The Tyee: Six ways climate change is getting personal in B.C.

Climate change is getting personal in British Columbia. Shifts in weather patterns in recent years are already changing the way we live in this province, whether you ranch, ski, love eating shellfish, or happen to notice the forest on the edge of town isn’t the same as it was when you wandered through it as a child.

Here are six ways global warming is coming home for British Columbians.

Read more here

Kinder Morgan submits pipeline plan

This originally appeared on the Canadian Geographic blog (here).

Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion would result in more tankers off of Vancouver. (Photo: Mat Hampson)

Kinder Morgan has submitted its plan for the proposed expansion of its existing Trans Mountain pipeline, setting in motion the National Energy Board review process that is expected to take about two years once the final proposal is in later this year. The company plans to add a new line to triple the capacity of the existing pipeline, which carries light and heavy oil from Edmonton to the Pacific coast in Burnaby, B.C.

This initial proposal lacks detail on the exact route the pipeline would take. The plan is to add to an oil pipeline in operation since 1953; the document released Friday says only that “most of the new proposed pipeline will be adjacent to the existing pipeline or along existing corridors.” But conditions aboveground have changed in the last 60 years, and issues such as aboriginal rights and title, landowner complaints and zoning restrictions are likely to cause issues for the construction.

Some critics such as B.C. MLA Andrew Weaver say that the larger concern is the increased tanker traffic on the coast, rather than the pipeline itself. Environmental groups and First Nations in Vancouver have expressed strong opposition to the proposal since it was first announced over a year ago.

The criteria for environmental reviews of similar projects were reduced in 2012 following Bill C-38, but in an attempt to satisfy the project’s opponents, Kinder Morgan has actually requested that the project be given a review under the brand-new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

This pipeline proposal represents the third current major proposal in Canada, joining the highly controversial international Keystone XL pipeline and the domestic Northern Gateway pipeline. Confused about which pipe is which? Here’s what you need to know:

Keystone XL
Proponent: TransCanada
Proposed in: 2008
From: Cushing, Oklahoma (Phase 3) and Hardisty, Alberta (Phase 4)
To: Houston/Port Arthur, Texas (Phase 3) and Steele City, Nebraska (Phase 4)
Fine print: There are two existing operational segments of the pipeline, with two more proposed. US President Barack Obama has yet to decide on whether or not to approve Phase 4. Stephen Harper recently made a visit to New York to promote the pipeline, while environmentalists rallied outside.

Northern Gateway
Proponent: Enbridge
Proposed in: 2006
From: Edmonton, Alberta
To: Kitimat, B.C.
Fine print: The pipeline has raised controversy because of the route, which will cross mountains, rivers, and the Great Bear Rainforest. Opponents also argue that the seas beyond the planned terminal are too dangerous and could cause a spill. The company responded by announcing additional tugboat escorts and tightened operational guidelines.

Trans Mountain
Proponent: Kinder Morgan
Proposed in: 2013
From: Edmonton, Alberta
To: Burnaby, B.C.
Fine print: The company intends to add a line to an existing pipeline, adding 590,000 barrels per day of capacity to the existing 300,000. The pipeline has been in operation for 60 years, but the route of the new expansion has not yet been announced; in the intervening years, land use aboveground has changed, and First Nations have filed land claims as well. Opponents also take opposition to the increased tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet, B.C.

Who is Gary Goodyear – and why should we fire him?

Gary Goodyear is a chiropractor, family man, and a Christian. He doesn’t believe in evolution. He is not a scientist, and has never published a scientific article. He does have some strong opinions on science, however: this week, his approach to science (as laid out in his statement last week) was elucidated when his colleague*, National Research Council president John R. McDougall said that “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value.”

This is not a rare opinion to hold; lots of people don’t understand the basic premises of scientific research, insofar as some of its most important discoveries, commercial and otherwise, are discovered by accident over the course of “noncommercial” research. And more importantly, some important scientific fields, like conservation biology or deep-space physics, just don’t have a commercial application. So why should we care what some chiropractor thinks about science?

