The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Major Cuts to Environment Canada

From a promising young researcher at the University of Toronto. James emphasizes that he is speaking for himself here, independently of his supervisor and his department.

Canadians, especially, please take note.
Over the past several months we have seen major cuts to Environment Canada that have left it without any real scientific or research power. These cuts include the Environment Canada lab I presently do research at under Dr. Brad Bass of Environment Canada’s Adaptations and Impacts Research Section (AIRS). Almost the entire Section – which focuses on measuring impacts and responding to climate change across Canada – has been cut, alongside many other departments. Dr. Bass and many other Environment Canada scientists have had their jobs cut and we’ve seen in recent days rather strong political intervention from above in what EC scientists can and cannot mention to the public, whether it’s research critical of present policy or even just discussion of the cuts.

We have seen many prominent scientific jobs cut, research funding slashed, and our ability to effectively do environmental assessment and management largely neutralized (see here, here and here). Our scientists have been muzzled, and their ability to go to press has become tightly managed by a new “media relations office” put forth by the Harper Government. There is no more money to do research on Adaptations and Impacts as we do, projects on water quality have been halted (including those serving Aboriginal reserves and northern communities), and many of the tools and researchers necessary in order to adequately measure the consequences of the Athabasca Tar Sands are presently in a questionable state of limbo. This rearrangement of staff – preceding the 5-10% first round of budget cuts coming in February as part of Harper’s “balancing the books” will effectively leave Environment Canada powerless and effectively useless. They even went so far as to slate twenty-one out of twenty-four water quality monitoring stations in the Northwest Territories for shutdown – an act that managed to embarrass Harper (who was touring the region at the time) sufficiently for it to be reversed. But the cuts and targeting of research in the public interest continues.

Tony Clement perhaps put it best: Environment Canada is now “open for business” – you may now hire their award-winning scientists at will, privatize their research and keep them from working in the public interest.

One of the most prominent areas to be hit was climate change research and adaptations: exactly what our thirty-person lab has focused on and our broader Adaptations and Impacts Research Section has pioneered in for the past seventeen years since its formation. Dr. Bass is a co-recipient of the IPCC Nobel Prize, and the work many of our researchers do is critical to the advancement of science and the development of viable responses to climate change the world over. Because Environment Canada scientists cannot go to press over this, coverage (and response) has largely been muted – and the Canadian public, by and large, is unaware of the changes that are taking place. This is, to put it lightly, a major problem not just for Canadians but for the whole of the international community.

Our lab in particular, based at the University of Toronto, does cutting edge research on community energy systems, energy conservation, urban agriculture and food security, new methods of waste management, and urban sustainability through design and green infrastructure to address many of the problems we now face as Canadians. Our research is open, our results are available to the public, and we are presently slated to lose everything – much like many other prominent Canadian research institutions if nothing is done and no attention drawn to the changes we now see. Government research partnerships with universities are likewise slated to be terminated.

Myself and a number of students working with Dr. Bass have independently decided to attempt to address and draw attention to the cuts as we now see them. We have put together a list of very simple things even ordinary Canadians can do in order to fight the changes we now see. These include writing to your MP or school board trustee – just a short “I don’t want to see this laboratory gone” should do – and spreading the news about the cuts. The CBC recently drew attention to one aspect of our research , and our team is rushing to put up a website to draw attention to some of our projects to address the food crisis, do away with plastic waste, make desalination cheap and easy to do and much, much more.

I hope you can help with this matter. Please feel free to respond with questions, ideas or even just support, and I’ll answer you as best I can.

All the best,

James I. Birch

Student Researcher,

Adaptations and Impacts Research Section,

University of Toronto

16 comments:

Doug said...

That's a remarkably efficient system: muzzle researchers, then cut 'em.

A cynic might say that Harper & Co. have decided to go as directly as possible for monetizing their tar and are going to make sure there's no informed discussion about what happens after the money is in the bank.

That's pretty much what's in the cards for the U.S.A. as well, if we're so childish as to let the Tea Party dominate next year's election. We don't have tar, but we've got a lot of other dirt that would be cheaper to dump in our neighbors' yards.

bluegrue said...

The WUWT spin that I expect to see:
Finally we see an honest student confess the truth. It's all just about the money, all these climate scientists only want to get our money for their jobs.

Mark Johnson, Spokesperson, Environment Canada said...

This piece is misinformed. No science programs were eliminated in the preparation of EC’s plans for the 2011/12 fiscal year.

The environment remains a priority for the Government of Canada. EC received funding in the 2011 budget for work in a number of important areas of science, including climate change and adaptation, protecting the environment and health from chemicals and improving water quality in the Great Lakes.

We will continue to ensure that Canadians have access to this data in order to support work on adaptation by specific communities and economic sectors.

EC is very proud of its strong science foundation and actively encourages its scientists to publish their work and to make their data publically available. This will continue.

Ian Forrester said...

Mark Johnson says: "No science programs were eliminated in the preparation of EC’s plans for the 2011/12 fiscal year".

