An open letter from a climate science researcher/student about impact of Environment Canada staff and program cuts

As you may know Environment Canada has cut lots of expertise from its midst – critical to climate science.  What follows is an e-mail from a student who was working with Dr. Brad Bass, a leading researcher on climate change, a hugely knowledgeable person about urban heat islands and the use of vegetation, ie. green roofs, to mitigate climate problems.

I am writing in follow-up to the e-mail Dr. Brad Bass sent out in order to clear up some confusion surrounding the changes at Environment Canada. Dr. Brad Bass and many other Environment Canada scientists have had their jobs cut. Due to political intervention in what EC scientists can and cannot say, Dr. Bass could not include any information about these changes in the e-mail he sent out to you previously. As a student who works with him and has been following many of the changes Canada  now faces, I have decided to send this out independently so as to clarify what Brad could not.
Over the past several months we have seen major cuts to Environment Canada that are leaving it without any real scientific or research power. We have seen many prominent scientific jobs cut, research funding slashed, and our ability to effectively do environmental assessment and management largely neutralized. Our scientists have been muzzled, and their ability to go to press has become tightly managed by a new “media relations office” put forth by the Harper Government. There is no more money to do research on Adaptations and Impacts as we do, projects on water quality have been halted (including those serving Aboriginal reserves and northern communities), and many of the tools and researchers necessary in order to adequately measure the consequences of the Athabasca Tar Sands are presently in a questionable state of limbo. This rearrangement of staff – preceding the 5-10% first round of budget cuts coming in February as part of Harper’s “balancing the books” will effectively leave Environment Canada powerless and effectively useless. They even went so far as to slate twenty-one out of twenty-four water quality monitoring stations in the Northwest Territories for shutdown – an act that managed to embarrass Harper (who was touring the region at the time) sufficiently for it to be reversed. But the cuts and targeting of research in the public interest continues.
Tony Clement perhaps put it best: Environment Canada is now “open for business” – you may now hire their award-winning scientists at will, privatize their research and keep them from working in the public interest. One of the most prominent areas to be hit was climate change research and adaptations: exactly what our thirty-person lab has focused on and our broader Adaptations and Impacts Research Section has pioneered in for the past seventeen years since its formation. Dr. Bass is a co-recipient of the IPCC Nobel Prize, and the work many of our researchers do is critical to the advancement of science and the development of viable responses to climate change the world over. Because Environment Canada scientists cannot go to press over this, coverage (and response) has largely been muted – and the Canadian public, by and large, is unaware of the changes that are taking place. This is, to put it lightly, a major problem not just for Canadians but for the whole of the international community.

Our lab in particular, based at the University of Toronto, does cutting edge research on community energy systems, energy conservation, urban agriculture and food security, new methods of waste management, and urban sustainability through design and green infrastructure to address many of the problems we now face as Canadians. Our research is open, our results are available to the public, and we are presently slated to lose everything – much like many other prominent Canadian research institutions if nothing is done and no attention drawn to the changes we now see. Government research partnerships with universities are likewise slated to be terminated.

Myself and a number of students working with Dr. Bass have independently decided to attempt to address and draw attention to the cuts as we now see them. We have put together a list of very simple things even ordinary Canadians can do in order to fight the changes we now see. These include writing to your MP or school board trustee – just a short “I don’t want to see this laboratory gone” should do – *and spreading the news about the cuts. The CBC recently drew attention to one aspect of our research and our team is rushing to put up a website to draw attention to some of our projects to address the  food crisis, do away with plastic waste, make desalination cheap and easy to do and much, much more.

James I. Birch
Student Researcher
Adaptations and Impacts Research Section
University of Toronto

9 thoughts on “An open letter from a climate science researcher/student about impact of Environment Canada staff and program cuts”

  1. It’s really alarming to find out this is going on with Environment Canada, particularly since they are tasked with the responsibility of enforcing environmental policies and protecting the natural resources of Canada. If anything, now more than ever, research funding and partnership programs should be increase to help push Canada to the forefront of renewable energy and environmental science research.

    This is most disappointing and will only come back to bite Canadians in the backside. It is a shame this situation is not getting more media attention and awareness.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I find these cuts to Environment Canada very troubling. Is there a link to more information on the list of actions being taking to fight these changes.

  3. Tyler

    I get your mail subscription and enjoy your blogs very much. I’ve been following the news on the emasculating of Environment Canada scientific capabilities worth increasing disquiet. This letter is a clear statement of the intentional ruin being perpetrated on the organization and on Canada’s scientific capabilities. I run a blog on sustainable living. Can I reprint the letter with full accreditation?

    Gerrit Botha

  4. why environmental protection and sustainability jobs are always first on the chopping block makes no sense to me. Basically the message being sent is that while we publicly acknolwedge that we are undergoing changes that will impact our future, but we cant afford to deal with it now. This mindset is very typical of US agencies as well.

  5. What has become of us? In the 1980s, Canada, in particular Environment Canada, spearheaded studies on stratospheric ozone which, because of our expertise and involvement, concluded with the international agreement named The Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer [1987]. In 1988 Canada hosted the first high-level international conference on climate change, The Changing Atmosphere: Implications For Global Security, attended by the Prime Minister of Canada and the Prime Minister of Norway [the Hon. Gro Brundtland – Our Common Future] along with many other international dignitaries. In 1991 Canada and the US signed the Canada-US Air Quality Agreement to deal with trans-boundary air pollution problems, principally acid rain. The contributions of Canadian scientists, particularly from Environment Canada, were pivotal in moving the negotiations to this conclusion. More recently, in 2001, the first multilateral international agreement to control 12 major toxic chemicals was drafted by an international body of scientists and policymakers chaired by a Canadian scientist from Environment Canada. That agreement is called the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
    Today environment Canada is being shredded by a mindless short-sighted government that does not recognize the value of monitoring and assessing the nature and status of our environment, for the public good. Our international reputation as a leading country in environmental protection is fading if not gone. More importantly, in the absence of our scientific capability, we face our future blindfolded. The consequences are impossible to assess. The world is watching and wondering. Canadians ought to start worrying. We are in the midst of a Greek tragedy the scope of which is generally unknown to the Canadian public.
    Hans Martin Ph.D.

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