Because Gary Goodyear is in charge of Canadian science – and he was appointed not by other scientists or even by the public. He is an MP, who was appointed by Stephen Harper as the Minister of State (Science and Technology.) This puts him at the head of science for Industry Canada; as you might have guessed, Industry Canada is responsible for our biggest science funding agency, NSERC. And as you might have also guessed, scientific funding in Canada is in big, big trouble.

This week’s comments are just the latest attack on science from this government. In fact, they essentially sum up what many people have been saying all along, which is that this government doesn’t know what science is, or what it does. It’s just annoying witchcraft that keeps buzzing around Harper’s head saying things like “bad idea,” and “environmental destruction,” and “responsible resource development,” and otherwise getting in the way of getting the oil out, now, for cheap. Right now.

Gary Goodyear is only now the most prominent example of why Canada needs to reform how we assign cabinet posts. Why should a chiropractor be able to drop basic science research in favour of what the Toronto Star has called, fittingly, a $900-million subsidy to business? Why should a journalist be in charge of the environment, an accident and injury lawyer in charge of finance, and career politicians be in charge of both national defence and international relations?

Aren’t these jobs better suited to people who know what the consequences of their transparent, politically-driven, shortsighted, and downright stupid actions are?

*Correction: the statement was made by John McDougall, the NRC president, not by Gary Goodyear. McDougall was, however, reiterating what Goodyear said last week, albeit in a much more quotable form. 

Reporting in Indigenous Communities

Reporting in Indigenous Communities

There’s a new website up – that’s right, the Internet has a new member! It even has some of my writing on it. My colleague Allison Griner (@allgriner) and I wrote our piece, “Eco-Partners: Fighting together for the health of an inlet” over the course of the last term. We worked with members of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and environmentalists to see what their relationship looks like. Is one manipulating the other? Where do First Nations identity and environmental protection overlap – and where don’t they?

The Tyee: How to Save One of BC’s Last, Great Co-op Ski Hills

This article was originally published in the Tyee, where I recommend reading it. It’s prettier there.

Getting up the long logging road that leads to Mount Cain requires tire chains. I should know: I have spent hours digging myself out of the high snow banks that flank the road that takes skiers and snowboarders up every Saturday and down every Sunday.

The snow banks are Campbell Wilson’s fault. A Cain local, Wilson and a few dedicated volunteers run a giant, insectine machine along the 14-kilometres of road to keep it passable even during the powder-iest of powder days.

Wilson, though, is worried about his machine. If the grader breaks down, then people can’t get up the mountain, which could mean the loss of tens of thousands of dollars in ticket sales. It’s not the sort of make or break issue volunteers usually have to think about. But Cain is one of two community-run ski hills in B.C. and the only hill in the province responsible for its own road. Which means that every time Campbell Wilson coaxes the grader to life, Mount Cain’s somewhat eccentric but charming experiment in operating a co-operative ski run manages to live for another day.

Photo by Leif Zapf-Gilje
Photo by Leif Zapf-Gilje

It takes a mountain

Just as Mount Cain can’t afford to replace its grader, B.C. can’t afford to lose Mount Cain. The ski hill, an hour and a half northwest of Campbell River, is a rare vestige of what communities used to be, a village that really does raise the child. It’s not uncommon to see one parent shepherding half a dozen children around the hill while the rest of the parents go for a backcountry run, or an unrelated adult scolding a pack of feral snowboarders.

The skiing is at once central to the community and almost incidental. Skiing brings the community together, but the community is what makes the skiing possible. As a volunteer-run hill, Mount Cain would not exist without donated time. It’s a gift economy run on goodwill, social standing, and, most importantly, necessity.

