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The Upstanding Engagement of W. Brett Wilson

I discovered yet another fold in the broad sheet of social media. The new fold I’ve found is the modest (and highly occasional) accessibility of well-known strangers and celebrities.

Today’s discovery began when I was cleaning up my follow and followers lists on Twitter. I keep those lists quite short and tidy. I don’t follow a hundred people because those who I do follow I take a sincere interest in and care about almost everything they say. If what they say doesn’t interest me then I stop following them. Sorry if that sounds cold, but it’s reality and I think that while not everyone would state this feeling so clearly, it’s probably how we all operate.

Anyway, pouring over my list, I came to W. Brett Wilson, the flamboyant but gentle merchant banker who’s made untold millions of dollars financing energy projects in Alberta and has expanded his investments into other personal interests including sport and entrepreneurship. I do not know him at all, beyond his participation on a show I enjoy – CBC’s Dragons’ Den – and his Twitter engagement. Now let me be crystal clear. I have no issue with him. In fact I think W. Brett Wilson is a breath of fresh(er) air in Alberta – he is open-minded, charismatic, and unafraid to engage in discussion when it comes to the earth and our exploit of it. Aside from his energy interests (and despite what some might call hypocrisy), he seems concerned about the environment. He would also be a healthy role model, in my opinion, save for his oil industry accolades. He travels extensively, maintains what appears to be a proactive work/life balance and has a daughter who was raised in a similar way to me – sent on sailboat adventures and encouraged to travel.

It’s because of his open-mindedness that I give him more credit than I would most of the people in the oil industry. And it’s also why I followed him on Twitter. But in my tidying up of my follow list today, I was reminded of his tweet a few days ago following Sarah Palin‘s speaking engagement in Calgary, which he apparently attended. His tweet spoke about how he agreed with her statement that climate change science was unfounded. Such a comment drives me crazy; not because it is necessarily untrue – science is always up for debate, analysis and perspective – but because our famous oil and gas industries use the heavily spun climate change science conundrum as an excuse to march on; exploiting and destroying our environment and polluting our back yards. Keeping the science speculative and unfounded allows the industry to continue unabated. Not dissimilar, really, to the tobacco industry’s stance over cigarettes and cancer. It’s why their respective industries’ best lawyers are publicly considered scandals but also why they are so well paid – to keep decisive action stalled because inaction, stagnation and uncertainty are lucrative to the perpetrators.

Back to the social media stuff! When I read that Brett Wilson had sided (publicly, really, which is what saying anything on Twitter is, especially when you have over 2,000 followers, as he does) with Sarah Palin’s statement, I was disappointed. Frankly it didn’t surprise me that he was at her event; after all, he is in the oil industry and I think he’s open-minded and would want to experience her three-ringed circus act. But it did and does disturb me that he refutes the science that 98% of all climatologists, who don’t have an agenda for or against climate change, have agreed on. Like a Republican at a gun control conference, he hopes and prays the statistics are wrong, and will argue against them simply to save his livelihood. During today’s cull, I remembered my disappointment and decided to divest him of my allegiance and admonish him in front of my meagre 175 followers because of his stance.

I tweeted, “Sorry @WBrettWilson, you’re an interesting guy, but after saying Palin was bang on about unproven climate change science you got unfollowed.” I wrote that comment because I felt that my follower base would be interested to know that he agreed with Palin and the purported debate surrounding climate change science, and included his Twitter handle because perhaps just maybe he’d read it and know that some people are disappointed by his belief.

My tweet was mostly symbolic. The reality is that no one truly cares about what you have to say; perhaps they get a laugh, or care just enough to make a judgement or an opinion on your comment, and then life goes on. That’s how I approached it, anyway. As with the other 1,400-some tweets I’ve made, regarding everything from overcooked salmon to a government official’s cocaine charges, they are something that I’m prepared to publish but aren’t anything necessarily newsworthy.

Now, most people with status and truly something to lose by saying the wrong thing would disregard my message (if read it at all) and carry on with life. Interestingly, however, he tweeted back to me a short time later. “@c_d_u_b so much for dialogue or debate eh?  another one of those “we know everything” scientists?  oh well – you don’t follow me anyway ..

