5 Feb 2014

Will Canada recover from the suffocation of science?

The Canadians have a warm, fuzzy reputation compared to the Americans, but they are on a conspicuously dangerous path when it comes to science. The (conservative) Harper government has used its majority in parliament to defund as much science as possible. Science is particularly relevant when it comes to understanding the impacts of policies and affects of activities in the oil and gas sectors.

I asked Ralph Pentland (author of Down the Drain) this question:
Can you tell me why Harper is killing science funding? Does he think that oil needs to work in an information vacuum?
He replied:
Yes, basically. The war on knowledge, the gutting of environmental legislation and the intimidation of non-profits (by threatening to cut off their tax exempt status) are all part of the same strategy to facilitate reckless resource extraction and transport.
I asked for more:
Why do you think that "nice Canadians" allow this to happen? Anti-science, pro-energy (like Americans)? Maybe the country has a reputation for resource wealth without inhabitants who cherish it? (My girlfriend says Canadians are just as incompetent/greedy as Americans, except they have more to waste.)
Don't worry. I got this one!
He explained:
It only takes 38% of Canadians to elect a majority government; 31% to elect a minority. The current government is fundamentally reshaping Canada with about 28% support.

I spent 30 years in government, and know government at the highest level can only deal with one issue at a time. Sometimes that issue has been national unity; sometimes trade with the U.S; sometimes a fiscal crisis. At the moment that one issue is getting bitumen out of the ground and moving it to market as fast as possible.

Something is different this time. In the past Cabinet and Provinces were always able to moderate the one issue focus at the top. But now, for the first time in our history we have one-man government. And that one man is getting much of his advice from a single stakeholder (CAPP, the Canadian Institute of Petroleum Producers).

No matter how well meaning the PM may or may not be, I am quite sure that neither he nor the electorate understand that the headlong rush to cannibalize non-renewable resources without considering externalities is doing irreparable harm to the long-term health and wealth of Canadians (Chapters 7 and 8 of Down the Drain).
Bottom Line: Without science you do not know where you've been, where you are or where you're going. That's fine if you're blind and bound but reckless if you hope to choose your best options in life. I fear for Canadians.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sadly, the defunding of science is also a strategy of the Australian Abbott government, who are focused on the short term wealth that is derived from coal and gas, and not on the opportunities for a renewable future. I, and many Aussies, would like real leaders, those who see the future and who embrace rational, science based and economically sound strategies to safely take us there, in our nation and for our planet.

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