Climate-change skeptics gain from Ottawa funding
The federal government has been funding an asbestos lobby group that promotes the work of prominent climate-change skeptics.
The revelation comes as Canada's delegation struggles to avoid being cast as the villain at the Copenhagen climate conference, and environmentalists are urging the government to stop financing the group.
On its website, the Chrysotile Institute promotes a chapter that it says debunks the asbestos health-risk hoax from the 2007 book Scared to Death – From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares Are Costing Us the Earth.
Ottawa has been frequently knocked by opponents for cutting cash to organizations that believe in fighting climate change.
But Chrysotile Institute president Clement Godbout said Monday that his organization — which has received more than $20 million over two decades — actually has no position about the book's chapter on climate change.
He said his group is only promoting the book for outlining how the science of asbestos, and its potential health risks, have been systematically exaggerated by the "anti-asbestos lobby."
"We've never said a word about climate change — we have a mandate on chrysotile [the type of asbestos mined in Quebec] and we take care of that," Godbout said when asked why his website refers to the bestseller by noted British newspaper columnist Christopher Booker and co-author Richard North.
"We haven't studied this dossier … Booker says what he says, I have no comment on that."
Climate change groups lose funding
But this case is only the latest of many funding spats involving the federal government and climate change.
Earlier this month, a church-based group that conducts human rights and environmental work said the federal government chopped its funding for overseas projects without warning.
A week before the cut, members of Kairos had told officials from the four main political parties that Ottawa needed to do more about climate change and called for a halt to new oilsands projects.
"The government has cut funding to a lead organization that's been doing very constructive work around addressing climate change," said Kathleen Ruff, a senior adviser with the Rideau Insitute and a vocal opponent of the asbestos industry. "And at the same time it's funding an organization that promotes one of the world's leading climate-change deniers.
"I think the world is becoming more and more aware that Canada is a threat to progress on environmental issues."
Ruff and the Sierra Club of Canada are now urging the government to stop funding the Chrysotile Institute, which has received funding from the federal government since 1984.
Sierra director John Bennett said Canadian taxpayers are financing an organization that promotes bad science.
"It's part of the disinformation campaign that industry employs when the world discovers that what they do is damaging to public health or the environment," he said Monday. "In the book, clearly, climate change is a hoax, asbestos is a hoax, [but] the science is quite clear: neither of those things are hoaxes."
Asbestos debate sensitive
The debate over asbestos is sensitive in Quebec, the only province in which the mineral is still mined.
There has also been little political opposition on chrysotile, once hailed as the "magic mineral" before numerous studies linked it to health hazards, including cancer.
Public Works Minister Christian Paradis, the Conservatives' Quebec lieutenant, represents the only riding where it is still mined.
Despite public pleas from more than a dozen Canadian scientists and physicians who say chrysotile is dangerous, Canada still exports the substance to several countries, especially poorer ones.
"In the industrialized world, only Canada is promoting asbestos for continued use — everywhere else in the world, except for developing countries, it's banned," Bennett said.
But Godbout insists that chrysotile is safer than the type of asbestos mined decades ago and he praises the authors for pointing out the differences.
"Their book's purpose is to tell the inside story of many of the major 'scares' which have been given obsessive media coverage in recent years, from the millennium bug to bird flu, from lead in petrol to man-made climate change," reads part of a statement on the Chrysotile Institute's website, which includes the book's price and information on how to buy a copy.
"As the authors show, each of these scares has followed a consistent pattern. They centre on some supposed threat to human health or well-being based on seemingly plausible scientific claims which eventually turn out to have been vastly exaggerated or wholly mistaken — but which in the meantime have cost Western economies astronomic sums, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars."
As part of its mandate, the Chrysotile Institute educates industry and foreign governments about work practices and standards on how to use the product safely.
In an email, Natural Resources Canada said it continues to fund the Chrysotile Institute because it "provides information to governments, industry, unions, media and the general public in more than 60 countries explaining the risks associated with the handling of chrysotile fibres."