Is this the part of the conversation where I’m supposed to a) ignore it, b) take it personally, or c) feel threatened, put in my place and run and hide? Well, I’ve always been a d) sort of person, so I decided to carry on with him. I wasn’t speaking out of turn in my opinion. He had shared publicly that he thought climate change was BS, and I shared publicly that he wasn’t worth following to me because of it. Enough said.

But what was most interesting was that he responded at all. Many celebrities tweet. I don’t know how many, but I do know that most do not engage their loyal audience. Their twitter usage is generally one-way communication. They speak, we listen. For them to engage their audience could potentially be a public relations nightmare if they get caught saying the wrong thing, or have what they said taken out of context. As I’ve said before, it’s a revelation for a celebrity or politician to tweet, because we lowly public get to see behind the carefully manipulated brand image (unless the twitter account itself is controlled as part of some larger communications exercise, which happens often). For as much as it can cause concern, tweeting honestly and openly can in some cases reinforce the ethos and character of its author despite straying too far off message on occasion. Such as in this case. Not only did Wilson tweet his opinion on climate change science and Sarah Palin, but he took the time to respond and deal with my accusation head-on. I’m sure part of him was hoping I’d shy away and apologize or something, but what ended up happening was a real engagement of me – some normal, run of the mill guy who does not have millions of dollars or his face splashed all over Canadian public television. And his actions impressed me. They were out of character and entirely genuine for a person of his stature, which seems to be his MO in a lot of ways. He’d rather talk about his opinion and my issue with it than dismiss it altogether.

The back and forth went a few tweets longer over the course of the day, and I’m happy to share them with you here. I’ll mention that shortly after his retaliatory tweet, I received what I initially thought was a random tweet from a woman named Leanne Bucaro, who goes by the Twitter handle @PRChick101. She tweeted: “@c_d_u_b  Your @WBrettWilson about unfollowing re climate change.  Twitter IS being part of the conversation and opinion unfollow=uncool IMO“. Sure, I thought, I’d started a real debate here. But of course, every leaf has two sides and I figured I’d better dig up a little background on her before replying. I Googled her and found that she is a public relations professional whose clients happen to include W. Brett Wilson. Good of her to stand up for her client, I suppose. If Wilson was a little less self-assured, I’m sure she would have stepped in a little harder, advised her client to stay silent and she’d put an end to it. But no, she was merely backing him up and he was continuing on his own tack.

All in all, I think it is remarkable and gentlemanly that he would stand up for his beliefs, no matter what they are, and engage random little me in a 140-character debate. I am proud of him and respect him for it. I decided to refollow him later this afternoon. If everyone on both sides of the climate change conversation could discuss their feelings we might be a bit closer to resolving the issue. While Wilson and I never got down to the nitty gritty, I know that he is now aware of my arguments, and I his. It’s a start.

cdub: Sorry @WBrettWilson, you’re an interesting guy, but after saying Palin was bang on about unproven climate change science you got unfollowed.

WBrettWilson: @c_d_u_b so much for dialogue or debate eh? another one of those “we know everything” scientists? oh well – you don’t follow me anyway ..

cdub: @WBrettWilson I did, Brett, & find you to be an admirable and open-minded guy. but CC science? Come on man. Don’t go tobacco industry on me.

cdub: @WBrettWilson I’d love to chat w/ you about it tho. You’re obviously a good guy. IMO the oil ind. is so protective; they should be proactive

cdub: @WBrettWilson final thought: Will the oil ind. actually shift if the science ever is proven or fight it until the bitter end? What is proof?

