When their research has social implications, how should climate scientists get involved? (The Guardian)

Scientists prefer to stick to research, but sometimes further involvement is warranted

Thursday 4 September 2014 14.00 BST

Laboratory technician in a lab; the natural habitat of scientists.Laboratory technician in a lab; the natural habitat of scientists. Photograph: David Burton/Alamy

First, at the end of this post is a question to my readers wherein I ask for feedback. So, please read to the end.

Most scientists go into their studies because they want to understand the world. They want to know why things happen; also how to describe phenomena, both mathematically and logically. But, as scientists carry out their research, often their findings have large social implications. What do they do when that happens?

Well traditionally, scientists just “stick to the facts” and report. They try to avoid making recommendations, policy or otherwise, that are relevant to the findings. But, as we see the social implications of various issues grow larger (environmental, energy, medical, etc.) it becomes harder for scientists to sit out in more public discussions about what should be done. In fact, researchers who have a clear handle on the issue and the pros and cons of different choices have very valuable perspectives to provide society.

But what does involvement look like? For some scientists, it may be helping reporters gather information for stories that may appear online, in print, radio, or television. In another manifestation, it might be writing for themselves (like my blog here at the Guardian). Others may write books, meet with legislators, or partake in public demonstrations.

Each of these levels of engagement has professional risks. We scientists need to protect our professional reputations. That reputation requires that we are completely objective in our science. As a scientist becomes more engaged in advocacy, they risk being viewed by their colleagues as non-objective in their science.

Of course, this isn’t true. It is possible (and easy) to convey the science but also convey the importance of taking action. I do this on a daily basis. But I will go further here. It is essential for scientists to speak out. With the necessary expertise to make informed decisions, it is out obligation to society. Of course, each scientist has to decide how to become engaged. We don’t get many kudos for engagement, it takes time and money out of our research, you will never get tenured for having a more public presence, and you will likely receive po)rly-writen hate mail – but it still is needed for informed decision making.

One very public activity some scientists engage in is public events and demonstrations. A large such event is going to occur this September in New York (September 21 – the Peoples’ Climate March). Just a few days before the UN Climate Summit, the Climate March hopes to bring thousands of people from faith, business, health, agriculture, and science communities together. Scientists will certainly be there – and those scientists should be lauded. I am encouraging my colleagues to participate in events like this.

Okay so now the poll (sort of). I have been writing this blog for over a year – something like 60 posts. Approximately half those posts are on actual science, breaking new studies that shed light on our ever expanding understanding of the Earth’s climate. Another sizeable number of posts are on reviews of books, movies, projects, and others. A third category deals with how climate impacts different locations around the globe. In this group, I’ve written about climate change in Uganda, Kenya, and Cameroon – climate change effects that I’ve witnessed with my own eyes. A fourth category that I just started focuses on specific scientists telling how they got into climate change. Finally, I write a few posts on debunking bad science and misguided public statements.

In truth, I prefer the harder science, but frankly these do not get as many page views as the debunking posts. I am here asking for suggested topics of future posts. I have a few in queue but I always look for engaging topics and angles. You can send them to me at my university email address,jpabraham@stthomas.edu. Also, feel free to comment on the current mix of stories. Is 50% hard science the right mix? Is it too much? Too little? Is my writing to technical? Not technical enough? Let me hear your thoughts.

World on track to be 4C warmer by 2100 because of missed carbon targets (The Guardian)

Concerns about the short term costs and impacts of investment to address risks is paralysing action on climate changeJonathan Grant

Guardian Professional, Monday 8 September 2014 13.28 BSTHeavy rains in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Heavy rains in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The top 10 destinations for the UK’s foreign direct investment experienced almost $100bn worth of extreme weather losses in 2013. Photograph: Roberto Rosales/AP

Global ambitions to reduce emissions are becoming a bit like the resolutions we make to give something up at new year: the intention is sincere, but we don’t always deliver.For the sixth successive year of the PwC Low Carbon Economy Index, the global carbon target has been missed. And inadequate action today means that even steeper reductions are needed in the future. The target is based on projections of economic growth and the global carbon budget set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which gives a reasonable probability of limiting warming to 2C.

