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Stop Everything #20: Gagged scientists leave media—and public—in the dark

darcy higgins

"Quiet please" signThe climate issue is struggling to gain political traction in this country as of late. As much as media likes a hot story, they also appreciate access to good information, to local quotes and home-grown science. The Conservative government is continuing a war on science, not just because of their distrust of the method, but also as a tool to keep good information from the public.

The Conservative government’s budget announcement has brought with it a decision to defund the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, which has been studying climate change in a Canadian context since 2000. Their office will now be closing by the end of the year.

New research often shifts the dialogue by showing the reality of the situation. A new report by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, for example, has shown Australians via the media that things are heating up in an already hot country, and that it’s not a good thing.

How does climate change stay afloat in the media without reporters finding stories from Canadian climate scientists? Media can’t find a friend in Environment Canada at the moment—well aside from staff leaks.

Canwest reported yesterday from a frustrated Environment Canada official with a document showing how the Federal government has been stifling senior climate scientists from speaking to the media. (This Magazine reported this, incidentally, way last summer.)

Media coverage of climate change science has dropped 80% in Canada, according to the source and a report by the Climate Action Network.

An email sent to Canwest from Environment Canada brass stated, “The new policy merely assures that communications with the media are co-ordinated, to achieve the goals set out above—namely, quick, accurate and consistent responses across Canada.”

But this information isn’t reaching the media. Journalists have been forced to submit written questions and wait for them to go through the chain. Story deadlines, however, don’t work like that, particularly in non-totalitarian countries where this isn’t the practice du jour. Media has grown tired and is being forced to turn away from federal research.

The government has created a two-fold mess of reducing the amount of quality research, and denying access to the rest of it. Media stories of the last week have focused on the overwhelming dry and warm winter experienced by much of the country. Thank higher beings there’s one man the Tories can’t silence, David Phillips, Environment Canada senior climatologist and perennial weather marketer. He called this Canadian winter “beyond shocking.” It may lead to “horrific water shortages, insect infestations and wildfires.”

But during a time of horrific effects from climate change, we need more than David Phillips. We need serious plans to drastically reduce emissions while planning to adapt to the effects all around us. The Conservatives aren’t coming close.

That ultimately poses the same question posed last week. Will the Liberal Party continue to support a budget and a government that does just the opposite?

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