WBrettWilson: @c_d_u_b I am open minded – which is why I encourage debate – one side says there is no debate. Reminds me of the Flat Earth Society…

WBrettWilson: @c_d_u_b Why the focus on the OIL and Gas industry when its a pin prick on the map of China’s coal interests. We need all the facts. No?

cdub: @WBrettWilson Following you again. I appreciate that you’re interested in talking about this. More broad conversation is definitely needed.

cdub: @WBrettWilson My focus is on oil & gas b/c it’s happening in my country. How do we encourage change intl’y when we don’t act as role models?

cdub: @WBrettWilson So b/c China is worse we should be off the hook? We should be assuming leadership, not wait for others. Per cap. we’re worse.

cdub: @WBrettWilson lastly – I’m seriously thrilled that you’re into talking about this. Email if you want >140 characters. -address not quoted-

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11 Comments

  1. Awesome blog post – well written. Well thought out.
    My point with your tweet about “unfollow” was a response I feel strongly about – not JUST because it was WBrettWilson. Twitter is about being part of the conversation – that’s the point. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion – of which some of us have many. Brett has a lot of thought provoking things to say. I felt it was unfortunate that you cut people off who try to engage you in debate.
    Of course, you don’t know Brett personally – but if you did you would know he does not need me to defend him. 🙂 It just so happens I like to follow what he says on Twitter because he is engaging and enjoys tweeting with his audience ..since that is what its all about. We enjoy freedom of speech – and can speak directly with our audiences thanks to social sites like Twitter and Facebook.
    cheers
    le

    Reply

  2. thanks for your comments Leanne.

    It’s worth noting, to you and to the rest of my audience, that I do not typically engage in debate on Twitter. While we both agree that it is a forum for conversation and expression, I don’t participate in uneducated, 140-character banter back and forth on it. I think of Twitter as more of a conduit or a portal. It is a way to get to a debate – whether linking to a website, or perhaps a blog. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how I’ve approached it. This event was the first time I’ve back-and-forthed with someone on Twitter. Personally I don’t like the 140-character maximum (at least as far as carrying on a conversation is concerned), and perhaps that’s why it’s best to look at it as an opportunity to attract people elsewhere with it. Twitter is the headline; the story is via a link. Or, perhaps, Twitter is an invitation, not the party itself.

    But regardless, I am not a scientist nor an expert on climate change, but I have done enough research and paid enough attention to feel knowledgeable about it. I feel like I know that we can all use less, think harder about irreversible decisions and act less drastically in moving forward responsibly as a city, province and nation. As a resident of Alberta, I feel like what’s going on instead is filibustering and confusion. Smoke screens used to help hammer through policy seem to be how things get done by our conservative government and its financial backers, the ever popular energy industry; in front of an otherwise largely indifferent public.

    That’s where I draw both my conclusions and my frustrations from. We Albertans are largely too concerned with putting money in our pockets than thinking about alternative resources and planning for the future.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Reply

  3. Fascinating.

    I’m new to Twitter but it seems to me it can be a useful communications tool if handled properly.

    I noticed that Brett tweeted that he watched DD last night at 24 Sussex. I’d sure like to know more about that!

    Reply

  4. What is important here is indeed the discussion.. and it is nice to see it’s happening, and yeah – it is still shocking that it’s not entirely an asymmetrical experience anymore! This is for the best, undoubtedly.

    Reply

  5. Nicely crafted post Craig. You know, it’s probably about time I went and pruned down my follow-list. I rarely want to read it these days because there’s so much cruft in there.

    Really great that he replied to your tweet. Did he end up communicating further than the tweets you reposted?

    Reply

  6. Just discovered this dialogue thanks to GoogleBlog (or something like that).

    Appreciate the open forum for discussion. Yes, I am VERY frustrated by the climate change debate – unlike many others, I am not close to smart enough to understand all the issues – but I don’t believe that the science is proven, I don’t believe that Michael Moore has an altruistic bone in his body (what he does – he does for money and fame), I do believe that Al Gore and his people might be masters at manipulating data, I am sure that 2500 climatologists is not 98% of the worlds experts, I think there is still and always will be room for debate in science (I am trained as an engineer – so have some appreciation for such) and I must take great issue when one side of an open debate is so closed minded as to constantly slide to mudslinging and hostility towards the other side (ask any marriage counsellor about the relevance of discussion to resolving conflict and creating/finding/developing solutions).

