How Ned Flanders Stoked Climate Denial

DeSmog UK will endeavour to publish profiles of the back-room influencers who have promoted climate denial in Britain and around the world each Tuesday. Today we begin with Ned Flanders. Sorry, Ross McKitrick. And his Celtic carol band. Seriously. 

Dude is a shoo-in for Ned Flanders from The Simpsons.” Well, at least according to one student’s view on Rate my Professors of Ross McKitrick, economics professor at Guelph University in Ontario, Canada.

He teaches environmental economics in a very right wing perspective. He really teaches you his point of view and not much of the course material,” reads another review from this October.

McKitrick has been a professor at the university since 1996, but his “right wing perspective” on climate change extends well beyond the campus and the some 115,000 people residing in Guelph, where he lives with his wife and two children.

No Convincing Evidence

In a very ‘Ned Flanders’ fashion, the professor – who has been known to don a sweater-vest or two – endorsed “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming” issued in 2009 by the conservative Christian public policy group, the Cornwall Alliance.

The Declaration states that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming”. It also denies that carbon dioxide is a pollutant and that renewable energy can replace fossil fuels.

McKitrick also co-authored the Alliance’s 2006 “A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming”, the predecessor to “A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor” upon which the 2009 Declaration is based.

Cooler Heads

But this was not the first time he called climate science into question. It was during the early 2000s that McKitrick would solidify his position as a key player in stimulating climate denial.

It all began in 2001, when McKitrick participated in a briefing attacking the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. The briefing was sponsored by the Cooler Heads Coalition, a climate denial organisation run by the Koch-funded Competitive Enterprises Institute (CEI).

McKitrick is known for being staunchly anti-Kyoto. Writing in Canada’s centre-right newspaper, The National Post, in February 2002, he states: “If global warming is going to happen, Kyoto will do nothing whatsoever to prevent it or even slow it down. Why are we still considering it?”

It was at this time that he became a Senior Fellow of the Fraser Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Institute is partly funded by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation – one of Antony Fisher’s neoliberal think tanks.

Coincidentally, 2002 was the same year that McKitrick released Taken By Storm, co-authored by fellow climate sceptic Christopher Essex. A press conference to promote the book was organised shortly after, in 2003, by McKitrick and Essex with the Cooler Heads Coalition; unsurprisingly, copies were provided “with compliments” by the CEI.

The Hockey Stick

This was also the fateful year that McKitrick met fellow Canadian and climate sceptic Steve McIntyre, who lives about an hour’s drive from Guelph. McKitrick, who was already plugged into the fossil fuel-funded PR world, would help McIntyre finalise his analysis of Michael Mann’s hockey stick graph.

Their hockey stick critique claimed there were ‘fundamental flaws’ with the graph used by the IPCC to show that the ‘90s was the hottest decade of the century; they argued that the way the data is handled ensures that whatever data gets input, it will always produce a hockey stick shape.

The critique would go on to form the basis of McIntyre’s quest to debunk Mann on his sceptic blog, Climate Audit, and later inspire an unknown individual to hack into the emails of the University of East Anglia in 2009 and steal emails and data shared between the world’s leading global warming scientists.

The hockey stick critique was first published in 2003 by Energy & Environment, a journal which avoids standard peer review. McIntyre and McKitrick also tried, without success, to get their findings published in the highly regarded Nature magazine. But finally, in 2005, they managed to publish their second critique – and only peer-reviewed work – on the hockey stick in Geophysical Research Letters.

Powerful PR

Initially, their papers received very little attention outside climate-sceptic circles. But thanks to a powerful PR campaign and strategic timing ahead of the COP 9 climate talks in Milan, their unsubstantiated criticisms landed on the front page of the National Post and the Wall Street Journal.

Off the back of the first paper, the two were invited to Washington for a briefing arranged by the George C. Marshall Institute and the CEI, both free market think tanks funded by ExxonMobil and other oil interests. While in Washington, they met with Republican Senator and staunch climate denier James Inhofe, who has called climate change “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”.

Following their critique in Geophysical Research Letters, the ‘M&M duo’ were flown to Washington once again for a second briefing with the Marshall Institute and the CEI.

McKitrick’s travels would also take him overseas. He happened to be in London in November 2009 at the private free market Buckingham University. This meant he was on hand should Lord Lawson have needed assistance in launching his climate denying charity, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). 

And it also meant, entirely fortuitously, that he was in England when Climategate broke. The criminal hacking of private emails sent by the world’s leading climate scientists was spun as ‘smoking gun’ evidence of attacks that McKitrick and other oil-promoted sceptics had been making for years. 

The GWPF has praised McKitrick for being “instrumental in exposing the fatal flaws of the so-called Hockey Stick”. Curiously, McKitrick didn’t blog on climategate. He did confirm that he had been questioned by police during a Canadian senate committee hearing in December 2011.

New Endeavours

In the years following the scandal, McKitrick – a member of the GWPF’s academic advisory council since 2010 and chairman as of 1 January this year – would submit a 49-page report to the GWPF calling for ‘radical reform’ of the IPCC. He has also gone on to become a regular speaker at the Koch-connected Heartland Institute’s annual International Conference on Climate Change.

Clearly, McKitrick’s work at the centre of the hockey stick ‘controversy’ cleared the way for many new endeavours to blossom.

Not only did it help forge the path for the debunked climategate, but it also inspired McKitrick’s love of Celtic music and eventually led to him start a band, The Wild Oats, where he plays the bagpipes, penny whistle and bodhrán, an Irish frame drum.

I did find that music was a great way of staying sane,” McKitrick recently told the local Guelph Mercury newspaper. “It’s just a great way of relaxing with people and doing something fun. I found it a great diversion from all the controversies at work.”

The band’s two albums, featuring Christmas carols and “beloved hymn tunes … [that] come alive in their alter ego as reels, jigs, waltzes and airs”, would surely have prime-time’s Ned Flanders jumping and jiving: “Hi-diddly-ho-ho-ho let’s have a sing-a-long-a-roony folks!”

@Kylamandel

Photo: Ross McKitrick, Guelph University via Wikimedia Commons

How Ned Flanders Stoked Climate Denial
Kyla is a freelance writer and editor with work appearing in the New York Times, National Geographic, HuffPost, Mother Jones, and Outside. She is also a member of the Society for Environmental Journalists.

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