As Canada Burns, Danielle Smith Does Event with Activist Who Says Climate ‘Not a Crisis’

The Alberta premier is headlining an oil and gas industry conference this week with climate crisis denier Alex Epstein while thousands evacuate due to wildfires.
Geoff Dembicki
Geoff Dembicki
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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and climate crisis denier Alex Epstein
Left: Premier Danielle Smith (Chris Schwarz/Flickr CC). Right: Alex Epstein (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons).

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is headlining an oil and gas industry event this week alongside a U.S. “fossil fuels advocate” named Alex Epstein who says that human-caused climate change is “not a crisis” and that rising global temperatures are only “a minor variable” in out-of-control wildfires. 

Epstein and Smith are both speaking at the Energy Business Forum, part of a conference hosted by the Canadian Energy Executive Association. It is being held in the mountain resort town of Banff, Alberta, only several hundred kilometres from Kelowna, where thousands of people recently fled their homes due to severe wildfires that scientists say are being intensified by climate change. 

The conference, which includes an “Oilmen’s Golf Tournament,” as well as a “a fun Mardi Gras-themed costume party,” is touted by organizers as “bringing together industry leaders and their partners, government, academia and Indigenous partners to meet and discuss important topics affecting our industry and its future.”

“I’m deeply concerned that this conference, and the organizers of this conference, have decided to double down on denialism at a time when the evidence of climate change is staring at us right in the face,” Sean Holman, a professor of climate and environmental journalism at the University of Victoria, told DeSmog.  

Attendees will listen to a keynote speech from Epstein — an author and consultant for fossil fuel companies based in Washington, DC — who argues on his website that “rising CO2 levels will cause mild, manageable warming” and that when it comes to dangerous wildfires, “focusing on climate change, a minor variable that we have no near-term control over, is a craven political ploy.”

That same day there will be a “Fireside Chat with our Western Leaders” featuring Premier Smith, Alberta Energy Minister Brian Jean and federal Conservative MP for Calgary-Centre Greg McLean. 

“It’s no surprise that Epstein has been invited to appear with the politically powerful fossil-fuel interests in Canada to promote continued burning of carbon-based fuels,” Dr. Peter Gleick, co-founder of a California-based environmental research organization known as the Pacific Institute, told DeSmog.  

“But it is ironic, and unfortunate timing, to be doing so precisely when Canada is suffering its worst, devastating wildfires in history and the rest of the world is also being pummeled by disasters worsened by pollution from the dirty fuels they’re pushing,” Gleick said. 

The Canadian Energy Executive Association, Premier Smith’s office and Epstein didn’t respond to questions about the conference from DeSmog. 

NASA map tracks active fires in British Columbia and Alberta as of August 23. Credit: NASA-FIRMS-US-Canada

This year’s wildfires are the worst in Canadian history. They’ve burned 13.7 million hectares so far, shattering the previous record of 7.6 million hectares in 1989, and recently leading to mass evacuations in the cities of Yellowknife and Kelowna. 

Premier Smith declined to elaborate on the connection between global temperature rise and wildfires when asked directly in a CTV News interview earlier this month. “Wildfire season happens every single year, it’s going to continue happening every single year, and we have to make sure that we’re managing and mitigating and making sure that we educate the public about the role that they play in causing those fires,” Smith said

Epstein, for his part, denies any significant connection between human-caused global warming and escalating wildfire seasons. “Stop pretending that lowering CO2 levels would bring about some fire-free paradise,” he says on his website. 

Yet experts are getting better at attributing fire disasters to greenhouse gas emissions, and a new study from the scientific research organization Worldwide Weather Attribution found that climate change may have increased the severity of Quebec’s wildfires by 50 percent this summer. Carbon emissions were in fact a major variable. 

Following the hottest July in recorded history, which caused extreme heat and drought all across western Canada, there are now over 200 fires in the Northwest Territories and close to 400 in the province of British Columbia, part of an unprecedented year during which there have been nearly 5,800 fires across the country. 

“It’s madness,” Holman said. “Complete madness.”

Geoff Dembicki
Geoff Dembicki is an investigative climate journalist based in New York City. He is author of The Petroleum Papers and Are We Screwed?

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