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Silencing Scientists Threatens Evidence-based Decision Making

    This is a guest post by Michael Rennie, assistant professor at Lakehead University and former research scientists with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. This piece originally appeared on the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression website.

    Decision makers need information to help them make decisions. And those decisions can be best evaluated when all the facts are in. But who supplies “the facts,” and how can we trust that they are unbiased?

The traditional role of government scientists has been to provide those “facts”; as a former government scientist, it was part of my job to provide unbiased advice to decision makers in forming policy. This has become more difficult given recent legislative changes and budget cuts, as well as a shift in emphasis away from basic science and towards advancing the intellectual property interests of private industry.

These changes have made both the “doing” of government science and the communication of scientific findings from government scientists to the public far more challenging than they need to be.

Objectivity is the cornerstone of scientific investigation. Scientists seek answers to how the world works by co

It's Time to Talk About a New Vision for the Canadian Economy

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

The federal leaders’ debate on the economy focused on important issues — jobs, deficits, infrastructure spending, pipelines, climate change — but no one talked about a different vision for Canada’s economy.

What if we challenged our leaders to answer the dilemma posed by American journalist Charles Bowden: “Imagine the problem is that we cannot imagine a future where we possess less but are more”?

Not being able to even imagine an economy without continual growth is a profound failure.

A better economic vision would support the right of all Canadians to live in a healthy environment, with access to clean air and water and healthy food. It would respect planetary boundaries and provide the moral imperative to decrease growing income disparities.

Climate Summit Marks Attitude Shift in Alberta

Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips

This article is authored by Binnu Jeyakumar and originally appeared on the Pembina Institute's blog.

The days of denial are over,” said Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, kicking off the 2015 Alberta Climate Summit held last week in Edmonton. She was sending a message that Alberta’s attitude and commitments around climate change are changing.

The summit focused on exploring viable options for progress on climate change, with the participation of stakeholders from across the spectrum. More than 300 people filled the room, representing the oil and gas industry, the electricity sector, First Nations, unions, environmental groups, municipalities and the provincial government. The excitement was palpable as participants discussed both the reasons to take action and the opportunities now available.

The summit explored policy solutions in several areas, including carbon pricing, renewable electricity and energy efficiency. If you want more context on climate policy in Alberta, Pembina’s backgrounder from August is worth a look.

Dasiqox Headwaters in Tsilhqot’in Territory Threatened by Amarc Mine Exploration

This is a guest column by Russell Myers Ross, Chief of Yunesit’in Government, and lead organizer in the development of the Dasiqox Tribal Park, supported by the Friends of Nemaiah Valley.

Amarc Resources (TSX-V: AHR) will commence drilling this week at a site inside the Dasiqox Tribal Park in central British Columbia — despite not having the consent of the Tsilhqot’in Nation.

The drilling, located in a high-altitude, ecologically sensitive area, is scheduled to start without the consent of Xeni Gwet’in First Nation and Yunesit’in Government — two Tsilhqot’in First Nation communities that have launched a land-based project called “Nexwagwez?an,” meaning “There for us” in the Tsilhqot’in language. Nexwagwez?an, or the Dasiqox Tribal Park, was announced on Oct. 4, 2014, and consultation remains ongoing.

Amarc, a B.C.-based mineral exploration company, is focused on developing one site in particular for a copper mine. Amarc says the IKE site is located in “the heartland of the province’s producing porphyry copper mines.” 

It just so happens that this exploration site is also located at the Dasiqox headwaters — at the heart of the Tsilhqot’in’s traditional and ancestral territory. The IKE site’s glacial waterways feed into the Dasiqox (Taseko) salmon-bearing river.   

Vote for a Better, Cleaner Canada: David Suzuki

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

No matter what anyone says during this long federal election campaign, climate change is the biggest threat to Canadians’ health, security and economy. The scientific evidence is incontrovertible, the research wide-ranging and overwhelming.

Wastefully burning fossil fuels at such a rapid rate is jeopardizing the planet’s life-support systems — harming human health, destroying landscapes and habitat, causing widespread extreme weather events and contributing less to the economy and job-creation than clean energy development. Not only that, our rate of using and exporting these fuels means reserves will be depleted before long. In the meantime, as easily accessible sources run out, fossil fuels have become more difficult, dangerous, expensive and environmentally damaging to exploit.