Globally, annual reductions need to be five times current levels, averaging 6.2% a year, every year from now to 2100, compared with 1.2% today. At the national level, Australia is at the top of our decarbonisation league of G20 nations, followed by the UK. Both countries had a strong increase in renewable generation, albeit from a low base, combined with slight a reduction in coal use. The US was nearer the bottom as coal use bounced back, retaking a share of the electricity mix from shale gas.

The world is currently on track to burn this century’s IPCC carbon budget within 20 years, and a pathway to 4C of global warming by 2100. For many of us, 2034 is within our working lifetime. It’s within the timeframe of decisions being made today, on long-term investments, on the location of factories and their supply chains. So businesses are making those decisions faced with uncertainty about climate policy and potential impacts of climate change.

It is clear that the gap between what governments are saying about climate change and what they are doing about it continues to widen. While they talk about two degrees at the climate negotiations, the current trend is for a 4C world.

There is little mention of these two degrees of separation in the negotiations, in policy documents, in business strategies or in board rooms. Operating in a changing climate is becoming a very real challenge for UK plc. Some of the biggest names in business are mapping the risks posed by a changing climate to their supply chain, stores, offices and people.

But while the findings question the reality of the 2C target in negotiations, consider two situations in the analysis that demonstrates the strong case for the negotiations’ role in focusing everyone on co-ordinated action on climate change.

First, our analysis shows that the top 10 destinations for the UK’s foreign direct investment in 2011 were exposed to almost $100bn worth of extreme weather losses in 2013. Multi-billion pound UK investments are wrapped up in transport, technology, retail, food and energy sectors, making this an issue on everyone’s doorstep.

Second, co-ordinated, ambitious action to tackle emissions growth should protect business in the long term. It could even be a boost to growth. It would avoid inevitable short-term decisions that may look attractive, such as shutting down a steel operation in a country with a high cost of carbon to move it to another with a lower cost, but merely relocate emissions. And take jobs with them.

The concern about short-term costs and impacts on investment is paralysing our ability to address the long-term climate risks. Perhaps competitiveness is the new climate scepticism. Businesses call for a level playing field on carbon pricing, when it should be seen in the wider context of labour and energy prices, the skills market and wider legislative environment.

There’s a danger when we talk in small numbers – whether they are one or two degrees, or the 6% now required in annual decarbonisation (every year for the next 66 years, by the way), that they sound manageable. The 6% figure is double the rate the UK achieved when we dashed for gas in the 1990s. A shale gas revolution might help, but would need to be accompanied by a revolution in carbon capture and storage and revolutions in renewables, in electric transport, in industrial processes and in our buildings.

The UK’s results are encouraging, even if they fall short of the overall target necessary. Leadership in low carbon for the UK is down in part to policies and investment, partly the structure of our economy, and partly traditional factors such as skills and education. But it’s notable that while the Low Carbon Economy Index shows that the UK’s carbon intensity is lower than many, it is still higher than in France, Argentina or Brazil. It’s a neat encapsulation of a view of the world through a low carbon economy lens, not just a GDP one. The UK’s competitiveness or attractiveness today needs investment to hold on to it for tomorrow.

Jonathan Grant is director, sustainability and climate change, PwC

World falls behind in efforts to tackle climate change: PwC (Reuters)

LONDON Sun Sep 7, 2014 6:24pm EDT

(Reuters) – The world’s major economies are falling further behind every year in terms of meeting the rate of carbon emission reductions needed to stop global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees this century, a report published on Monday showed.

The sixth annual Low Carbon Economy Index report from professional services firm PwC looked at the progress of major developed and emerging economies toward reducing their carbon intensity, or emissions per unit of gross domestic product.

“The gap between what we are achieving and what we need to do is growing wider every year,” PwC’s Jonathan Grant said. He said governments were increasingly detached from reality in addressing the 2 degree goal.

“Current pledges really put us on track for 3 degrees. This is a long way from what governments are talking about.”

Almost 200 countries agreed at United Nations climate talks to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times to limit heat waves, floods, storms and rising seas from climate change. Temperatures have already risen by about 0.85 degrees Celsius.

