The University of Alberta’s top official in charge of the school’s public image has resigned after approving and defending a billboard advertisement in Edmonton that seemed to tout the benefits of climate change.
The advertisement, released in the middle of a federal election campaign in which climate change is a central issue, says the university’s research shows Alberta will grow more barley and increase its cattle industry as the world’s climate becomes more unstable. The billboard, and the fury that has grown since it was put up, does not accurately portray the research behind the advertisement, according to the paper’s main author.
Monireh Faramarzi said her 2017 paper concluded that producers in southern Alberta might grow more barley in coming decades owing to more rain. However, climate disasters could wipe out larger yields.
“We looked at increased or decreased crop yields, such as barley, at different times and different locations in the province under changing climates. We looked at that question. Our intention was not to conclude on the overall impact of climate change in Alberta or anywhere else,” said Dr. Faramarzi, who leads the university laboratory focused on watershed science.
Jacqui Tam, the school’s vice-president of university relations, resigned Sunday amid growing concern about the billboard and its message. She said the advertising failed to convey the complexity of Dr. Faramarzi’s research and “called the reputation of the University of Alberta and its extensive research on climate change into question.”
However, only three days before her resignation, Ms. Tam defended the advertising campaign in an e-mail to the university’s staff. “Sparking debate around discoveries and ideas is a key role of universities,” she wrote.
The university has said it will remove the advertising by the end of the week. The billboards went up on Sept. 2.
Greg Goss, who was Dr. Faramarzi’s supervisor when she wrote the paper, said the point of the research was to help the government and producers adapt to the challenges of climate change.
“There’s lots of people who on both sides, whether they are climate change deniers or climate change warriors, whatever you want to call them, who completely misrepresent the issues."
Stanford Blade, the dean of the University of Alberta’s faculty of agriculture, said in a tweet that he could not defend the wording used by the university in the advertising campaign. Dr. Blade forwarded a request to comment on the issue to the university, which declined to comment on his behalf.
University of Alberta President David Turpin also declined an interview request. In a statement from the university, Dr. Turpin said the decision to pull the advertisement was “a result of the university’s acknowledgement that the wording of the ad had resulted in misinterpretation and misunderstanding.”
His office would not comment on whether he asked Ms. Tam to step down.
Lori Williams, a political scientist at Calgary's Mount Royal University, said the billboard was a big enough blunder to require a resignation.
“Her judgment, for someone in charge of the public image of the university, is inexplicable,” she said. “It was meant to highlight research from the University of Alberta on how to deal with the challenges farmers and ranchers might face with climate change; what it wound up looking like is that climate change will be a benefit so don’t worry about it.”
According to Ms. Williams, the billboard also coincides with a federal election where there’s been a view among some Canadians that Albertans don’t take climate change seriously enough and care more about the economy and pipelines.