Muzzling the scientists won’t hide Canada’s poor emissions record
Canada has cut an odd figure as host of the International Polar Year conference, which draws to an end today. Hundreds of scientists from around the world are in Montreal to discuss the dramatic changes to the Arctic’s biodiversity, energy dynamics and ice melt.
Canada, in the form of Stephen Harper’s government, was not interested in discussing any of these topics, or in allowing government scientists to talk about them either. While the Arctic melts and methyl mercury contaminates the food chain in the far northern latitudes, the government seemed more interested in resurrecting East Germany’s Stasi, assigning minders to Environment Canada scientists.
The minders, members of a large and growing federal government “communications” apparat, are to make sure the scientists don’t talk to journalists without Ottawa’s permission. Environment Minister Peter Kent blandly assured the House of Commons this week that this is “established practice.” It shouldn’t be, of course, not in Canada. In February, Canadian journalists protested, demanding the government allow more open media access to federal scientists. Two weeks later, one of the world’s leading scientific journals, Nature, accused Canada of muzzling its scientists. With cause: Environment Canada scientist Dr. David Tarasick, involved in a study which discovered the largest recorded ozone hole above the Arctic, was forbidden last fall by Environment Canada for several weeks from speaking to the media about the study or his part in it.
This extreme effort to control information is a kind of magical thinking, as though the government believes that by not talking about something, it will vanish. Pretend the science isn’t real and you can make believe it has no consequences. If the government ignores an ozone hole of historic proportions, it means Canada can continue to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere without a backward glance.
Back in the real world, Canada is performing badly on international measurements. On the 2012 Climate Change Performance index, compiled by the environmental lobby Germanwatch and the Climate Action Network, Canada is the worst performer among the world’s 10 largest carbon-dioxide emitters. It ranks 57th out of the 58 countries that together are responsible for more than 90 per cent of the global energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions.
The Environmental Performance Index, compiled by Yale and Columbia universities, ranks Canada 37th overall out of 132 countries, with a sub-ranking for climate change of 102. The index also found there has been little to no change in Canada’s standing for the past decade, which means the government is failing to live up to its promises to protect the environment.
In 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that climate change is “perhaps the greatest threat to confront the future of humanity today.” Within four years, his government announced that Canada was formally withdrawing from the Kyoto accord.
As Canada withdrew, Environment Minister Kent said, “Kyoto is not the path forward for a global solution to climate change. If anything it’s an impediment.” The only impediment Kyoto posed to the government’s way forward was to make obvious how short Canada was falling in its international commitment to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
The Pembina Institute last year made an evaluation of Canadian environmental policies as input to the Climate Change Performance Index 2012. It gave an overview, from its perspective as a proponent of sustainable energy solutions, of Canada’s proposed energy policies and their impact on greenhousegas reduction. While much was made, it pointed out, of the $800 million for four proposed carbon-capture and -storage demonstration projects to be constructed in the next several years, even if the projects do what they’re supposed to, they will cancel only about six per cent of the expected increase in Canada’s emissions.
Destined to have a much bigger impact, the institute suggested, is scheduled spending on fossil-fuel development, including $343 million for Transalta’s Project Pioneer coal-fired power project in Alberta, $240 million for Sask-power’s Boundary Dam coal-fired power project in Saskatchewan, $120 million for Shell’s Quest Project at its Alberta oilsands upgrader, and $63 million for Enhance Energy’s Alberta Carbon Trunk Line pipeline. Except for the Boundary Dam project, most of the federal money is to come from the Clean Energy Fund, according to Pembina.
Environment Canada stated in 2011 that “existing measures announced by federal and provincial governments will reduce (greenhouse-gas) emissions in 2020 by about 65 megatonnes.” Sounds fine so far, except, as Environment Canada goes on to say, “This represents one quarter of the reductions in emissions needed by 2020 to reach the target level of 607 (megatonnes).”
No wonder the Harper government doesn’t want its scientists to speak freely.