Carbon intensity will have to be cut by 6.2 percent a year to achieve that goal, the study said. That compares with an annual rate of 1.2 percent from 2012 to 2013.

Grant said that to achieve the 6.2 percent annual cut would ‎require changes of an even greater magnitude than those achieved by recent major shifts in energy production in some countries.

France’s shift to nuclear power in the 1980s delivered a 4 percent cut, Britain’s “dash for gas” in the 1990s resulted in a 3 percent cut and the United States shale gas boom in 2012 led to a 3.5 percent cut.

GLIMMER OF HOPE

PwC said one glimmer of hope was that for the first time in six years emerging economies such as China, India and Mexico had cut their carbon intensity at a faster rate than industrialized countries such as the United States, Japan and the European Union.

As the manufacturing hubs of the world, the seven biggest emerging nations have emissions 1.5-times larger than those of the seven biggest developed economies and the decoupling of economic growth from carbon emissions in those nations is seen as vital.

Australia had the highest rate of decarbonization for the second year in a row, cutting its carbon intensity by 7.2 percent over 2013.

Coal producer Australia has one of the world’s highest rates of emissions per person but its efforts to rein in the heat-trapping discharges have shown signs of stalling since the government in July repealed a tax on emissions.

Britain, Italy and China each achieved a decarbonization rate of 4-5 percent, while five countries increased their carbon intensity: France, the United States, India, Germany and Brazil.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hopes to gather more than 100 world leaders in New York on September 23 to reinvigorate efforts to forge a global climate deal.

(Reporting by Ben Garside. Editing by Jane Merrman)

 

New York summit is last chance to get consensus on climate before 2015 talks (The Guardian)

UN is trying to convince countries to make new pledges before they meet in Paris to finalise a new deal on cutting emissions, reports

Paul Brown for Climate News Network, part of the Guardian Enviornment Network

theguardian.com, Thursday 4 September 2014 14.48 BST

Ban Ki-moonUN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders to New York on 23 September for a climate summit. Photograph: David Rowland/AFP/Getty Images

It is widely acknowledged that the planet’s political leaders and its people are currently failing to take enough action to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Next year, at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, representatives of all the world’s countries will be hoping to reach a new deal to cut greenhouse gases and prevent the planet overheating dangerously. So far, there are no signs that their leaders have the political will to do so.

To try to speed up the process, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has invited world leaders to UN headquarters in New York on 23 September for a grandly-named Climate Summit 2014.

He said at the last climate conference, in Warsaw last year, that he is deeply concerned about the lack of progress in signing up to new legally-binding targets to cut emissions.

If the summit is a success, then it means a new international deal to replace the Kyoto protocol will be probable in late 2015 in Paris. But if world leaders will not accept new targets for cutting emissions, and timetables to achieve them, then many believe that political progress is impossible.

Ban Ki-moon’s frustration about lack of progress is because politicians know the danger we are in, yet do nothing. World leaders have already agreed that there is no longer any serious scientific argument about the fact that the Earth is heating up and if no action is taken will exceed the 2C danger threshold.

It is also clear, Ban Ki-moon says, that the technologies already exist for the world to turn its back on fossil fuels and cut emissions of greenhouse gases to a safe level.

What the major countries cannot agree on is how the burden of taking action should be shared among the world’s 196 nations.

Ban Ki-moon already has the backing of more than half the countries in the world for his plan. These are the most vulnerable to climate change, and most are already being seriously affected.

More than 100 countries meeting in Apia, Samoa, at the third UN conference on small island developing states, in their draft final statement, note with “grave concern” that world leaders’ pledges on the mitigation of greenhouse gases will not save them from catastrophic sea level rise, droughts, and forced migration. “We express profound alarm that emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise globally.”

Many of them have long advocated a maximum temperature rise of 1.5C to prevent disaster for the most vulnerable nations, such as the Marshall Islands and the Maldives.

The draft ministerial statement says: “Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and we express profound alarm that emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise globally.

“We are deeply concerned that all countries, particularly developing countries, are vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change and are already experiencing an increase in such impacts, including persistent drought and extreme weather events, sea level rise, coastal erosion and ocean acidification, further threatening food security and efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development.”

