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Trevor Hancock: Morgan's columns should come with a health warning

Fossil-fuel advocate Gwyn Morgan’s columns are an example of ‘discourses of delay,’ which argue that we need oil and gas to fuel our society and change is impossible — thus delaying action on climate change.
A pumpjack works at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta. in 2016. Fossil-fuel advocate Gwyn Morgan never gives up peddling the distortions, half-truths and downright lies of the fossil-fuel industry that he represents, writes Trevor Hancock. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Fossil-fuel advocate Gwyn Morgan recently provided yet another nonsensical defence of his industry (“Net-zero fantasy has empowered dictators,” Jan. 11).

But as Prof. Roland Clift — a past member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.K. Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution — wrote in response, it is Morgan who is the fantasist: “It is people like me who live in the real world; the fantasists are those who think we can continue to dig up and burn fossil carbon.”

Of course, Morgan completely ignored the environmental, health and economic costs of the fossil fuels he touted, as several letter writers pointed out. “Unfortunately, he either ignores or unfairly dismisses environmental concerns about fossil-fuel production,” wrote Steve Housser of Shawnigan Lake.

Short of outright denial of climate change, ignoring the problem is the next best thing, perhaps best understood as the ostrich strategy: Just close your eyes, stick your head in the sand and hope the problem will go away.

Unfortunately for Morgan, his timing was off. He wrote: “As 2022 made painfully clear, however, there’s nothing at all funny about the enormous damage currently being inflicted by pursuit of this technically impossible goal” of net-zero.

But this appeared opposite an article titled “U.S. climate disasters racked up $165 billion in damage in 2022” and another titled “Landslides, sinkholes, floodwaters plague California.”

His main point — that a reliance on renewable energy had made Germany vulnerable to Russia’s weaponizing of oil and gas — was ably refuted by Thomas Pedersen of Saanichton: “Morgan’s views are exactly backward,” he wrote, arguing that in promoting “untrammelled consumption of oil and natural gas and [decrying] adoption of renewables,” Morgan “has contributed to keeping demand for fossil fuels high, thereby enriching coffers in Russia and other autocracies like Saudi Arabia.”

Another criticism of Morgan’s article came from Ed Wojczynski, former chief energy planner for Manitoba Hydro, who wrote that Morgan’s “learning from the European crisis is to expand oil and gas while Europe’s learning instead is to increase renewables and nuclear to enhance self-reliance and minimize gas requirements.”

Full marks to Mr. Morgan, however, for his persistence in trying to obfuscate the science of climate change and clean energy; he never gives up peddling the distortions, half-truths and downright lies of the fossil-fuel industry that he represents. His column is an example of what one group of researchers has called “discourses of delay.”

In an article in the journal Global Sustainability in 2020, a team of researchers explained that these “discourses of delay,” which “pervade current debates on climate action … accept the existence of climate change, but justify inaction or inadequate efforts.”

The team identified four categories of climate delay discourses. First are proposals to redirect responsibility — examples include arguing that we are small and should wait for others to act, or that if we act, others won’t, so it’s better we do nothing.

The second category, which Morgan’s column is full of, is pushing non-transformative solutions: Rather than expand alternative energy to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels — be they from Russia or elsewhere — we should ramp up production. No mention, of course, of the enormous health, environmental, social and economic costs that will ensue.

The third category — emphasize the downsides of climate policies — is in many ways the opposite of the second: Morgan argues that controls on fossil fuels make us vulnerable, while again ignoring the downsides of fossil-fuel use and the benefits of alternatives.

The final category is surrender to climate change, which is inherent in all he writes: We need oil and gas to fuel our society, change is impossible, the alternatives are unfeasible — none of which is true, by the way — so just carry on as we are.

I realize that the media feel they need to provide “balance,” but the fossil-fuel industry continually tries to mislead us.

Given his persistent ignoring of the “inconvenient truth” of climate change and its health, environmental, social and economic costs, I think Gwyn Morgan’s columns should come with a health warning: “This article may contain unfounded, biased and distorted information that may harm your health or that of your descendants. Read with care.”

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Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy