Feds discreet about foreign funding of climate skeptics

Published by Postmedia News on March 12, 2012

OTTAWA – While it has aggressively slammed environmental groups for using foreign dollars to finance a small portion of their budgets, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is being tight-lipped about revelations that climate change skeptics in Canada are getting money from an American think-tank with corporate funding.

Newly released documents have revealed three Canadians were part of a network of academics receiving monthly payments from the Chicago-based Heartland Institute as part of its advocacy work to cast doubt on scientific evidence linking human activity to global warming observed in recent decades.

Two of the three Canadians mentioned in the internal records have confirmed they were getting paid by the Heartland Institute.

“There’s nothing secret about it,” said Madhav Khandekar, a retired meteorologist based in the Toronto region who was getting about $1,000 per month from the think-tank. “This is a sort of stipend that I get for doing the literature review and providing commentaries on the website. It is posted for people to read.”

The think-tank was tricked into releasing its internal budget records to an environmental scientist and advocate who attempted to impersonate a board member with a fake email address in February. The Heartland Institute has publicly argued that regulations to improve environmental performance or protection would be a waste of resources since it doubts the scientific basis for action.

Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent has recently said the federal government “does have concerns about offshore foreign funds that have come in (to Canada) for obstructive purposes,” but he didn’t want to talk about funding sources of climate change skeptics.

“We will not be commenting on this matter,” Kent’s spokesman, Adam Sweet, wrote in an email to Postmedia News.

Mitch Taylor, a professor from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., who specializes in polar bear research, also confirmed that he had been paid to do independent review work for the Heartland Institute, but has now stopped because of a busy workload teaching classes. He said there was nothing wrong with the funding.

“I’m not getting paid to produce anything by anybody,” said Taylor.

He explained that he has been shut out of important technical meetings regarding the official status of polar bears because other scientists disagree with his research suggesting they are exaggerating claims about the species being at risk from climate change.

“I’m getting paid to be able to function as a normal scientist because there is no funding of this perspective through any of the normal channels,” Taylor said. “I can’t even go to the meetings.”

He said he believed that the Heartland Institute had paid him a monthly fee of about $750, and that he remained in contact with the think-tank and would work with it again.

“I’ve been working on polar bears since 1978 . . . and my voice is being basically, just disallowed. I no longer have access to the ordinary communication routes that are available.”

The federal government also declined to comment on references in the Heartland Institute records to Khandekar as a representative of Environment Canada, explaining it does not comment on activities of former employees. But Environment Canada has dismissed arguments promoted by the Heartland Institute regarding climate change.

“Canada recognizes that climate change is a global challenge requiring a global solution, and we will continue to work towards this goal,” said Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson in an email.

“Climate change is one of the most important environmental issues of our time, requiring urgent action on the part of all governments and citizens.”

A third Canadian researcher who was named in the Heartland Institute documents did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment. But another Canadian, Tom Harris, listed as an unpaid adviser, has argued that questions raised about funding sources are a distraction.

Harris has worked previously as a public relations consultant on a project funded by the oil and gas industry that used “research” accounts at the University of Calgary to produce a video that attacked the Kyoto Protocol and peer-reviewed scientific literature linking human activity to climate change. Alberta-based Talisman Energy kick-started the project with a $175,000 donation in 2004.

The university later shut down the accounts following an audit that revealed they were being used by a group of climate-change skeptics in Calgary to fund a wide range of expenses, including wining, dining, travel, lobbying, marketing and public relations, while issuing tax receipts. Harris said he was unaware of the connection of the accounts to Talisman until years later and he declined to answer questions Monday about reports that he had worked for another group of climate skeptics in Canada that received funding from the Heartland Institute.

Khandekar, who received funding from the University of Calgary accounts to travel to a 2005 United Nations climate change conference in Montreal during a federal election campaign, said he was sent as a representative of the Calgary-based group the Friends of Science. He said he was not aware that the money was coming through the university accounts.


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