Professor accuses Alberta MP of spreading 'climate misinformation' to school kids

A University of Calgary professor says he's concerned about what he calls "climate misinformation" presented by a Conservative member of Parliament last week to junior high students in Red Deer.

‘Whether or not you think carbon dioxide is pollution or not is, I still think, a question’

Blaine Calkins, the member of Parliament for Red Deer-Lacombe, spoke to a group of grade 7 and 8 students on Friday. (Laurent Pirot/ Radio-Canada)

A University of Calgary professor says he's concerned about what he calls "climate misinformation" presented by a Conservative member of Parliament last week to junior high students in Red Deer.

On Friday, Conservative MP Blaine Calkins was taking questions from Grade 7 and 8 students of É​cole La Prairie when one asked about the carbon tax.

A Radio-Canada reporter was in the room and recorded Calkins' answer.

Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins' tells grade 7 and 8 students that adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere can be a good thing. 1:23

Calkins told the students he and the federal Conservative party oppose the carbon tax, then expanded his answer to talk about pollution.

"First of all, right now the current government is pointing at it as a tax on pollution," he said of the tax. "And whether or not you think carbon dioxide is pollution or not is, I still think, a question. I'm a biologist. I know that carbon dioxide is actually plant food, so there's arguments for and against."

Shawn Marshall, a professor at the University of Calgary's department of geography and Tier II Canada Research Chair in Climate Change, said Calkins' comments aren't false but lack context.

"Of course plants need CO2," Marshall said. "You know kids learn that by the time they get to Grade 7 or Grade 8. But the problem is that the plants are taking up CO2 but they're not taking up enough to keep up with the [carbon] that we're burning."

Calkins concluded his comments by saying that burning fossil fuels is having an impact on the environment, but questioned whether that has caused extreme weather events.

"There's just more people now than there was before," Calkins said. "So, when we have a major weather event, more people get affected, because the chances of it affecting people are that much higher."

That statement also struck Marshall as a half-truth.

"The statement that he made is true, that we have a greater population that's more vulnerable to these kinds of extreme weather events," he said. "But there's also this huge overprint of climate change on these extreme weather events.

"Those two things together are the reason why people are concerned about climate change."

Marshall said such comments about climate change from politicians who disagree with the carbon tax aren't new, but he was concerned they were made to junior high students.

"These kinds of statements are typical and they get frustrating after a while, because it's designed to paralyze us a little bit," he said. "This is very textbook, in that sense and it's too bad it's coming into the school system."

Superintendent statement

Robert Lessard, superintendent of Conseil Scolaire Centre-Nord, issued a statement to Radio-Canada.

"I'm happy that our students care about important questions of our time," Lessard said.

"We're taking this as his [Calkins'] personal opinion. It belongs to him. In our classes, we teach about the biological cycle of carbon, about the environment and its impact on the planet. We talk about facts. There are ecological impacts that need to be taken care of."

CBC News reached out to Calkins' office on Monday for comment, but those calls were not returned.

Travis.mcewan@cbc.ca

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