Speaking from Apia, Shirley Laban, the convenor of the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network, an NGO, said: “Unless we cut emissions now, and limit global warming to less than 1.5C, Pacific communities will reap devastating consequences for generations to come. Because of pollution we are not responsible for, we are facing catastrophic threats to our way of life.”

She called on all leaders attending the UN climate summit in New York to “use this historic opportunity to inject momentum into the global climate negotiations, and work to secure an ambitious global agreement in 2015”.

This is a tall order for a one-day summit, but Ban Ki-moon is expecting a whole series of announcements by major nations of new targets to cut greenhouse gases, and timetables to reach them.

There are encouraging signs in that the two largest emitters – China and the US – have been in talks, and both agree that action is a must. Even the previously reluctant Republicans in America now accept that climate change is a danger.

It is not yet known how many heads of state will attend the summit in person, or how many will be prepared to make real pledges.

At the end of the summit, the secretary general has said, he will sum up the proceedings. It will be a moment when many small island states and millions of people around the world will be hoping for better news.

Racionamento de água ‘não é culpa de São Pedro’, diz ONU (OESP)

09/09/2014, 12h41

4.set.2014 – Represa Jaguari-Jacareí, na cidade de Joanópolis, no interior de São Paulo, teve o índice que mede o volume de água armazenado no Sistema Cantareira alcançando a marca de apenas 10,6% da capacidade total. Luis Moura/ Estadão Conteúdo

O racionamento de água em São Paulo não é culpa de São Pedro, mas, sim, das autoridades, da Companhia de Saneamento Básico do Estado de São Paulo (Sabesp) e da falta de investimentos. Quem faz o alerta é a relatora da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU) para o direito à água, a portuguesa Catarina Albuquerque, que apresentou nesta terça-feira, 9, diante da entidade, um informe em que acusa o governo brasileiro de não estar cumprindo seu dever de garantir o acesso à água à totalidade da população.

Crise no abastecimento

“O culpado parece ser sempre São Pedro”, ironizou em declarações ao jornal O Estado de S. Paulo. “Concordo que a seca pode ser importante. Mas o racionamento de água precisa ser previsto e os investimentos necessários precisam ser feitos”, disse. “A responsabilidade é do Estado, que precisa garantir investimentos em momentos de abundância”, insistiu.

Segundo ela, o racionamento de fato pode ser necessário em algumas situações. “Mas apenas como última opção e depois que as demais opções tenham sido esgotadas”, alertou.

Reservatórios de água na Grande SP

 
Arte/UOL

Confira entre quais reservatórios se divide o abastecimento de água na Grande São Paulo

Raio-x dos sistemas

Para a relatora da ONU, não faz sentido a Sabesp ter suas ações comercializadas na Bolsa de Nova York e na Bolsa de Valores de São Paulo (Bovespa), enquanto a cidade convive com problemas. “Antes de repartir lucros, a empresa precisa investir para garantir que todos tenham acesso à água”, declarou.

“O número de pessoas vivendo sem acesso à água e saneamento às sombras de uma sociedade que se desenvolve rapidamente ainda é enorme”, declarou a relatora em seu discurso na ONU, nesta tarde em Genebra.

Segundo seu informe, um abastecimento de água regular e de qualidade ainda é uma realidade distante para 77 milhões de brasileiros, uma população equivalente a todos os habitantes da Alemanha.

21.ago.2014 – Escavadeira tenta retirar lixo do rio Tietê. Menos de um mês depois de finalizar uma operação que retirou mais de 18 toneladas de lixo de áreas do leito seco do rio Tietê, o município de Salto (a 101 km da capital paulista) começa a ver as áreas serem novamente tomadas por entulho. A maioria do material é de pedaços de madeira. Segundo o secretário de Meio Ambiente do município, João De Conti Neto, a sujeira está voltando pela correnteza. João De Conti Neto/Acervo Pessoal

A ONU ainda aponta que 60% da população – 114 milhões de pessoas – “não tem uma solução sanitária apropriada”. Os dados ainda revelam que 8 milhões de brasileiros ainda precisam fazer suas necessidades ao ar livre todos os dias.

