There has been no announcement of the devastating decision to stop studying the natural world, but the evidence is piling up that such a decision has been taken.
It is no secret that Stephen Harper is uninterested in science. One
of his first decisions was to unburden himself of the Science Advisor to
the Prime Minister. Dr. Arthur Carty held the position when Harper came
to power. When his term ended, it was not continued, and the position
Cuts to climate science have been clear for more than a year. March
2012 marked the end of all funding, put in place in 2000 under Liberal
Prime Minister Jean Chretien, for the Canadian Foundation for Climate
and Atmospheric Sciences. The Harper Conservatives announced last year
there was no intention to continue the programme. $110 million over ten
years for autonomous research funding in Canada’s major universities
has been spent expanding our understanding of the climate crisis in its
multi-faceted disciplines of inquiry. There will be no more federal
Also last year, cuts in Environment Canada seemed directed to
anything with the word climate attached. The entire group of term
scientists working on research for adaptation to climate change,
calculating the required changes in building codes, for example, to
handle the altered climate, were laid off. The entire Adaptation to
Climate Change Research Group was disbanded. So too was the group within
Natural Resources Canada maintaining work on Arctic ice cores. An
80,000 year climate record in ice cores is to be abandoned (the minister
said he hoped a university with a big freezer would take them) And the
nine glaciologists who did the work are to focus on other issues.
This year, the cuts are coming thick and fast. Climate is still a target, but so also are water quality and toxicology.
The PEARL facility (the Polar Environmental and Atmospheric Research
Laboratory) on Ellesemere Island is to close. Recent investments of $10
million on state of the art equipment is to be wasted. At 80 degrees
north latitude, PEARL was the closest lab on the planet to the North
Pole. Running costs are only $1.5 million annually, but, despite having
$8 million to enhance Canada Revenue Agency’s ability to audit
environmental groups, there is no money to maintain critical research.
The world’s scientific community is stunned. The loss of measurements
from PEARL increase the risk that we are flying blind into climate
Then came the announcement that the Experimental Lakes Area near
Kenora, Ontario is to close. This facility is unique in the world.
Fifty-eight fresh water lakes 250 kilometres east of Winnipeg have been
the testing ground for freshwater science research since the late
1960s. Ground-breaking work on acid rain, the link between phosphates
in detergents and eutrophication, the connection between higher UV
levels and penetration at depths, with the additional factor of climate
change – all of these findings were made possible because the Government
of Canada maintained this real world laboratory of fresh water
wilderness lakes. Just a few years ago, when Stephen Harper was already
Prime Minister, $3 million in new investments were made to upgrade the
labs. The running cost per year? $600,000. In the House last Friday, the
Parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Fisheries announced that it
will be sold to private interests.
Next up, cuts at NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research
Council of Canada) mean that the Yukon Research Lab at Yukon College in
Whitehorse is also to close. The $2.7 million facility only opened last
fall – October 2011. But the Harper 2012 budget calls for NSERC to
re-focus on research that is “business-led and industry-relevant.” So
much for studying the Yukon’s changing environment.
Then there are the personnel cuts. The Department of Fisheries and
Oceans is ending its national contaminants programme. Nearly all of the
DFO scientists studying marine toxicology across Canada are being laid
off – 75 scientists. That includes nine marine biologists specializing
in marine toxicology in the Institute for Ocean Sciences on the West
Saanich Road. According to Dr. Peter Ross, recently dismissed from IOS,
“The entire pollution file for the government of Canada, and marine
environment in Canada’s three oceans, will be overseen by five junior
biologists scattered across Canada – one of which will be in BC.”
(quoted in Times Colonist, “Ottawa sinks pollution checks,” May 20,
We do not know where the axe will fall next. The cuts are secretive
and un-announced. We learn of them one blow at a time. At the same time
as we cut climate science, we are driving up greenhouse gas emissions.
As we shut down research into the effects of toxic chemicals in Arctic
marine mammals, the federal government has opened up a huge area of the
Beaufort Sea for leases for oil drilling.
What is clear is that the cuts are not about fighting the deficit. If
you have to lay off a certain amount of staff in deficit cutting, the
priority is to keep key programmes functional – to maintain operations
with less. Setting out to render ourselves deaf, dumb and blind to the
impact our resource-mad mania, called the Harper economic strategy, will
visit on the natural world, and our own future, is so short-sighted
that language is inadequate. Words fail.
Please help spread awareness of this anti-science agenda. Write friends and family across Canada. Demand the cuts be reversed.
Elizabeth May is the Leader of the Green Party of Canada and Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands
A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.