Writ­ten in anger

Lead­ing eco scribe ex­poses Harper’s anti-sci­ence agenda

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Michael Dud­ley

THIS slim, an­gry vol­ume is clearly not a book Chris Turner, per­haps Canada’s best-known chron­i­cler of sus­tain­abil­ity is­sues, wanted to write. On the heels of the Cal­gary-based writer’s in­spir­ing ti­tles The Ge­og­ra­phy of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need (2007) and The Leap: How to Sur­vive and Thrive in the Sus­tain­able Econ­omy (2011), The War on Sci­ence comes across as hav­ing been writ­ten in pro­found re­gret, and in some­thing of a state of shock. It is Turner’s eco­nom­i­cal, dev­as­tat­ing ac­count of how Prime Min­ster Stephen Harper has over­seen the sys­tem­atic, deliberate elim­i­na­tion or weak­en­ing of en­tire branches of gov­ern­ment-funded sci­ence, en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy and reg­u­la­tion, and with­drawn from in­ter­na­tional agree­ments, such as the UN Con­ven­tion to Com­bat De­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion. Turner ex­poses as hol­low of­fi­cial jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for th­ese cuts un­der the need for fis­cal re­straint: Harper’s Con­ser­va­tives spent lav­ishly (and point­lessly) on $16-mil­lion Eco­nomic Ac­tion Plan ad­ver­tis­ing and used the Canada Rev­enue Agency to hound en­vi­ron­men­tal in­ter­est groups protest­ing the clo­sure of tthe Ex­per­i­men­tal Lakes Area, in the process spend­ing many times more tax­payer dol­lars than the ELA had aac­tu­ally cost. It wasn’t al­ways this way, not even uun­der re­cent Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ments such as that of Prime Min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney. Turner re­counts how, un­til the de­feat of Paul Martin’s Lib­er­als, Canada was seen as a “fe­ro­cious” global leader in sci­ence and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, most no­tably in the form of the Mon­treal Pro­to­col on ozone-de­plet­ing chem­i­cals. By con­trast, Harper’s Canada, he ar­gues, doesn’t look like Canada at all, which might ex­plain why he chose a ti­tle so sim­i­lar to that of 2005’s The Repub­li­can War on Sci­ence, by U.S. pol­i­tics and sci­ence jour­nal­ist Chris Mooney, which dis­cusses how, un­der pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, an ide­o­log­i­cally driven gov­ern­ment mo­ti­vated by com­mer­cial in­ter­ests and ap­peal­ing to a fun­da­men­tal­ist base un­der­mined and ig­nored sci­ence. How­ever, whereas de­bate over sci­ence pol­icy in the U.S. con­cern­ing such is­sues as evo­lu­tion and cli­mate change is bound up with that coun­try’s “cul­ture war,” Turner un­cov­ers a crit­i­cal dif­fer­ence in Canada. Fed­er­ally funded ba­sic re­search and sci­en­tific com­mu­ni­ca­tion are not be­ing hol­lowed out and crip­pled here be­cause of an anti-in­tel­lec­tual dis­be­lief in the va­lid­ity of sci­ence. On the con­trary, Harper seems to trust and fear all too well how ef­fec­tively sci­en­tific ev­i­dence un­ham­pered by po­lit­i­cal con­trol would demon­strate the ir­repara­ble harm threat­ened by the oil­sands, Arc­tic re­source de­vel­op­ment and transcon­ti­nen­tal pipe­lines. To pre­vent any de­lay in or in­ter­rup­tion to re­source de­vel­op­ment, Harper has, in Turner’s view, wil­fully blinded the gov­ern­ment — and the Cana­dian peo­ple — by ren­der­ing us in­ca­pable of learn­ing what might be hap­pen­ing to our coun­try. Quite apart from the un­known harm wrought on the en­vi­ron­ment, Turner warns we are at risk of los­ing our En­light­en­ment-era in­her­i­tance of em­piri­cism and rea­son and re­turn­ing to an age of royal pre­rog­a­tive. The War on Sci­ence is a pow­er­ful and elo­quent plea for Canada to not only re­store its place as an in­ter­na­tional leader in sci­ence and en­vi­ron­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity, but to once again be­come a fully mod­ern state.

Michael Dud­ley is the in­dige­nous and ur­ban ser­vices li­brar­ian at the Univer­sity of Winnipeg.


Ac­tivists Tracy Groe­newe­gen (in red top) and Pam Godin are painted by Kristaps Balodis (in black shirt) and Shawn Lant­ing as they protest cuts to the Ex­per­i­men­tal Lakes Area by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in Gimli in 2012.

The War on Sci­ence Muz­zled Sci­en­tists and Wil­ful Blind­ness in Stephen Harper’s

Canada By Chris Turner Grey­stone Books, 170 pages, $20

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