O Estadão revelou em junho de 2013 que a representante das Nações Unidas teve sua primeira inspeção para realizar o levantamento vetada pelo governo. A visita estava programada para ocorrer em julho do ano passado. “O governo apenas explicou que, por motivos imprevistos, a missão não poderia mais ocorrer”, declarou à época Catarina de Albuquerque.

Internamente, a ONU considerou que o veto tinha uma relação direta com os protestos que, em 2013, marcaram as cidades brasileiras. A viagem só aconteceria em dezembro de 2013, o que impediria que o informe produzido fosse apresentado aos demais governos da ONU e à sociedade civil antes da Copa do Mundo.

Agora, o raio X reflete uma crise que vive o País no que se refere ao acesso a água e saneamento. “Milhões de pessoas continuam vivendo em ambientes insalubres, sem acesso à água e ao saneamento”, indicou o informe, apontando que o maior problema estaria nas favelas e nas zonas rurais.

Resposta

O governo brasileiro indicou que o acesso à água e ao saneamento é “uma prioridade”, que a população mais pobre recebe uma atenção especial e que o governo tem “aumentado de forma significativa os investimentos em saneamento ao transferir recursos para Estados e municípios”.

“Houve um aumento nos orçamentos de fundos especiais para promover investimentos em infraestrutura de água e saneamento”, indicou a embaixadora do Brasil na ONU, Regina Dunlop.

“Temos um compromisso com a eliminação de desigualdades, dando prioridades para os mais vulneráveis”, insistiu a diplomata, indicando que as populações das favelas não são esquecidas.

Entre as medidas, a diplomata aponta investimentos de R$ 21,5 bilhões pelo governo em moradia, acesso à água, serviços de esgoto e revitalização urbana.

O governo também sugere que a relatora fizesse uma viagem mais ampla ao Brasil e alerta para a dimensão do território nacional.

 

Nudge: The gentle science of good governance (New Scientist)

25 June 2013

Magazine issue 2922

NOT long before David Cameron became UK prime minister, he famously prescribed some holiday reading for his colleagues: a book modestly entitled Nudge.

Cameron wasn’t the only world leader to find it compelling. US president Barack Obama soon appointed one of its authors, Cass Sunstein, a social scientist at the University of Chicago, to a powerful position in the White House. And thus the nudge bandwagon began rolling. It has been picking up speed ever since (see “Nudge power: Big government’s little pushes“).

So what’s the big idea? We don’t always do what’s best for ourselves, thanks to cognitive biases and errors that make us deviate from rational self-interest. The premise of Nudge is that subtly offsetting or exploiting these biases can help people to make better choices.

If you live in the US or UK, you’re likely to have been nudged towards a certain decision at some point. You probably didn’t notice. That’s deliberate: nudging is widely assumed to work best when people aren’t aware of it. But that stealth breeds suspicion: people recoil from the idea that they are being stealthily manipulated.

There are other grounds for suspicion. It sounds glib: a neat term for a slippery concept. You could argue that it is a way for governments to avoid taking decisive action. Or you might be concerned that it lets them push us towards a convenient choice, regardless of what we really want.

These don’t really hold up. Our distaste for being nudged is understandable, but is arguably just another cognitive bias, given that our behaviour is constantly being discreetly influenced by others. What’s more, interventions only qualify as nudges if they don’t create concrete incentives in any particular direction. So the choice ultimately remains a free one.

Nudging is a less blunt instrument than regulation or tax. It should supplement rather than supplant these, and nudgers must be held accountable. But broadly speaking, anyone who believes in evidence-based policy should try to overcome their distaste and welcome governance based on behavioural insights and controlled trials, rather than carrot-and-stick wishful thinking. Perhaps we just need a nudge in the right direction.

An inside look at U.S. think tank’s plans to undo environmental legislation (The Star)

The corporate-sponsored American Legislative Exchange Council works with lobbyists and legislators to derail climate change policies.

Occupy Phoenix protests the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that brings together large corporations and U.S. lawmakers to draft anti-environmental policies.

NICK OZA / THE REPUBLIC

Occupy Phoenix protests the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that brings together large corporations and U.S. lawmakers to draft anti-environmental policies.