In 2009, when I first arrived at Mount Cain as a volunteer ski patroller, Helen Brown was running the groomer while her husband, Casey, was the first person to be called to fix a broken-down T-bar or a generator that wasn’t generating. The two were constantly on call, and had been for years. It wasn’t exactly a thankless job –- thanks are easy to come by at Cain -– but it was time-consuming for volunteer work. Helen’s and Casey’s had become the first names you would hear on the radio in the morning, and the lights on Helen’s groomer would burn late into the night.

In 2010, Helen and Casey Brown sold their cabin at Mount Cain, bought an RV, and went on a ski trip through the Rockies. The weight of the mountain had started to lean on them too much, and the Browns needed a break. For a mountain that depends on volunteers to open every morning, the loss of two such Atlases hit hard. But the mountain’s remaining volunteers, and some new ones, pitched in and Cain pulled through.

In a province dominated by large urban centres where community is losing out in favour of commercialism, Mount Cain is a model of a different way of thinking. Its low-profit business model makes the community vulnerable to stochastic events. If the mountain is a symbol of the old ways clashing with the new, then this narrative hinges on the grader.

Land leases have been the saving grace of the mountain’s finances. The Alpine Park Society sold leases every four years to the lucky winners of a lottery. Prospective cabin owners put in a $5,000 deposit, which would go towards their $40,000 lease if their name were drawn; the mountain pocketed this revenue and spent it carefully. Meanwhile, cabin owners did not actually own the land on which their cabins were built, but had a collective agreement with the province through the mountain.

After years of relative plenty, with the proceeds of land leases padding the books and allowing the leverage needed to get grants for infrastructure investments (like a new workshop and lodge), that revenue stream has recently been diverted. Because of a new land use agreement, proceeds from new leases will go to the province rather than the mountain.

That’s a big reason why  Mount Cain’s grader just has to keep working.

Pretty desperate

Wendy Knudson wears the worried look of a matriarch presiding on the brink of chaos. She is Cain’s bookkeeper and a skier’s mother, and the mountain is rife with hazards to both jobs. In 2004, due to a bad snow year, the mountain came close to shutting down, and only loans from locals like Knudson and her partner, Bob Romanow, kept it alive.

Knudson has seen trouble at the mountain, and she sees more trouble in its future.

“We don’t have debt because we had those cabins that we sold. That’s the last — when that’s gone, we’re back to paying $1,000 each if we don’t have enough money [like in 2004-2005]. It was pretty desperate.”

Sitting in the small office above the ticket booth, she scrolls through her records, reading out last year’s expenses. Twenty-five thousand dollars in repairs for the grader. Twenty-three thousand in road widening. Forty-eight thousand in gas. Altogether, the annual costs for the road alone approach $100,000. For a mountain selling just short of $200,000 in lift passes per year, this is not an expense the mountain takes lightly.

Stuart Abernethy is a serious, hardworking contractor. He is also vice president of the board of directors at Mount Cain. On Christmas Eve, Abernethy took me on a snowmobile ride down the logging road. Boxing Day is one of the most important days for the mountain, and the road had to be in top shape, so Abernethy wanted to check on progress. A few minutes down, we met Lance Karsten, a small man with a huge presence on the mountain. As a skilled carpenter, Karsten built many of the cabins at Cain and helps maintain the public buildings as well. Christmas Eve found him running the D8, a powerful, hulking machine that helps the grader with raw pushing power.

A little further down the road, original Mount Cain local John Rainbow was urging the grader down the shoulder to widen it in anticipation of heavy traffic. In an ordinary business, senior partners step back as they gain rank and influence. At this mountain, seniority means spending Christmas Eve halfway down a logging road pushing snow.

“Cain sucks, tell your friends”

Mount Cain has conflicting priorities for how to move forward. Some locals, referred to as the “draw-bridgers,” want to see the mountain stay small, largely unknown, and, quite likely, unprofitable. These are the people who heckled a former board member, semi-retired tugboat captain Peter Knott, until he stepped down in frustration in 2011. His crime: developing and updating a website for the mountain that was blamed for drawing large crowds.

