Why on earth did Regina’s sustainability conference hire a climate-science denier?

CITY HALL  by Paul Dechene

Councillor Mike O’Donnell looked exhausted as he stood before the media to announce that the city was rescinding its invitation to climate-science denier Patrick Moore.

“We have been in recent contact earlier today with the National Speakers Bureau,” O’Donnell’s Feb. 7 statement began. “And we are informing Mr. Moore that he will not be speaking at the [Reimagine Regina] conference.”

Moore had been selected by a committee headed by O’Donnell and Councillor Joel Murray to be the kick-off speaker at the Reimagine Conference on sustainability and renewable energy to be held May 20–21. Reimagine is the first stage in administration’s response to a motion council passed in October 2018 that commits the city to transition to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.

The conference is intended to be the education and inspiration portion of that commitment and, drawing on what they learn there, administration will draft a framework to get the city to its renewability goal.

That framework is expected shortly after the spring conference — possibly somewhere between July and August this year.

The controversy surrounding Patrick Moore’s invitation, however, was an unexpected bump in the road. And O’Donnell’s defeated tone as he announced the line-up change was a far cry from the one he’d struck at another press conference one week earlier when he’d defended the committee’s decision to bring Moore to Regina.

At that event, he seemed untroubled, even playful. “One of the things we’re aware of is he would probably create some interest. And he has. You’re here today,” O’Donnell told reporters who’d gathered on Jan. 31 in the wake of many angry social media posts and a deluge of messages to city hall expressing outrage over Moore’s prominent spot on the schedule.

O’Donnell went on to justify Moore’s selection by saying he was someone with an interesting background who could provide a unique perspective on sustainability.

It turned out, though, that Moore wasn’t planning to talk about sustainability. Not really. Local reporting revealed his talk would be titled, “Fake, Invisible Catastrophes and Threats of Doom.”

Which sounded very much like something intended to undercut the very purpose of the conference. If there’s no environmental threat necessitating a shift to renewables, why bother holding a conference about them?

As the angry e-mails and outraged social media posts — both for and against Moore — piled up, it became apparent that his controversial stance on climate change and sustainability threatened to overshadow an event the city was spending months planning.

Ultimately, the city soured on their choice of anchor attraction. Too much anchor, not enough attraction.

“There’s been lots of debate about our conference. Unfortunately, it’s not about sustainability. It’s about climate change. We’re not hosting a climate change conference,” said O’Donnell as he explained the committee’s decision to drop Moore from the list of keynote speakers.

“The conference topic we suggested to [Moore] was a sustainable energy future. He had done some work previously and presented previously on the transition away from traditional fossil fuels to an alternate. That’s what we wanted to pick up on. He has now announced in the last while that he wants to speak about a different topic. We’re not interested in that.”

O’Donnell says the city will honour its contract with Moore, which set his speaking fees at $10,000 plus $1,400 in expenses. O’Donnell noted there were “other clauses” in that contract, but would not speculate on if they could impact how much the city will have to pay in the end.

Who knows? As Moore had signalled his intention to diverge from the agreed-upon subject matter, perhaps that creates an opening for the city solicitor to negotiate a way out of paying the full fee.

We’ll have to wait and see.

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Based on O’Donnell’s remarks at his two press conferences, it sounds like the committee may not have been fully aware of all the baggage Patrick Moore was bringing with him. And you can almost see how that could happen. Moore’s bio with the National Speakers Bureau doesn’t exactly highlight his reputation as a climate-science denier for hire. He’s billed as the “Sensible Environmentalist” and “a leader in the environmental movement”, and much is made of his relationship with Greenpeace which dates back to its first years.

The bio even says Moore is “committed to finding solutions to our environmental issues by striking a balance between the needs of people and the need to protect the environment.” Sounds like the kind of moderate voice you might want to bring to Saskatchewan, considering the highly charged atmosphere around anything related to oil and emissions.