    Do I agree with Sarah Palin in her entirety – absolutely not. Am I am puppet of the oil industry who some suggest is blindly moving forward with its program to plunder the earth – first NO to being a puppet – and NO – I do believe the global energy industry is far more forward thinking and responsible than the narrow minded and irresponsible folks now on the side of “Climate Change is Proven” – they suggest “lets shut down the North American (and European) energy industries” (notice that they don’t seem to have a voice in China or Russia or Africa or South America – where expressing opinions contrary to the “government” could land you in jail or worse) and ignore the far greater impact of coal in China (as one example) on the CO2 issue.

    My point – sorry for rambling – is that I don’t believe the science is sufficiently proven to close the debate. And I am troubled whenever one side says it is – and therefore takes aim with ridicule and slander at anyone who disagrees with them.

    Per my tweet – I suspect the same thing happened when the Flat Earth Society was challenged on its proof that the earth was indeed flat ….

    Best, Brett

    ps – I really do care about leaving this world a better place – in every way – for my children. And theirs.

    ps – yes – Leanne works for me on the PR side – we have never hidden that fact – and don’t. And neither of us slow down enough to check with the other on responses like this – or on twitter!

    Reply

  7. I know this is coming a month late and Brett’s likely ‘moved on’ from posting here, but I’d like to respond to his post regardless. First off, I’d like to say that I’m a HUUUUGE fan of Brett’s, for his philanthropy, his heart, his open-minded willingness to look beyond his privileged position in society, and most importantly, his mesmerizing good looks 😉

    I do however take issue with Brett rattling off anti-climate change talking points I’ve seen countless times before, much of which have been thoroughly debunked or are inaccurate portrayals. No, 2,500 climatologists is not 98%, but that was merely a signed letter/petition for climate change action, and does not represent the overwhelming consensus that does in fact exist about the LIKELIHOOD that humans are having a depreciating impact on the environment and that the impact is directly leading to global climate change. 2,500 is still a lot more than the scientists in opposition, many of whom have been shown to use questionable methodology, ties to the oil industry, or aren’t climatologists at all. I do have to admit though that I can’t prove for certain that Michael Moore actually has an altruistic bone in his body, even if I do find his films entertaining.

    Scientific theories are rarely 100% proven, due to an ability to do absolutely controlled experiments over a wide area and large period of time. However, what scientists can do is collect evidence that corroborates a hypothesis, and when the evidence is overwhelmingly in support of it, it becomes a theory. This does not however preclude tinkering with and changing a theory, or even scrapping it all together when new evidence comes out confounding it entirely. Nevertheless to date, it’s the most widely supported and LIKELY theory that collates all the data we’ve collected thus far into a self-supporting system of ideas. There may of course be detractors other than global warming that are possible, but they are also less supported, more extraneous in rational basis, and thus less likely. The problem with climate change is that although it’s not an entirely proven fact, inaction MAY have incredibly dire consequences. Even right now, industrial excesses of the West, and of Eastern powers like China, are directly and indisputably impacting the environs of Saharan African states and of course, Antarctica. While global climate change theory is far from proven fact, the negative impact of CO2 and pollution on the environment is fact. Ozone depletion due to pollution is fact. And finally certain aspects of climate change theory are proven fact. The problem right now is having everything fit perfectly, rather than there being anything sore sticking out that confounds the theory altogether.

    I take issue with the ‘it’s not proven and why not have a debate retort’ when used as a tool to appeal to populist sentiments without a direct chance for response from the opposing party. It’s used by intelligent design advocates all too often, accusing individuals and organizations who take umbrage with comments that evolution is still a ‘theory’ and hasn’t been proven yet of stifling debate. They also point to a few scientists who are intelligent design advocates and call it proof that there is no consensus in the scientific community in regards to the ‘theory’ of evolution. Then it snowballed into support for opening up science classrooms for debate of ‘alternative’ theories, all over a rather baseless accusation backed by popular sentiment that life could not have been come to be without the precise guiding hand of God. So no, ‘it’s not proven yet so let’s have more debate’ doesn’t really jibe with me. For the sake of not ruining the planet with toxic chemicals and waste, regardless of climate change or not, let’s try to be a bit more proactive here while the scientists hammer out the wrinkles instead of fighting it all the way.