“We have three or four days a year when we have a lineup, and people are bitching because they can’t ski right on to the t-bar,” Knott recalls. “But those were $20,000 days. Those days are what make the coffer. We need those banner days to survive.”

The result of the tension between the draw-bridgers and the more pragmatic locals is a bumper sticker young local Sonia Nicholl printed last year: “Cain sucks, tell your friends.” Nicholl was summarizing the attitude of many who have been fortunate enough to discover the mountain. While they understand that new people need to be brought in to keep it alive, they advertise reluctantly and ironically.

The draw-bridgers understand what makes the mountain special, even if they know little about what keeps it viable. It is hard to argue that a lot of the mountain’s charm comes from being able to ski directly on to an empty t-bar on a perfect powder day, or from knowing every face at the top of the hill. It’s a magic that can’t be found at a large commercial resort, and it goes hand-in-hand with the other thing that makes the place special, the volunteerism. Without the visibility that comes with being part of a small community, the subtle social incentives to pitch in could evaporate.

A long road

The community is about to get larger, and it could be the next step in keeping the mountain alive. Last year, a new road was built. It was the start of a new development, a plan to build five new cabins – but this development is independent of the Mount Cain Alpine Park Society. The ‘Namgis First Nation has established a land claim in the park, directly adjacent to the borders of the ski area.

Doug Aberley is the treaty coordinator for the ‘Namgis. He first met with the mountain several years ago to talk about what has now become the new development.

“The ‘Namgis have a policy of wanting to be involved with any economic development within the territory,” he said. “We approached the government and had quite a good negotiation with the park society.”

The ten hectares of proposed treaty settlement land could mean a big change for the mountain: for the first time since Mount Cain’s t-bars started turning, a new partner has entered the arena. It’s a partner that can help in many ways. First, the new cabins mean more people can access the ski hill, and it means that the pool of volunteers might have just widened. But most importantly, the ‘Namgis bring a new and powerful voice to the table to negotiate with the province over who should be responsible for the road.

“The Namgis First Nation has offered to cooperate with Mount Cain and registered in a lobby that would see the road become a gazetted part of the highway system,” says Aberley. For a road to be “gazetted,” in legal terms, means that it has passed into public ownership. It means that the province would be responsible for clearing the road, which in turn means that the grader, and Wilson and his volunteer team, can get some rest. It would be one less Damoclean liability hanging over the head of the community.

Things are progressing slowly among the five groups involved – Western Forest Products, which owns the road; the ‘Namgis; the Mount Cain Alpine Park Society; Mount Waddington Regional District; and the province – have yet to come to the table together and decide on a new arrangement.

To Aberley, it seems like a simple decision that would benefit the whole region. “If we’re to compete up here with logging and other industries, we need to have amenities,” he says. “It’s only the same deal they’ve offered every other ski hill in the province.”

“It’s just going to take political pressure,” he says.

Stuart Abernethy has put his money where his heart lies. One year  he chipped in $5,000 himself to keep the mountain going.

That kind of love that the locals at Mount Cain feel for their community is what allows it to keep running. Early mornings shoveling the lift lines, late nights grooming runs, whole weeks spent organizing fundraisers and events, lost ski days fixing machinery, and long hikes through deep snow up the logging road to get the grader started are all done out of that same love.

Even overworked volunteers Helen and Casey Brown still spend time at Mount Cain. Their daughter, Megan, grew up at the mountain, and got engaged on its slopes this winter; their son, Lucas, has meanwhile become one of the primary groomer operators. For a family that has grown up at the mountain, losing it entirely would be unthinkable.

Cain is expecting more than 20 centimeters of fresh snow on its 4.5 metre base this weekend, and around 200 people are likely to head up the road to ski and board in the plush powder. Let’s hope Campbell Wilson can get the grader to work one more time. But if this unique community is to survive, the mountain and its new partners the ‘Namgis may have to convince the provincial government that it is worth saving.