There are red flags, however. One of his sample keynotes is, “13 Fake Invisible Catastrophes & Threats Of Doom”, while a video clip on his NSB page is titled “Should We Celebrate Carbon Dioxide?”

That’s something that warranted an explanation in his bio: celebrating carbon dioxide is the main part of Moore’s schtick these days. He recently took over the CO2 Coalition, a group that argues that the world needs more carbon dioxide, not less — a position that contradicts all legitimate climate research.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, Moore comes off less like a “sensible” environmentalist and more like an angry old man sustaining himself through the twilight of his career by railing against Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (calling her “evil” and a puppet), and frothing about leftist radicals propagating a climate crisis hoax.

All of this puts Moore at odds with the overwhelming consensus of the climate science community. And that makes him an embarrassing choice as a keynote speaker for a sustainability conference.

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By all accounts, those putting Reimagine together have been working earnestly to assemble a conference the city can be proud of. Beyond the keynotes, they’ve scheduled a slate of talks and workshops intended to be a showcase for how cities can transition away from fossil fuels.

There are sessions on organic waste management, geothermal energy, net-zero construction, solar co-operatives, on-demand transit, community-level energy generation and, yes, even small modular nuclear reactors (a controversy worthy of its own article). All legitimate topics.

But PatrickMooreGate did more than just overshadow all of that — it was a lightning rod that jolted people who’d supported the Renewable City motion into wondering why the city is even hosting a regional conference in the first place.

They have a point. No one asked for a conference.

The people who filled Henry Baker Hall to throw their support behind a 100 per cent renewable Regina wanted action. Councillor Bob Hawkins, who backed the motion, even demanded four quick-start projects the city could commit to completing within the first few years of the framework.

By holding a conference first, all of the real work will start a year (or more) later than the motion intended.

What’s more: at the time the Renewable City motion was brought forward, the expectation was the renewability goal would apply community-wide. Since the motion’s passage, however, council has narrowed the focus onto its own operations — things like powering city buildings and greening the vehicle fleet. Issues like shifting to more sustainable land use patterns, expanding transit and addressing the dominance of car culture all fall outside the forthcoming framework’s distant 2050 horizon.

It’s a wonder, with such a tightly focused mandate, that administration couldn’t have just gone the usual route: hire a consultant to run three public consultation sessions, then clear a spot on a shelf for a vision statement and a master plan.

In the face of all this, community groups have begun organizing their own responses to the 100 per cent Renewable Regina pledge in an attempt to restore the original motion’s ambition and drag city hall’s focus back to the hopes of Regina residents. Already, a group has put on a youth forum (which a representative from the Reimagine committee attended). Another has a sustainability forum in Cathedral scheduled for Feb. 29. And a third, organized specifically in response to Moore’s invitation, have announced they will be drafting their own plan to achieve a 100 per cent renewable city.

Meanwhile, Councillor O’Donnell insists that the Reimagine committee has been looking at ways the community can be involved in the conference, and those will be announced in the coming months.

It might look like a mess, but if the Reimagine Regina committee’s goal was to spark interest and generate debate, well: mission accomplished.


The $300 Fence

Many were alarmed to discover that Reimagine Regina registration is $300 per person. According to Councillor Mike O’Donnell, that’s the cost-recovery price for a conference of this size.

O’Donnell says Reimagine’s intended audience has always been municipal administrators and politicians for whom $300 wouldn’t be an obstacle. Sounds reasonable — until you notice that the conference focus has narrowed to city operations only; until you remember that a climate-science denier was announced as the keynote speaker; and until you learn oil sector representatives have been enthusiastically invited (which some might suggest is a bit like welcoming cigarette companies to a lung cancer conference).

Was Reimagine’s high price a deliberate tactic to keep out the rabble-rousing public who’d supported the original motion so the conference could continue its business-as-usual drift away from its original intent unimpeded?

It’s hard to see how that’s not a fair question.