 

Scientists are exaggerating the climate change crisis.

There’s no need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions because the benefits of warmer temperatures outweigh the costs.

Over-the-top environmental regulations are linked to such problems as suicide and drug abuse.

These aren’t the ramblings of a right-wing conspiracy theorist, but the opinions expressed at a midsummer retreat for U.S. state legislators held by a powerful U.S. think tank and sponsored by corporations as varied as AT&T and TransCanada, the company behind the controversial Keystone XL pipeline proposal.

Internal documents from this summer’s Dallas meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, leaked to a watchdog group, reveal several sessions casting doubt on the scientific evidence of climate change. They also reveal sessions focused on crafting policies that reduce rules for fossil fuel companies and create obstacles for the development of alternative forms of energy.

The meeting, hosted in Dallas from July 30 to Aug. 1, involved a mix of lobbyists, U.S. legislators and climate change contrarians, and was sponsored by more than 50 large corporations, including several that do business in Alberta’s oilsands.

One workshop had the goal of teaching politicians “how to think and talk about climate and energy issues” and provided them with guidance for fighting environmental policies and regulations.

“Legislators are just there as foot soldiers, really,” said Chris Taylor, a Democratic state representative from Wisconsin and a member of ALEC.

Taylor, who said she belongs to the group in order to keep people informed about what it’s doing, said research groups appear to be writing policies presented at the meeting on behalf of corporations that are trying to get rid of obstacles to profit.

“Legislators aren’t coming up with these ideas,” she said.

An ALEC spokeswoman, Molly Fuhs, said in an email to the Star that all of its meetings are meant to bring together members “to discuss and debate model solutions to the issues facing the states,” using principles of limited government, free markets and federalism.

All of the model policies, which must first be introduced by a legislator member, are voted on and approved by a national board made up of 23 state legislators, she added.

“This is to ensure ALEC model policies are driven by, and are reflective of, state legislators’ ideas and the issues facing the states,” she wrote.

The group, founded in 1973, says it has about 2,000 elected Democratic and Republican state legislators in its membership. Its non-partisan status as an educational organization allows it to give U.S. tax receipts to its donors.

With nine separate committees made up of corporate representatives and politicians, the council says it can contribute to as many as 1,000 different policies or laws in a single year. And on average, about 20 per cent of these become laws or policies in areas such as international trade, the environment or health care, it says.

“For more than forty years, ALEC has helped lobbyists from some of the biggest polluters on the planet meet privately with U.S. lawmakers to discuss and model legislation,” said Nick Surgey, research director at U.S. watchdog Center for Media and Democracy.

“ALEC is a big reason the U.S. is so far behind in taking significant action to tackle climate change.”

A separate session on climate change at the ALEC retreat, presented by another educational charity, featured several proposals to discourage development of renewable energy, to stop new American rules to reduce pollution from coal power plants, as well as a “model resolution” in support of Keystone XL, which is seeking approval from the Obama administration.

According to a conference agenda, obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, this presentation was given by Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based conservative think tank. Neither Bast, an author and publisher with an undergraduate degree in economics, nor the institute responded to requests for comment.

Slides from the presentation show that it also challenged established scientific evidence on climate change, while proposing to dismantle the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Other internal ALEC records released by the watchdog show that it previously asked its elected members to publicly speak out in support of Keystone XL, providing them with “information” to include in submissions for the U.S. State Department, which is reviewing the TransCanada project.

“They lobby,” Taylor, the Wisconsin Democrat, said of ALEC. “They come up with model policies. They send emails to legislators. They urge people to support model policies. They send thank-yous when the model policies pass. My goal in going is to make sure it’s not stealth, to make sure people know where these policies come from. And these policies come from big corporations through ALEC.”

The Harper government has also participated in an ALEC event, sending a Canadian diplomat, Canada’s consul general in Dallas, Paula Caldwell St-Onge, to a 2011 conference in New Orleans to promote the Keystone XL pipeline, the oilsands and other fossil fuels. Speaking notes from her presentation don’t mention climate change.