Fracking ban in Sacred Headwaters set to expire Dec. 18

This article originally appeared on the Tyee blog, the Hook, December 14, 2012.

A moratorium on a large coal bed methane project in northern B.C. is about to expire. The moratorium has prevented Shell Canada from conducting “any oil and gas activity or related activity” in the Sacred Headwaters project since December 2008, according to the original Order in Council.

While First Nations, environmental groups, and the provincial NDP are calling for the moratorium to be extended, negotiations around the future of the area between Shell, First Nations and local stakeholders are ongoing, a spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Natural Resources confirmed.

The spokesperson would not comment on the nature of the discussions, saying that further details would be made available when an agreement is reached.

The project is located in Tahltan First Nation territory. Anita McPhee, president of the Tahltan Central Council, also would not comment on any negotiations with the province, but said she is determined to protect the Sacred Headwaters.

“We’re not going to stop until there is permanent protection in the Klappan.”

The Klappan, as the Sacred Headwaters basin is sometimes known, is located at the head of the Skeena, Stikine, and Nass rivers.

The BC NDP recently weighed in on the issue.

“Coal bed methane development could see hundreds of gas wells drilled in these pristine river headwaters, along with construction of hundreds of roads and pipelines to support them,” said NDP mining critic Doug Donaldson in a recent email to supporters. “It could contaminate groundwater and river water downstream, and put at risk significant wild salmon spawning beds.”

The original government document that ordered the moratorium has provisions for Shell to have resumed operations two years after the moratorium was issued, as early as 2010. This was on the conditions that the company first conduct an assessment of the impact the operation would have on water quality, that First Nations and other local communities be provided with sufficient information on coal bed methane extraction, and that this all be done to the satisfaction of the minister.

Karen Tam Wu, who is in charge of the advocacy group Forest Ethics’ campaign to prevent Shell from developing the natural gas deposit in the region, says she is optimistic about the outcome of the ongoing discussions.

“I’ve heard the government is going to come down on the right side of the fence on this,” she explains. “I’m holding my breath and my fingers are crossed.”

On Friday morning the Senate approved Bill C-45, the omnibus bill, which included provisions to eliminate the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission. This was the body responsible for, among other things, monitoring chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations like the Shell project in the Sacred Headwaters.

Disclosure of the composition of the chemicals used in fracking is mandatory in B.C. as of April 1, 2012, and the registry is publicly available. However, many chemicals can be protected as trade secrets.

The HMIRC’s responsibilities will be transferred to Health Canada, which in April announced that it would be cutting 840 jobs.

An interview with Jodie Emery

An interview with activist Jodie Emery, whose husband, Marc Emery, is in prison in the United States for exporting marijuana seeds.

Jodie is a prominent cannabis activist in Canada, and has a show on the popular alternative television station, PotTV. The movement scored a win this month when Colorado and Washington states voted to legalize marijuana.

The interview

The Big Melt and its Global Implications

First published (with some revisions) by the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies in their quarterly magazine, Wall Papers. Check it out in pretty, glossy format here.

Photo by Jimmy Thomson

The Arctic Ocean is in the midst of major climatic change, with its once robust sea-ice cover visibly retrenching more and more every year.  As that ice melts, chemistry and circulation patterns are shifting, and scientists are just beginning to understand how serious the consequences may be for the rest of the world’s oceans.

“We have a marine arctic that is not simply passive – it will kick back,” warned Eddie Carmack, Senior Research Scientist Emeritus at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “It is to our own good to explore effects that might lead to regime changes.”

Dr. Carmack was part of a leading group of Arctic scientists taking part in a 3-day workshop titled, “An Interdisciplinary Assessment of Climate Change Impacts on the Arctic Ocean,” held at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies in May 2012.  The workshop was envisioned by UBC professors Philippe Tortell and Roger Francois as a way to discuss strategies for monitoring the Arctic Ocean that take into account the importance of both terrestrial and oceanic fields of scientific research, and the unexpected rapid pace of changes occurring in the Arctic.