    I do understand your predicament though Brett, since I’m sure the oil industry has been making changes and isn’t this big bad evil business that people make them out to be. But the problem is that changes would have NEVER happened without the increasing awareness around climate change, the exhausting of fossil fuels, and the popular push towards green technologies. As well intentioned as individuals in the industry are, the industry as a whole is profit driven, thus it would never do something to hurt its bottom line unless forced to, sees future incentives in doing so, or observes an evolving trend that the energy sector is following that they must follow or die resisting.

    The thing is that when our personal interests are at stake, we tend to insulate ourselves with the discourses that makes our resistance to change justifiable. After all, we’re well-intentioned beings who wish everyone’s problems could be resolved, but not through the questioning or sacrifice of the things we’re invested in.

    Yes, the impact of coal-driven China on both the environment and the possibility of climate initiatives is a considerable one. Although I was born and raised in Canada, as a woman of ethnic Chinese descent, I openly lament the destruction of so many natural environments, heritage sites and the widespread pollution that exists throughout China, leading to a considerable number of birth defects and health issues for Chinese men and women. They refuse to cut back for the same reasons as many of the Western nations; it will negatively impact in their economy and slow down their superficial ideal of ‘progress’. However, in the West there is at least some willingness to do so and acknowledgment of climate change as an issue, towards all of which cdub argued, as I will do now, that we be the first to take a step towards making an impact through policy, instead of pointing fingers as to who’s the biggest polluter. There is also a mentality out East that the West did the most harm during the industrial revolution, so why should they be the ones who scale back? Any attempts to enforce global climate initiatives would be seen as imperialist attempts at curtailing Chinese progress. Quite evidently, finger pointing ends up being a tactic for more dithering, something I hope doesn’t prove to be too costly in retrospect.

    Finally, the problem with your open call for debate is that regardless of the outcome of any open forum of debate, media outlets will always portray things to be one way or the other even if the positions presented were far more nuanced that they could credibly report on. It gives some legitimacy to basically a circus show when scientists are debating with one another over theories ALL THE TIME already. There already haven been many debates, all across the globe and in nearly every forum imaginable, but skepticism fighting for privileged a way of life is something you can rarely ever disprove until it proves too late. Too late unfortunately could be 20 years from now.

    Reply

  8. Oops. Didn’t notice that there’s a direct reply feature.

    Reply

  9. Thanks for the post, Tara.

    You’ve concisely explained ideas and considerations that are similar to mine. Assuming you’re between 26 and 36 years old (don’t worry, I don’t need to know), it could be said that perhaps our generation isn’t falling for the same posturing and messaging that works to appease the traditional, socially conservative and otherwise older voter base. That we’re more acutely aware of the need for change on issues that matter to us, rather than seeing change as an obstacle avoided until consensus is achieved (which, ironically, it never was nor ever is).

    Nicely said.

    Reply

    1. Close… but I’m 25, so not exactly of your generation. I understand the sentiment, but I think social conservatives are a dying breed, at least in Canada. Climate change I feel is more of an issue amongst fiscal conservatives, because in essence, socially responsible climate change action ultimately entails slowing down ‘progress’, capping of economic development, and whittling away at environmentally unsustainable business practices. It’s unfortunate that many socially liberal leaning individuals do not see it as a real issue that needs to be dealt with when it challenges their way of life.

      Reply

  10. I seldom write responses, however after reading a
    bunch of remarks on this page The Upstanding Engagement of W.
    Brett Wilson | c d u b . c a. I actually do have a couple of questions
    for you if you do not mind. Is it simply me or does it seem like some of these remarks come across like they are written by brain dead individuals?
    😛 And, if you are writing on additional online sites, I’d like to keep up with anything new you have to post. Could you make a list of the complete urls of your social networking sites like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

    Reply

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