Conspiracy theories are thrilling, but fall apart under scrutiny
Most of us love a good conspiracy theory. Hollywood makes millions — if not billions — spinning conspiracy yarns that keep us glued to our seats. The plots are similar: a misunderstood, usually socially inept individual uncovers something embarrassing or dangerous about an institution (the “Big Bad Guys”) and hijinks ensue. Over the years, I have learned not to question the movie plots too vigorously, because most are a house of cards that collapse when examined too closely.
The same is true for the conspiracy theories being spun about American foundations’ malevolent motives in funding the campaign against the oilsands. Surprisingly, both right-wing and left-wing pundits point to the same facts, but draw diametrically opposite conclusions.
North Vancouver researcher Vivian Krause – who has a history of working for the salmon farming industry and for Conservative MP John Duncan — claims that the ongoing campaign to stop the expansion of oil tanker traffic on British Columbia’s coast is really a U.S. protectionist ploy to lock up the oil from the oilsands. In Krause’s conspiracy plot, the Big Bad Guys are U.S. charitable foundations, such as the Tides Foundation, the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and any Canadians fighting to stop oil tankers and the risk of oil spills they bring are unwitting dupes of these Machiavellian deep-pocketed U.S. funders.
Krause’s twist on the conspiracy theory genre is to substitute U.S charitable foundations as the Big Bad Guy in place of the multi-billion dollar oil companies. Not surprisingly, conservative pundits such as Sun TV’s Ezra Levant and the National Post’s Peter Foster have broadcast Krause’s conspiracy widely.
On the other end of the political spectrum, you’ve got left-wing blogger Macdonald Stainsby raising concerns about the same U.S. foundations, but arguing their hidden agenda is to bring an “end to the war over tar sands” by providing social licence to oilsands operations through a greenwashing campaign. He posits that the end game is not shutting down the oilsands, but what he calls a foundation-orchestrated Tar Sands Partnership Agreement that would allow the oilsands to continue to expand in exchange for some broad promises on water and tailings. In Stainsby’s conspiracy, the oilsands corporations, Canadian environmental organizations and U.S. charitable foundation all share the Big Bad Guy role.
Like most Hollywood thrillers, both of these conspiracy plots fall apart quickly under scrutiny.
Krause’s theory that U.S. funders aren’t interested in protecting the coast from oil tankers, but rather in maximizing the flow of oilsands crude to the United States, ignores an important fact —these same American foundations are also the main funders of the growing international campaign to stop the Keystone XL pipeline that would increase the flow of oilsands crude into the U.S. by almost one million barrels a day. Funny how this important fact wasn’t acknowledged by Krause, who has drawn praise for her research skills — but then a conspiracy theorist never let a contrary fact get in the way of a good theory.
Having also cast aspersions on virtually every organization fighting oil tankers and oilsands expansion and their funders, Stainsby hypothesizes an alternative theory. He argues these same U.S. foundations’ real goal is to build a social licence for continued expansion of the oilsands. To construct his argument, Stainsby ignores the fact that it was campaigns of the environmental groups he criticizes that put the oilsands industry on the defensive and put their social licence in question in the first place. As with Krause, Stainsby also doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory.
Despite drawing opposite conclusions, Krause and Stainsby both assume that groups such as Dogwood Initiative are being controlled by U.S. foundations with deleterious motives. It’s no surprise that as our campaign has heated up, so have the efforts to discredit our organization. Given that we are standing in the way of a multibillion dollar proposal, we expected attacks. The focus of those attacks, however, was a surprise.
Dogwood’s relationship with international foundations is not the conspiratorial cross-border drama that the conspiracy theorists insinuate. Philanthropic money crossing borders is the norm. When a tsunami hits or an earthquake strikes, when schools need building or rainforests need saving, Canadians send money abroad. The globally significant fight for the internationally renowned Great Bear Rainforest and the need to protect our shared atmosphere from massive amounts of heat-trapping pollution also transcends borders. It should come as no surprise that people from all over the world are involved. But what is also overlooked by the conspiracy theorists of both extremes is the fundamental role the growing network of British Columbians from all walks of life has in funding and politically driving the No Tankers campaign. Our No Tankers campaign has more than 75,000 supporters who donate and take action to stop oil tankers on B.C.’s coast.
It is ironic that we are being accused of being driven by U.S. interests when Dogwood Initiative’s founding mission is to reform the way in which British Columbia’s lands, waters and natural resources are managed by transferring power and control over a place to the people who actually live there. The right to decide is the basic right Dogwood Initiative has been fighting for since 1999 and our No Tankers campaign is grounded in the premise of “Our Coast, Our Decision.”
In the face of mounting pressure from the largest pipeline company in Canada, an undisclosed consortium of international oil companies funding Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project, and a pro-oil sands, pro-Northern Gateway federal and provincial government, we have helped build a broad grassroots movement of working families, First Nations governments, businesses, chambers of commerce, municipal governments, tourism operators and fishermen willing to take action to prevent oil tankers from threatening our coast. We solicit support for these efforts from anyone who shares our vision for the future of B.C. and who is willing to donate (as long as there are no strings attached). Fortunately, some Canadian and American foundations, along with a growing number of businesses and individual donors, almost all of whom are British Columbians, share our vision
None of the conspiracy theorists acknowledge that the fight to protect our coast from the threat of a catastrophic oil spill is a quintessential David vs. Goliath struggle – foreign-funded oil interests like Enbridge are outspending environmental groups working on this issue at least one hundred to one.
As the federal government tries to expedite the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, British Columbians know what’s best for their coast. Regardless of what pundits claim, Dogwood Initiative will continue to ensure British Columbians make the final decision about whether risky oil tankers are allowed — it is our coast and our decision.