Dr. Carmack described the rapid pace this way.  In 2007, he took to the sea in the “Canada’s Three Oceans” project, traveling by icebreaker along the entire coast of Canada in order to establish a baseline for future effect of climate change. This baseline would be revisited in 2050, or so went the original plan. “It’s changing so fast,” he said, “there are things they can already say.”  Climate change impacts, such as increased stratification, shifts in population structure among plankton and bacteria, and ocean acidification are already becoming apparent in the Arctic.

Dr. Carmack laid out an extremely complex set of findings presented in a series of diagrams that showed how circulations between the world’s oceans interact, and argued that more needs to be explored regarding the biogeochemical distributions in the oceans in order to be able to predict what cascade effects and unintended consequences many of these changes might have. “There is a danger in waiting too long to begin new policies,” he warned.

In addition to Dr. Carmack, researchers traveled from all over the world, covering everything from glacier melt in Greenland to trace metals in estuarine systems in Russia to warming experiments in the Canadian tundra.  Part of the impetus for the workshop was to underscore the importance and cooperation around the new GEOTraces initiative, a monitoring system set up to better understand the changes. With international participation from over 30 nations, GEOTraces collects information on trace metals in the world’s oceans, which can be limiting factors for biological productivity, sources of contamination, or indicators of past and present climate change. The collection of this data requires ship charters, international permits, and a lot of money: some working groups during the conference were therefore devoted to these difficulties facing researchers.

Many of the researchers pointed out, like Dr. Carmack did, that the Arctic is “not just about bears, pteropods, and seals, it’s about the people.” To that end, the workshop also featured a public panel, appropriately titled, “The Big Melt” at the Vancouver Aquarium. Moderated by former Yukon premier Tony Penikett, the panel discussion featured Dr. Carmack alongside UBC Professors Michael Byers from Political Science and Candis Callison from the School of Journalism. All of the panelists, each coming from a different angle, nevertheless had much in the way of common ground: the need for more international cooperation, inclusion of northern communities, and proper communication of these issues to the public were all expressed.

According to Dr. Callison, science can often only be expressed to the public by portraying it in human terms.

“Facts and information become meaningful when they intersect with ethical and moral codes,” she explained. “After listening to an Inuit person talk about changes they’ve witnessed, passing climate change as a somehow normal and natural occurrence is not possible.”

Encouraging interaction between scientists from a diversity of nations, in conferences such as this one, is a valuable part of the process of bringing the world’s northern nations together to address the multitude of changes occurring in the Arctic.

As Dr. Byers noted, “an organization is only as important as the people in the room.” Conferences like this are a vital step in continuing to bring important people into the room to advance the international dialogue regarding arctic climate change, and the international gathering was representative of the way forward in understanding its future impacts.

No, Mr. Baird, it shouldn’t agree with you

“It should agree with Canadians. It should agree with the government. No discussion of a carbon tax that would kill and hurt Canadian families.”

-John Baird, MP

When Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, a career politician and Harper’s favourite lapdog, admitted that the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy was being shut down for disagreeing with the political leanings of the current government, he pulled the curtain back for a rare honest glimpse into the Conservatives’ opinion on science. That is, he showed us that if it can’t be controlled, if there is a chance that an organization will produce reports, evidence, or PR that is contrary to the messaging coming from Ottawa, it will not be long for this world.

As a long-time politician, someone who entered politics straight out of university and can always be counted on to leap to the defence of the latest Harper move, John Baird is exactly the type of cabinet minister you would expect such a quote from. He is also the exact type of cabinet minister we need to get rid of in some sort of Old Testament purge; a flood might be the poetic way to do it, but any old plague will do. He is totally unqualified to talk about anything but politics, which is why he’s the perfect example of a Canadian cabinet minister: he knows when to nod, and when to shake with apparent rage at whatever he’s being told to shake with rage at.

