Just when you think you’ve seen it all when it comes to the disinformation and outright deception coming from the oil sector propaganda machine, a recent report shows the depth of deception—a new low—that the industry can sink to in its relentless campaign of obstructionism to stall action on climate change. The report was written by Emily Eaton, a professor at the University of Regina and Nick Day, a classroom teacher in Regina.
Oil Sector Invades the Classroom
“Public education in Saskatchewan has become a key tool in securing the “hegemony” of the oil and gas industry and “obstructing” the transition to a low-carbon economy,” writes Fatima Syed in the National Observer.
For Saskatchewan’s oil and gas industry, the next stop is schools. — National Observer
In its analysis of the Eaton & Day report, National Observer highlights a disturbing pattern of infiltration by Big Oil in Saskatchewan’s public school system. The public education system:
- restricts “the imagination of possible climate solutions to individual acts of conservation that fail to challenge the structural growth of fossil fuel production and consumption;”
- accepts that “the influence of oil and gas has instilled in Saskatchewan’s education system a troubling worldview that doesn’t acknowledge the urgency of the climate emergency;” and,
- supports “how teaching practices and resources work to centre, legitimize, and entrench a set of beliefs relating to climate change, energy, and environmentalism that align with the interests and discourses of oil industry actors.”
Institutionalization of climate denialism
“They’re really obstructing the kind of scale of actions that we would need in order to confront the climate crisis that we’re in right now.”
When interviewed by National Observer, Eaton noted that “Gone are the days when fossil fuel companies have had the strategy of outright climate change denialism…They’re taking a more subtle approach now. And that includes, for example, insisting that any teaching about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions or energy resources must also include the perspective of industry… They also make the claim to students that modern life isn’t possible without oil.”
The report also looked at oil industry funded non-profits engaged in promoting the interests and perspectives as “legitimate and necessary to learning about environmental issues.” Some organizations deliver educational resources and provide teacher professional development directly in the classroom. With a firm grip on both content and development, the oil sector has institutionalized climate denialism.
Oil Industry attempting to control the narrative
“The need for balance and the legitimacy accorded to industry interests and perspectives is so widespread that industry actors are understood as natural partners and stakeholders in curriculum renewal and school content”
During their interviews with educators and other school board officials, the authors of the report found clear evidence that the oil industry is shaping the climate change narrative used in the classroom by teachers. Industry has been able to insert “its perspectives as necessary components of a balanced approach to energy and climate change issues.” Teachers feel compelled to present a balanced view to climate issues by including the industry perspective—by presenting both sides.
The oil industry has succeeded in switching the focus in the fight against climate change away from industry and government to individual actions of consumers. “It must be individual consumers, who are demanding to use fossil fuels, that are both the cause and the solution to environmental and climate crises,” reveals the report. Only one teacher interviewed by the authors “confronts the corporate power of the fossil fuel industries.”
The report labels “the circulation and enactment of these discourses petro-pedagogy, an integral arm of the regime of obstruction that is actively blocking a transition to a post-carbon economy.” Petro-pedagogy is keeping Saskatchewan’s climate policy in the dark ages by emphasizing:
- the valorisation of industry interests as a necessary component of energy and climate change education;
- the representation of life without fossil fuels as a threat to modern freedom;
- the representation of fossil fuel production as compatible with environmental sustainability through government and industry initiatives to reduce industry’s impact; and,
- the insistence that individuals are both the cause and potential solution to climate and environmental crises through their individual lifestyle choices.
As far back as 2014, The Narwhal exposed the involvement of “Suncor Energy and Syncrude Canada in the creation of future Kindergarten to grade three curriculum. Oil giant Cenovus will partner in developing curriculum for grades four to 12.”
Instead of producing climate literate students and workers equipped to tackle the climate issues of the future, students are being trained to see the “world-as-it-is and continue the business-as-usual social and political practices that have led to the climate crisis we now face.
Environmental education will play a key role in preparing youth to inherit a world in dire need of stringent policies and regulations that will match the climate challenge awaiting them. In Saskatchewan, where will these future climate leaders come from?
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