Opinion

The Don Cherry of TV science

Nature of Things narrator David Suzuki. - CBC
Nature of Things narrator David Suzuki.
— image credit: CBC

VICTORIA – He has a white beard and a bully pulpit on CBC television, but he doesn’t use it to promote hockey fighting.

Instead he sucker punches the oil and gas industry at every opportunity, with increasingly flagrant disregard for the rules of science. Public broadcasting referees keep their whistles in their pockets, wary of offending a legend.

He’s David Suzuki, and he has evolved from geneticist to TV celebrity to his current role as the Don Cherry of Canadian science, an angry curmudgeon lashing out at his enemies.

Earlier I wrote about Suzuki’s hit piece on the Alberta oil sands, featuring selective pollution studies and a celebrity turn by movie director James Cameron, who toured the alleged carbon crime scene in his personal jet helicopter.

Suzuki’s latest Scud missile of misinformation was launched Feb. 7 on The Nature of Things. It’s called Shattered Ground, and it borrows heavily from earlier shock docs that target hydraulic fracturing for shale oil and gas.

While clearly aimed at the surging shale gas industry in B.C., this hour-long program offers little about B.C.’s long history of gas development. Suzuki’s voice-over refers briefly to B.C.’s Oil and Gas Commission, insinuating it was set up as a pet regulator protecting the industry from stricter oversight.

Mostly the show focuses on places like Dish, Texas and Dimock, Pennsylvania. The Texas segment talks about traces of neurotoxins in residents’ blood samples, blaming this on gas drilling and “fracking,” the new swear word of professional environmentalists.

The evidence shows some people have these traces in their blood, but others don’t, which suggests that more likely sources are cigarettes or exposure to disinfectants.

Pennsylvania and Colorado are key stops for the anti-fracking crowd. For centuries there have been places known for methane dissolved in groundwater, typically from shallow coal seams.

This is where you can find a rustic fellow to shake a jug of well water and touch his Bic lighter to it, producing a brief blue flame. The standard sequence moves to a sink and faucet, where a more impressive methane fireball is generated.

Suzuki’s voice-over notes that this is the scene that really gets media attention. There’s no evidence that drilling caused it, but hey, it’s TV. Science, meet Hillbilly Handfishin’.

Protest sequences take up much of the program. Moms rally against a gas well near a school in Erie, Pennsylvania, forcing evil Canadian corporation Encana to back off. An elderly Quebec woman sobs on camera, convinced that a nearby gas well will trigger a relapse of her cancer.

One bit of local content is a segment on fracking-induced earthquakes, presented with sombre alarm by Ben Parfitt, go-to researcher for the anti-industry left in B.C. These are detectable by sensitive instruments, as is the case with some mining and other industrial activities, but according to the Oil and Gas Commission, they don’t do any actual harm.

It should be noted that Suzuki doesn’t do much beyond reading a script on these shows. He has people to load up the propaganda weaponry, just as his ghostwriter in Toronto cranks out the relatively innocuous weekly columns that run in some Black Press publications.

In fairness, most episodes of The Nature of Things are in the original spirit of the show. A recent program on an ancient Egyptian aquifer, voiced by Suzuki over National Geographic video footage, would be appropriate for a high school classroom.

The same cannot be said for this anti-fracking screed, which is plainly and recklessly calculated to twist public opinion against a crucial B.C. industry.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

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