Extremists are derailing climate change debate in Canada and corrupting scientific first principles

Bill-Whitelaw: Extremist views endanger Canadian climate effortsSpinning. Opining. Pontificating. Deceiving and omitting. Weaving phantasmagorical tales of doom and gloom.

They’re on your radios, televisions, and news websites. They’re all over your social feeds like flies feasting on manure. Their mendacious headlines and quippy quotes are seemingly soft and inoffensive. But in truth, they are manipulative and coercive.

Their climate fabulism (that is, playing fast and loose with the truth) relies at its core on middle Canada’s credulity – a credulity that insulates those Canadians from what extremists most fear: inconvenient facts.

Climate fabulists love vacuous and factually empty soundbites in service of subtle ad hominin attacks, of soothing and anodyne words that mask their duplicitousness and disingenuousness – all in favour of species survival.

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Fabulists loom large in the cultural and everyday landscapes of “middle Canada” – although their favourite habitat is both fringes of the political spectrum. They thrive at those extremes, where integrity and honesty matter less than species self-replication.

Left or right. It matters not to the fabulist. All that matters is existing at the fringe and maintaining echo-chamber ramparts of self-aggrandizement and self-indulgence.

Too many Canadian politicians, provincially and federally, are the climate fabulists in question.

And believe it or not, Canada’s energy future, implicated as it is in climate dynamics – and everything that means to Canadian well-being – is caught directly in the merciless crossfire of ideological climate fabulism. When someone in 2050 records the official history of Canadian climate thinking from 2010 forward, the cost of fabulism-at-the-fringes may well go down as the single largest factor in the failure of our Net Zero ambitions.

But first to fabulism. There is good fabulism, and there is dark fabulism. The distinction is important. Fabulism is about fables and their construction – and the power of fables to either build or destroy. Fabulism as a social genre is timeless. Aesop was a good fabulist; his talking animals used fables metaphorically to teach lessons with moral outcomes. There are other good fabulists. You know them. Morality was their output.

But there’s an increasing cadre of Canadian politicians of the dark fabulist variety. Immorality is their output. They use fables and fantastical thinking to (try to) convince voters that their view of energy’s changing times is the right view; that we live in one of their two extremes. Either the climate matters, or it really doesn’t. Either we act with zeal and alarm to avoid climate collapse around our heads, or we simply get on with life the way we have been for the last century, climate be damned.

But as energy transition dynamics become more complex and challenged, and the cost of inaction more manifest, climate fabulists become more conflicted and rabid in their fable building. And so, the tales get taller and the whoppers “whoppier” – and the consequence is a morality output dark and dire in tone and tenor. So, as the fringes repel further and further from each other, their fabulism shrillness increases exponentially. The fables they produce shirk away from the science-based talk-tools that could ground the right kind of climate discourse firmly in the middle ground.

Put more bluntly, fabulism is killing our ability to get a pragmatic grasp on climate considerations, both the challenges and, more importantly, the opportunities. As a result of fabulist domination of discourse, Canadian energy politics have rapidly devolved into a nightmarish world with a distinctly dystopian feel.

Consequently, many Canadians are in deep states of climate despair. They’ve lost faith that Canadian political elites represent the middle; that in the climate game of capture-the-flag, the fringes on the left and the right are in real control of self-fulfilling narratives in which the only thing that matters is that the fringes don’t self-immolate.

They’re not wrong. The middle doesn’t seem to matter to the elites. Nor, seemingly, does science. And when science presents itself as an inconvenient truth-teller, the facts it offers as proof of grounded truths are too often twisted and distorted such that their original essence isn’t discernible.

Conversely, political climate fabulist do love science, at least when they can prostitute it and commodify it to their ends. They consciously rupture scientific principles from the context in which their integrity is grounded – but that rupturing deliberately makes the “facts of those matters” useless to middle Canadians trying to discern what’s real from what’s not.

Middle Canada doesn’t matter to the climate fabulists because there’s no at-the-fringe affirmation to be had of ideological tenets – political, social, cultural – that fuel “fringist” belief systems. And it is middle Canada that may well pay the piper for the stranglehold fabulists have on energy discourses because they’re more about hatred and malice than they are about collaboration and consensus.

All energy sectors are equally riddled with the bullet holes of indiscriminate ideological tall-tale-telling that, more often than not, has no basis in the realities that anyone on the socio-political spectrum’s mid-range recognizes.

No form of energy is immune to political fabulism truth-twisting.

The examples are myriad. In the fossil fuels sector. In the agri-food sector. In the renewables sector. Political fabulism dominates the discourse of how these systems and sectors ought to figure into Canada’s future. Still, they are discourses in which it is hard to detect any sense that middle Canada has had a say.

But one crucial fable of the moment involves Canada’s electricity grid. And it provides an ideal set of lenses through which middle Canada should peer to reclaim and recuperate a sense of what’s been hijacked: their sense of, and right to, grounded scientific safeguards.

The complex contestation about what the grid is, what it does, and where it’s headed is fraught with fabulism fearmongering. Middle Canada needs to probe behind and beyond the light switch and understand what’s really going on as the political fringes ramp up their fable rhetoric.

A better sense of science will help us understand there is light at the end of the grid tunnel, and the middle must wrestle back – at the voting booth – its right to define the grid’s future. That includes the middle’s right to have the most appropriate scientifically sound scenarios driving political and policy considerations.

I started this commentary with a warning to middle Canadians. Now, here’s a solution gussied up as some advice.

Bone up on the basics of scientific first principles. Find your own sense of science in a way that makes you a better detector of fabulist fabric-weaving. It’s not difficult; there are plenty of good resources out there because here’s the good news: science seems to be fighting back against its own cooptation by political fabulists.

A middle Canada waking up and reclaiming its right to science-based energy-future discourses will strike fear in the fabulist heart.

Here’s the thing, too, about Canada’s political fabulists: they’re also gaslighters par excellence.

Gaslighting, for the uninitiated, is merely a contemporary term to describe what the political fringe has been doing since times immemorial: trying to exert psychological control over the masses. But cast in a climate context, gaslighting is particularly insidious because the fabulists would have ordinary Canadians deny their reality in favour of the fringe’s reality.

An almost-final word. Political fabulists are good talkers. On the surface, they sound sincere and always have a ready answer. They’re polished and loquacious and shoot accurately, if not misleadingly, from the lip. They come across as sincere and well-meaning.

But that’s just the fabulist’s invitation to land unwittingly within the Venus Fly Trap of their fringe universe.

So, here’s the final words:

Never, ever, mistake glibness and loquaciousness for erudition and gravitas.

Never, ever, mistake faux-sincerity and faux-earnestness for integrity.

Bill Whitelaw is the Managing Director of Strategy & Sustainability with Geologic Systems.

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