimidating.”

Lee, 25, is a longtime activist who began the Foundation for Environmental Stewardship in 2012. The 3% Project is the group’s main effort.

It seeks to build consensus for climate change action by speaking to a million students, about three per cent of Canada’s population. Although climate is a major focus of Lee’s talks, his goal is to get students thinking broadly about the world they will graduate into, he said.

“It’s not just climate change. We’re looking at artificial intelligence, automation, cybersecurity, genetic engineering. These are all global and systemic problems and this is something my generation will need to grapple with.”

In an hour-long video of a presentation to a Calgary high school, Alberta’s oilsands are not mentioned.

Although Lee took out $60,000 in personal debt and lived in his car for two months before he got backers for the project, it is now funded by several private Canadian foundations and corporations with support from the federal and New Brunswick governments.

He has spoken to more than 400 high schools and 83 universities and colleges.

On Dec. 10, an article appeared on the energy centre’s website titled: “Alberta father irked by charity group that targets fossil fuel industry.” It quoted a father concerned that Lee’s presentation was one-sided. It also claimed inaccuracies in the group’s materials, available on its website.

Those materials quote an International Monetary Fund working paper that found Canada subsidizes its fossil fuel industry by about $46 billion a year.

The centre pointed out that a working paper does not represent an official IMF position. It also questioned the credibility of the figure, quoting other studies that set the subsidy level closer to $3 billion.

In an email to The Canadian Press, a co-author of the paper said his work had been fully peer reviewed within the IMF. Ian Parry also explained his subsidy figure was high because it included environmental and social costs as well as direct subsidies — a completely different measure than that used by the centre for comparison.

“Broadly speaking, our estimates of environmental costs are in line with those of other studies,” Parry wrote.

The centre also questioned a quote from a 2013 study in Lee’s material that concluded the fossil fuel industry spent $558 million between 2003 and 2010 on climate change denial. Its story said the study really showed most of that funding came from conservative foundations, not industry.

The centre didn’t mention that the study found funding for those foundations — which is untraceable — increased at the same time industry stopped directly funding climate change denial.

“The correspondence is suggestive of an effort to conceal funding of (denial),” the paper states.

Centre spokesman Grady Semmens, who said staff are not advised to call themselves reporters, defended the article.

“The information addressed in our story is based on our review of the group’s publicly available handbook, information on their website and the concerns highlighted by the parents we spoke to,” he said.

Lee said his plans won’t change as a result of the war room’s attention, or dozens of hate messages and death threats he has received — most of them from Alberta. He is scheduled to speak again in the province in January.

He notes that most of the points raised in the centre’s article are familiar — that Canada’s percentage of global emissions is small and that Canadian companies are world leaders in clean energy.

“Most of them were very common tactics that people use against climate change messaging. I found it slightly surprising and disappointing that a $30-million war room, all they could pull off was the normal messaging everyone else already does.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Lacombe partners with Vesta to support community initiatives

Mayor Creasey yesterday a $20,000 contribution from Vern Crone, production manager for Vesta Energy

Cody Dennis Memorial Game returns to Blackfalds for 16th year

Memorial game raises funds for Blackfalds Minor Hockey

Lacombe’s Cow Patti Theatre, LPAC team up for youth production of ‘Much More Munsch’

Youth ages 8-17 have been rehearsing original play since November

PHOTOS: Lacombe’s Nowco Home Hardware donates to Safe Harbour Society

Two large loads of warm clothing, mitts and McDonald’s gift cards donated

Lacombe County, Summer Village of Gull Lake sign Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework

Agreement specifies what and how services are funded and delivered

VIDEO: Trudeau insists Iran respect families’ wishes when it comes to burials

All 176 people on board the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 were killed

Canadian public health agencies ramping up preparations in response to new virus

Health officials have said there are no confirmed cases of the emerging coronavirus in Canada

‘Naughty boy’: Monty Python star Terry Jones dies at 77

The comedian has been suffering from a rare form of dementia

Alberta premier wants federal government to do more about opioid imports

Jason Kenney says Canada should find ways to cut down on drugs being smuggled into the country

Alberta Energy Regulator laying off staff, restructures, deals with budget cuts

Gordon Lambert, interim CEO, says the changes are part of a restructuring

Energy companies owe more than double the tax to Alberta municipalities

Survey says communities are owed $173 million — up 114% since last spring

No gondola from Banff to Mount Norquay, feds say

Parks Canada dismisses proposal for gondola, Grizzly Pavilion and boardwalks

U.S. officials confirm first case of Wuhan coronavirus near Seattle

The U.S. is the fifth country to report seeing the illness

Most Read