Critical issues deserve a higher standard

From government scientists to First Nations citizens and environmentalists, pretty much everyone working to protect the air, water, land and diversity of plants and animals that keep us alive and healthy has felt the sting of attacks from sources in government, media and beyond.

From government scientists to First Nations citizens and environmentalists, pretty much everyone working to protect the air, water, land and diversity of plants and animals that keep us alive and healthy has felt the sting of attacks from sources in government, media and beyond.

Much of the media spin is particularly absurd, relying on ad hominem attacks (focusing on perceived character flaws to deflect attention from or invalidate arguments) that paint people who care about the world as greedy conspirators bent on personal enrichment or even world domination! It would be laughable if so many people didn’t take it seriously.

Government tactics have been more insidious, often designed to silence anyone who could stand in the way of massive resource extraction and export policies. Politicians in the U.K., Australia, the U.S., Canada and elsewhere have created a false dichotomy between the environment and the economy in efforts to downplay the seriousness of issues like climate change and the need to address them. The arguments are wrong on so many levels.

First, the economy is a human invention, a tool that can be changed when it no longer suits our needs. The environment is the very air, water, land and diversity of plant and animal life we cannot live without. Why not work to build a healthy, prosperous economy that protects those things?

Volumes of research also conclude that ignoring climate change will be far more costly than addressing it. The massive bills for cleaning up after events related to extreme weather, such as flooding, are just a start. Climate change is also affecting water supplies and the world’s ability to grow food, and is contributing to a growing number of refugees. According to the World Health Organization, close to 150 million people are already dying every year from causes related to global warming — and that doesn’t include death and illness related to pollution from burning fossil fuels.

In Canada, the rush to exploit fossil fuels and get them to market as quickly as possible has sparked a concerted effort to muzzle anyone who would stand in the way, including the government’s own scientists. A recent survey by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada found many have been told to alter or exclude information from government documents for non-scientific reasons and prevented from speaking to the public or media about their work. The survey also revealed cases where political interference actually compromised the health and safety of Canadians and the environment.

Meanwhile, a recent Environment Canada report says Canada is failing to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reductions targets under the Copenhagen Accord. With the federal and some provincial governments relying on oil sands and gas fracking — mostly for export — as the cornerstones of both economic and energy policy, the situation is likely to get worse.

The campaign to promote fossil fuels over clean energy has also been taken up by others. In several cases, it has devolved to the level of schoolyard taunts and bullying — in government, but even more so in certain mainstream media. Some outlets have stooped to ignoring ideas and rational argument in favour of lies, innuendo, exaggeration and personal attacks.

Ironically, one source is a media personality with government ties who has demonstrated a pattern of using bogus arguments and faulty reasoning, leading to a string of libel charges and convictions, censure over violations of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ethics code and complaints about racist statements.

It’s sad to see so much of our media and governance in such a sorry state that we can’t even expect rational discussion of critical issues such as climate change and energy policy. And there is room for debate — not over the existence of climate change or its causes; the science is clear that it is real and that we are a major contributor, mainly through burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests.

But there’s room for discussion about ways to address it. And address it we must. We won’t get there, though, if we hinder scientists from conducting their research and speaking freely about it, and if we allow the discussion to be hijacked with petty name-calling and absurd allegations.

Online:

• Media spin is absurd: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/panther-lounge/2013/10/false-allegations-pollute-the-well-of-public-discourse/

• World Health Organization – death from climate change: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/index.html

• Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada: http://www.pipsc.ca/portal/page/portal/website/issues/science/bigchill

• Survey: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/muzzling-of-federal-scientists-widespread-survey-suggests-1.2128859

• Canada failing to meet emissions targets: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-failing-to-meet-2020-emissions-targets-1.2223930

• Pattern of bogus arguments: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezra_Levant

Scientist, author and broadcaster David Suzuki wrote this column with Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

If you're heading out to the West Country have a plan in case things go wrong, says Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue Services fire chief Steve Debienne.
(Photo from CRFRS Facebook)
West Country visitors should have an emergency plan: regional fire chief

Cellphones can’t be relied on in many back country areas

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw asked Albertans to limit travel throughout the province as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer nears 900 active COVID-19 cases

Province reports additional 2,211 COVID-19 cases

David Eggen, the NDP’s advanced education critic, said the UCP government has been focused on cutting funding to post-secondary institutions across Alberta. (Contributed photo)
NDP worry new status for Red Deer College doesn’t mean more funding

This week the province announced that RDC will become a polytechnic institute

Stock photo
Report: Canada loves hockey, but sport has its issues

While hockey is strongly intertwined in Canada’s lexicon as a country, some… Continue reading

(Advocate file photo.)
Single-vehicle collision causes Hwy 2A closure Thursday

A single-vehicle crash on Highway 2A near Penhold led to a brief… Continue reading

Alberta Health Services locked the Whistle Stop Cafe in Mirror on Wednesday morning after owner Christopher Scott refused to comply with health orders. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)
UPDATED: AHS shuts down Whistle Stop Cafe for defying health orders

Justice minister promises to get tough with those ignoring public health orders

Home renovation savings prove elusive as wood prices at record highs

Home renovation savings prove elusive as wood prices at record highs

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. logo is shown at the company's annual meeting in Calgary on May 3, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canadian Natural reports $1.38B Q1 profit, plans to use cash flow to reduce debt

Canadian Natural reports $1.38B Q1 profit, plans to use cash flow to reduce debt

Logs are piled up at West Fraser Timber in Quesnel, B.C., Tuesday, April 21, 2009. West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. is reporting higher first-quarter sales and earnings after completing its $4-billion all-stock takeover of Norbord Inc. on Feb. 1. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
West Fraser reports US$665M in earnings, $2.3 billion in sales as it acquires Norbord

West Fraser reports US$665M in earnings, $2.3 billion in sales as it acquires Norbord

An oil worker holds raw sand bitumen near Fort McMurray, Alta., on July 9, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta eases security payment burden for oilsands companies

Alberta eases security payment burden for oilsands companies

A street sign along Bay Street in Toronto's financial district is shown on Tuesday, January 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
S&P/TSX composite falls despite commodities, loonie hits highest level since 2017

S&P/TSX composite falls despite commodities, loonie hits highest level since 2017

Nicholas Marcus Thompson is shown in Toronto on Thursday April 29, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Action needed to end anti-Black racism in public service: advocates

OTTAWA — The federal government must address anti-Black racism in the public… Continue reading

Victoria Police help BC conservation officers carry a cougar which was tranquilized in the backyard of an apartment building in the community of James Bay in Victoria, B.C., Monday, October 5, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Cougar believed to be responsible for B.C. attack killed: conservation service

AGASSIZ, B.C. — The British Columbia Conservation Officer Service says it believes… Continue reading

People line up outside an immunization clinic to get their Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hospital investigating whether woman who died after AstraZeneca shot was turned away

EDMONTON — Officials with an Edmonton hospital say they’re investigating what happened… Continue reading

Most Read