The NRTEE is not the only, or even the latest, example of a scientific institution being punished for its inconvenient truths. The world famous Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario has long published studies on freshwater pollution effects; some recent studies have found evidence that mercury poisoning in lakes can be reversed, contradicting the oil industry’s claim that the lake is beyond help. The University of Alberta’s Dr. David Schindler, an eminent freshwater research scientist who is always good for a statement on these issues, was quoted in the Globe and Mail: “My guess is our current managers don’t like to see this kind of [research] because the oil sands have an exponentially increasing output of mercury. I think the real problem is we have a bunch of people running science in this country who don’t even know what science is.”

Mr. Baird’s assertion that a scientific institution should “agree with Canadians” is perverse. Science should not be asked to agree with anyone. That’s not the purpose of science. Agreeing unconditionally with the ideology of the PM is the purpose of parasitical sycophants like John Baird. A government that does not respect the fundamental need for science organizations – even government-funded ones – to maintain an arm’s length from politics is in a very dangerous position.

The consequences of such an attitude have been seen before, and they aren’t pretty. Try Mao’s Four Pests Campaign to see how well a country fares when it ignores the pleas of scientists, in favour of fantasy. We run the risk of becoming a nation deliberately burying our heads in the sand: dismantling environmental reviews, eliminating the long-form census, or cutting the contaminant science program at Environment Canada do not make the problems go away. They just make it harder to find out about them. Are we going to go the route of North Carolina next, and make sea level rise illegal? Seems a bit crazy, but just like them, we have already started to punish scientists who do the wrong research.

With even the oil elite in Calgary insisting that they want a carbon tax, who the hell is John Baird to dance on the grave of an organization that has been calling for one for years? A carbon tax, by putting a price on carbon, would increase competition within and between industries to reduce emissions, inspiring innovation in a way that blanket regulations and minimum targets cannot.

Now that the feds have admitted that this was a political decision, and not about saving money, we can say for certain that the $2-million annually that the ELA cost likely suffered from the same careful pruning of scientific capabilities; you might say the same for PEARL, Bamfield, the oil spill response centres on the West Coast and others – especially given that the National Round Table cost more than each of those.

When you add up their costs, in fact, it is comparable to the $8-million earmarked for the taxman to investigate the funding of environmental groups. It might be simplistic, but it’s painfully ironic to see money being diverted from essential scientific facilities for blatantly political reasons, only to be used to attack environmental groups for the same reason. It’s a two-pronged approach: bleed inconvenient science while starving inconvenient opposition.

What we don’t know, and what it will do to us

Saving money is a noble goal. It’s something all Western governments have been neglecting for decades as we built up huge rolling budget deficits, passing the buck (or lack thereof) onto, well, us. Preventing money from flowing out of government coffers is half of the answer to our financial woes, alongside increasing government revenues. Cutting spending is a logical move towards balancing our books, and doing that unfortunately requires sacrificing jobs, projects, and even entire programs.


Why is science bearing the brunt of these cuts? Is science really the most inefficient, wasteful area in which money is spent? How about the military? For instance, $10-billion in ‘overlooked’ F-35 costs. Or base budgets that need to be used up annually, leading to a massive spending binge every April, burning money just to ensure there’s money available to burn next year. Why, in particular, are the cuts concentrated in areas that are inconvenient to an “emerging energy superpower”? Why is a $79.3-million program like contaminant science being cut and replaced with a fund worth a lousy million and a half dollars? 

Contaminant science is an absolutely indispensable area of environmental science, becoming ever more relevant as our country commits to a future as hewers of wood and drawers of water – or, I should say, diggers of tar sand and diggers of tar sand. Contaminant science is what is going to give us the tools and knowledge to protect what is truly our most valuable resource – clean water, in oceans, rivers, lakes, and wetlands – over the next fifty years.

$80-million dollars is a laughably small price to pay if it means we get to know what is going into our water, and by extension, into us. But maybe that’s the point.