Fletcher: U.S. celebrities are not purveyors of scientific fact

I would have liked to learn more about what a mermaid and an Incredible Hulk really believe about the North American oil industry.

There was palpable disappointment among reporters when Greenpeace organizers clarified that U.S. actors Daryl Hannah and Mark Ruffalo weren’t actually going to join the sit-in against heavy oil pipeline proposals at the B.C. legislature on Monday.

I was disappointed too. I would have liked to learn more about what a washed-up mermaid and an easily confused Incredible Hulk really believe about the North American oil industry. In the spirit of celebrity slacktivism, both sent statements of support.

To be fair, Ruffalo may still be busy searching for the “truth” about 9/11. In 2007 he declared that the official U.S. government report on the terrorist attacks was “completely illegitimate” because “buildings don’t fall down like that.” I wonder what the relatives of those aboard the hijacked airliners think of him.

Hannah has had lots of free time since starring in the 1984 mermaid fantasy film Splash. Now she’s mostly famous for getting arrested, and she did so again in Texas on Oct. 3, standing in front of earthmoving equipment building the southern section of the Keystone XL pipeline.

It’s worth noting that the project Hannah tried to stop has the support of the Barack Obama administration. The southern section from Cushing, Oklahoma oil storage facilities to Texas refineries is indeed being built by the sinister foreign TransCanada Corp., but it doesn’t carry the dreaded Canadian “tar sands” oil that eco-celebrities are convinced will end life on Earth as we know it.

It’s the northern section that Obama has temporarily opposed, after fervent demonstrations such as the one in Washington DC where Hannah’s first celebrity arrest occurred in 2011.

At that time, Hannah recited the familiar talking points of the U.S. environmentalists who exclusively target Alberta. In a new book, oil sands pioneer and Suncor founder Rick George dissects Hannah’s claims, and asks why they were reported so widely and uncritically.

Hannah claimed “the contribution to the carbon in the atmosphere is unprecedented.” George cites a Royal Society of Canada report that concludes the entire oil sands operation is responsible for five per cent of Canadian emissions. Fossil-fuelled electricity generation is 16 per cent of Canada’s total. Vehicles and other transportation account for 27 per cent.

“How does the oil sands contribution possibly qualify as unprecedented?” George asks.

Another Hannah quote: “I’ve been hearing about how many people have cancer that live downstream from the tar sands project.” Canadians heard that too, thanks in large part to an alarmist CBC documentary by David Suzuki featuring jet-set movie director James Cameron.

George describes how this allegation was made in 2006 by a doctor who claimed a cluster of rare bile cancer cases in the remote village of Fort Chipewyan, and blamed it on oil sands mining. Headlines blared around the world.

George details the Alberta Health Services study that followed, identifying three such cases in 12 years. Statistically higher, yes. A general risk, no. Other types of cancer in Fort Chip were lower than the general population.

This finding was endorsed by Australian, New Zealand, U.S. and Canadian researchers. The doctor who diagnosed the original bile cancers admitted: “These results were based on a small number of cases—there is no cause for alarm.”

Was this news trumpeted around the world? You can guess the answer.

My point here isn’t to make fun of ill-informed celebrities. It’s to counteract the fawning, scientifically ignorant coverage they are routinely given by the mainstream media.

And I’m not promoting the oil sands or pipelines. I’m saying they should be considered based on facts, not foolishness.

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