Mr Johnson, can you confirm that the ozone monitoring program will not be cut as described in a recent article in Nature?

Also I see from a recent CBC report that "Unions representing scientists and support staff at Environment Canada said between 700 and 800 positions are disappearing across the country. Meteorologists, chemists and biologists are among those facing the axe".

I don't see any "spokespersons" facing the axe, do you not think that scientists should be the last to be cut?

EliRabett said...

"No science programs were eliminated"

Some were cut pretty close to zero eh?

Watch the bouncing ball

Doug said...

Mark Johnson, EC Flack:

This piece is misinformed. No science programs were eliminated in the preparation of EC’s plans for the 2011/12 fiscal year.

Insufficiently subtle, Mr. Johnson, your spin is tripping over its feet. Read carefully; you'll see that nowhere did the student refer to program elimination but instead mentioned specific cuts. Go slower, read more carefully

As Mr. Johnson is an official mouthpiece, perhaps he can tell us how much money EC Canada is wasting on flacks monitoring blog comments? I understand every Canadian dollar counts for Mr. Harper; does the PM know his civil servants are expending their effort on creating strawman arguments on foreign blogs? Any official response on that?

Doug said...

BTW, why is it that once they've got power and motivation, "Freedom loving conservatives" tend to produce policies that Stalin would find delightful?

Maybe "totalitarian dictatorship" is an inappropriate term of reference. Perhaps Mr. Johnson could elaborate for us on why it's necessary to funnel scientists' speech through the editorial red markers of public relations specialists with no particular knowledge of what they're supposed to be vetting so as to determine what's acceptable for the public ear. There must be some good reason for imitation of failed styles of governance. Are the citizens of Canada easily confused, in need of paternal guidance?

Holly Stick said...

As an Albertan, I think the criminally stupid Conservative cuts to Environment Canada are designed to keep Canadians ignorant about how badly the Arctic environment is going to be destroyed by the oil rush now starting there, and ignorant of the poisoning of Alberta by the tarsands (as Albertans called them for many years).

Likewise the muzzling of scientists who are employed to serve the public, not the Conservatives who lick the oil companies' boots every chance they get.

Here's an article about muzzling scientists in the US and Canada:

http://wcel.org/resources/environmental-law-alert/who%E2%80%99s-better-muzzling-scientists-canada-or-us

Lars said...

Holly's right on the money here - the Harperites incubated in Alberta, and this smacks of Alberta government policy with regard to environmental matters since at least Ralph Klein's time.

Holly Stick said...

And maybe Mark Johnson could advise us on how soon Environment Canada expects the tarsands to make whooping cranes extinct.

But since the Harperites gutted the Canadian Wildlife Service a few years ago, I don't know if anyone is carrying on the whooping crane conservation program that Canadians used to be so proud of.

http://raventrust.com/blog/2011-09/making-cents-of-the-tar-sands.html

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/story/2011/07/15/whooping-cranes-oilsands-report.html

http://edmonton.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110711/whooping-cranes-oilsands-alberta-110711/20110711/?hub=EdmontonHome

Holly Stick said...

More about the cuts to ozone monitoring. Kent should not complain about anyone spreading misinformation when he himself has been known to blather about that lie "ethical oil".:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2011/09/21/environment-canada-ozone-cuts.html

Holly Stick said...

One more article about different stories coming from the Environment Minister and his Assistant Deputy Minister than what we've heard from the scientists, who were not allowed to speak to the media today:

http://www.canada.com/technology/Environment+minister+defensive+over+ozone+monitoring+cuts/5438532/story.html

Ian Forrester said...

The recent Nature article entitled "Canadian ozone network faces axe" can be seen here:

http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110912/full/477257a.html

Haley McAdams said...

Mr. Mark Johnson didn't reply to Mr. Ian Forrester's reply. EC should get some ISO 14001 Training to know that what they should really have to focus in the environment.

rustneversleeps said...

Gaping hole opened in Arctic ozone layer

'Unprecedented'; Harmful radiation hit Earth, says study in which Canadian team played key role


A huge Arctic ozone hole opened up over the Northern Hemisphere for the first time this year, an international research team reported Sunday.

The hole covered 2 million square kilometres - about twice the size of Ontario - and allowed high levels of harmful ultraviolet radiation to hit large swaths of northern Canada, Europe and Russia this spring, the 29 scientists say.

The discovery of the "unprecedented" hole comes as the Canadian government is moving to reduce staff in what Environment Minister Peter Kent calls the "streamlining" of its ozone monitoring network.

Environment Canada scientist David Tarasick, whose team played a key role in the report published Sunday in the journal Nature, is not allowed to discuss the discovery with the media.

Environment Canada told Postmedia News that an interview with Tarasick "cannot be granted." Tarasick is one of several Environment Canada ozone scientists who have received letters warning of possible "discontinuance of job function" as part of the downsizing underway in the department.

Ian Forrester said...

It's disgusting the way the Harper Government is treating science and scientists.

The only people who should be muzzled are dishonest spokespersons such as Mark Johnson.