Fuhs, ALEC’s spokeswoman, confirmed that several multinational corporations were among those to sponsor the Dallas conference, including telecommunications giant AT&T, pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Bayer and energy companies such as Chevron, Devon, Exxon Mobil and TransCanada.

But she stopped responding to questions from the Star after being asked about the internal documents circulated at the meeting and obtained by the watchdog group.

Most of the companies contacted by the Star confirmed they had sponsored the event, explaining that this didn’t necessarily mean they endorsed all of ALEC’s proposed policies.

Alberta-based TransCanada, which sponsored an “Ice Cream Social” event at the ALEC meetings in each of the past two years, downplayed its role.

“I cannot honestly speak to whether or not someone who was a consultant for our company was at the event — because we are not their only client — but no one was directed to be at this event to present views on behalf of TransCanada,” said TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard. “I can’t be any clearer than that.”

Howard, who said the company’s contributions to ALEC weren’t considered to be charitable donations, said the sponsorship doesn’t mean TransCanada agrees with the organization’s policies.

“Reasonable people wouldn’t expect us to only go to or support things that are a perfect match for our own company’s views and values,” Howard said, noting TransCanada has a climate change policy that includes billions of dollars of investments in renewable energy.

“Sometimes you have to speak to people with different viewpoints to develop better public policy and decisions — that’s just common sense,” Howard said.

A spokesman for ExxonMobil told the Star the company didn’t want to comment about its sponsorship of ALEC, saying that it wasn’t a member of the organization. ALEC’s website lists representatives from 17 organizations on its “private enterprise advisory council” including ExxonMobil, AT&T, Pfizer, as well as Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world.

ALEC declined to explain the role of this “advisory council.”

A spokesman from Devon Energy, Tim Hartley, confirmed that it was “one of the many sponsors” of the Dallas meeting, explaining that the company “generally favours the principles of free markets and limited government that animate ALEC.” But he said he couldn’t discuss specific public policy issues.

“We interact with a variety of stakeholder groups in the course of our business, and we embrace our responsibility to participate in the free and open marketplace of ideas,” said Hartley.

Although she is often critical of ALEC, Taylor, who joined the organization as a legislative member a few years ago, said she doesn’t expect to be kicked out since it is trying to promote its bipartisan nature to preserve its charitable status.

She said energy was a major theme at the Dallas conference, driven by some large corporations, with one corporate representative from Peabody Energy urging the conference to help spark a “political tsunami” against new U.S. EPA regulations proposed to slash pollution from coal power plants.

Peabody Energy didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Surgey, from the Center for Media and Democracy, said one of his biggest concerns about ALEC is its secrecy.

“We have many of our state elected officials going on to these conferences, and yet we’re not allowed to know who they meet with,” said Surgey. “We just know that it’s a very large number of lobbyists from big multinational corporations but ALEC refuses to tell us who’s there.”

ALEC has also sponsored a pair of trips for U.S. politicians to the Alberta oilsands — described as an “oilsands academy” — arranging meetings for the politicians with representatives from TransCanada and Devon Energy, as well as one environmental group, the Pembina Institute, in October 2012.

TransCanada said it doesn’t organize or fund these types of visits, but it assists by freeing up staff to explain operations at facilities.

Sandi Walker, an Alberta government spokeswoman from the provincial department of international and intergovernmental relations, said it hosted 54 trips to the oilsands in 2012, including the fall visit co-ordinated by ALEC as part of ongoing efforts to inform legislators and officials about the industry with “fact-based information” to allow key decision-makers to make informed decisions about energy. Each trip typically cost about $3,000, she said.

She said an ALEC representative had contacted Alberta to set up the meeting, explaining that the province maintains relations with a variety of stakeholders and organizations in the U.S.

Walker said the province is committed to being a leader in greenhouse gas reduction technology by renewing its climate change strategy so that it can effectively reduce emissions at the source, noting it has already implemented a price on carbon emissions for industry.

While TransCanada’s pipeline proposal has popped up on the agenda at multiple ALEC events in recent years, Taylor said that the company’s latest “ice cream social” reminded her of what happened last year when it hosted a similar event.

The ice cream started melting, and in a crowd of skeptics, she joked that she thought this might be accepted as evidence of global warming.