Canada has a long history of extracting and exporting raw resources to fuel its economy. But that’s no longer a sensible long-term plan, especially with non-renewable resources. It’s incomprehensible that a country with such a diverse, educated, innovative and caring population can’t get beyond this outdated way of doing things. The recent oil price plunge illustrates the folly of putting all our eggs in one fossil fuel basket.

David Suzuki: Climate Deniers All Over the Map

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

A little over a year ago, I wrote about a Heartland Institute conference in Las Vegas where climate change deniers engaged in a failed attempt to poke holes in the massive body of scientific evidence for human-caused climate change. I quoted Bloomberg News: “Heartland's strategy seemed to be to throw many theories at the wall and see what stuck.”

A recent study came to a similar conclusion about contrarian “scientific” efforts to do the same. “Learning from mistakes in climate research,” published in Theoretical and Applied Climatology, examined some of the tiny percentage of scientific papers that reject anthropogenic climate change, attempting to replicate their results.

In a Guardian article, co-author Dana Nuccitelli said their study found “no cohesive, consistent alternative theory to human-caused global warming.” Instead, “Some blame global warming on the sun, others on orbital cycles of other planets, others on ocean cycles, and so on.”

Federal Leaders Have Never Been Asked About Science Policy in an Election Debate. Ever.

This is a guest post by Katie Gibbs, PhD, a biologist and the Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy and Alana Westwood, a PhD Candidate at Dalhousie University and research coordinator for Evidence for Democracy. Evidence for Democracy is a not-for-profit organization promoting the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada.

Science, unquestionably, improves our everyday lives.

The work of scientists is everywhere; their efforts are reflected in everything from the cleanliness of our water to the success of medical treatments to the smartphones glued to our hands.

David Suzuki: Premiers' Energy Strategy Falls Short

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

On July 15, a state-of-the-art new pipeline near Fort McMurray, Alberta, ruptured, spilling five million litres of bitumen, sand and waste water over 16,000 square metres — one of the largest pipeline oil spills in Canadian history. Two days later, a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota derailed in Montana, spilling 160,000 litres and forcing evacuation of nearby homes.

At the same time, while forest fires raged across large swathes of Western Canada — thanks to hotter, dryer conditions and longer fire seasons driven in part by climate change — Canadian premiers met in St. John’s, Newfoundland, to release their national energy strategy.

The premiers’ Canadian Energy Strategy focuses on energy conservation and efficiency, clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change. But details are vague and there’s no sense of urgency. We need a response like the U.S. reaction to Pearl Harbor or the Soviet Sputnik launch!

Facing the Simple but Hard Truths of the Alberta Oilsands

This is a guest post by Tzeporah Berman, Adjunct Professor York University Faculty of Environmental Studies and longtime environmental advocate. A shorter version of this piece originally appeared on the Toronto Star.

The debate over energy, oilsands and pipelines in Canada is at best dysfunctional and at worst a twisted game that is making public relations professionals and consultants on all sides enormous amounts of money.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information routinely show our own government hiding scientific reports or meeting secretly to craft PR strategies with the companies they are supposed to regulate, while millions of dollars are spent on ads trying to convince Canadians that the oilsands are like peanut butter and that without them our hospitals will close. *(See change notice at end of article.)

On the other side we march, we rally and we point fingers creating a narrative of exclusion and moral high-ground while acting as though a low carbon transition is going to be a walk in the park.


The Canada-China FIPA Restricts Canada's Climate Options

This is a guest post by Gus Van Harten, professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School and author of Sold Down the Yangtze: Canada's Lopsided Investment Deal with China. This post originally appeared on the Globe and Mail.

For years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government told Canadians that it could not act on climate change until China joined in. Yet, in 2014, the government quietly finalized a 31-year investment treaty that, in essence, gives Chinese oil companies an advance bailout against a range of steps that Canada may need to take on climate change.

Take, for example, the call by more than 100 scientists for limits on oilsands expansion until a serious Canadian plan on climate change is in place. What is a serious plan? The scientists said it would need “to rapidly reduce carbon pollution, safeguard biodiversity, protect human health and respect treaty rights.”

Now, consider Canada’s new Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with China.