PEARL, cut by swine

Government cuts to environmental projects a poor choice

My dad listened to the BBC and CBC news while he was making breakfast then switched on a transistor when he was in the bathroom shaving so he wouldn’t miss a word. I was taught by example that listening to news-based radio was a part of my civic duty. It was incumbent upon every citizen in a free society to be informed. It was a way of inoculating oneself against tyranny.

Being addicted to news radio has its downside though. With financial collapses, environmental meltdown, incessant wars, and sleazy politics, radio can get downright depressing. I didn’t realize it until I had satellite radio installed in my truck, but fishing had been providing me a refreshing respite from the news. I had a radio in my truck before getting Sirius, but finding reception within the narrow walls of most river valleys was irritating or impossible. But now that I’m connected to a satellite, I can feed my addiction anywhere in Skeena, and because I can, I do.

Recently, on my way back from fishing the lower Kalum listening to As It Happens, Carol Off was interviewing Dr. Tom Duck, an atmospheric scientist who teaches at Dalhousie University. Dr. Duck was upset over the imminent closure of the Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Nunavut, the same facility where scientists recently found the largest hole in the ozone layer ever detected.

Without such facilities, scientists might not have sounded the alarm over ozone depletion two decades ago. As a result, no cutbacks in fluorocarbons would have been undertaken and we might already be suffering catastrophic effects from scorching rays of the unfiltered sun. Dr. Duck likened the closure of PEARL to taking the batteries out of your smoke alarm.

Carol inquired about how the funding was cut. The professor explained that the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS) has provided a substantial chunk of the funds to operate PEARL. CFCAS is the main funding body for university-based research on climate, atmospheric and related oceanic work in Canada. It was established in 2000 as an autonomous Foundation, and in 2001 attained charitable status. As of December, 2009, the Foundation had invested more than $117 million in university-based research related to climate and atmospheric sciences.

The federal government is a substantial contributor to CFCAS. In 2011, it promised 35 million bucks to the institution. The money has not appeared and nobody in government has explained where it was not sent or where it went. Without this funding PEARL can’t operate.

Carol asked her guest why the Conservatives didn’t follow through on their budgetary commitment, whereupon Dr. Duck stated unequivocally that he felt the government has embarked on a systematic campaign to eliminate funding of environmental assessment on ideological grounds. As proof, he pointed out that the government’s oil sands monitoring program relied on ozone measurements and he noted that staff cuts at Environment Canada will also affect a large number of environment monitoring programs including the solar radiation program that also feeds into the UV index and aircraft measurements of the atmosphere that were supposed to be used to monitor the effects of the oil sands development.

The international scientific community is appalled that the Harper government also plans to shut down a network of 17 ozone monitoring stations across the country. These stations take balloon-based measurements of the atmosphere that are subsequently given to scientists the world over. Harper and his crew also plan to close the World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre, the international database that makes archived ozone data from around the world available to scientists.

An overwhelming scientific consensus holds that the climate is changing at an unprecedented rate and that human activities like burning fossil fuels is the major reason for that change. This is the core belief from the people who really ought to know and it is also held by the vast majority of well informed people in developed countries who understand that this is the greatest threat humankind has had to face.

Cranks, religious kooks, the oil industry, and ultra right wing politicians can present no credible evidence that this is not the case, yet they deny climate change and spend their energies promoting the very things that got us in this pickle.

Our federal government is firmly in this camp. They spend our money on prisons and pipelines and shut down the people charged with environmental stewardship. Listen to your radio and tell me I’m wrong.