Dawn Muenchrath/the Gauntlet

Paying the cost for willfull blindness

Gauntlet Q & A: author Chris Turner

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Author and former Calgary-Centre Green Party nominee Chris Turner recently stopped by the Gauntlet to talk about his new book, The War on Science. We discussed why scientific research is being cut by Canada’s federal government, what impact that might have on the environment and the future role of oil in Canada’s economy.

The Gauntlet: In your book The War on Science, you’re quite critical of the federal government’s policy in terms of environmental regulation. Is that fair to say?

Chris Turner: What this government has done to science and basic data gathering generally is a pretty widespread assault. The war on science, as I describe it, is on three fronts.

The first one is actually reducing the government’s capacity to gather data. Certainly, environmental data, climate data, those sorts of thing have been the most prominently targeted. But not just that, this is also the government that abandoned the long-form census, that ignored best evidence on things like crime prevention and harm reduction in regards to its crime bill. So it’s certainly not just environmental science, but actually closing research labs and programs that were in the business of gathering basic data — the sort of raw material of science. They’ve also been severely cutting back the organizations that take that raw data, interpret it and give the government advice on what policy should be.

G: You would assume that the government would want solid information to build policy.

CT: In a sense it’s kind of a straightforward, somewhat crude logic, which is basically, ‘we have policy goals.’ One of the top policy goals is the expansion of the resource economy, not just oil and gas, but that’s the one that gets the most attention.

This is the government that said they want to be the friendliest jurisdiction on the planet to resource development. If you look at the history of how that’s gone, you have large scale industrial projects and extraction projects, environmental assessments and various government bodies that do studies. These are various pieces of government science that frequently come up with reasons why government policy needs to be changed. If you don’t like that sort of stuff — if your policy goal is simply to ignore all that — why not eliminate it at the source?

G: Do you think any of this has to do with an increase in people who deny the existence of climate change as a human caused phenomenon?

CT: The majority of Canadians accept the consensus reality on climate change: that it’s happening and we caused it. Stephen Harper himself, when he was still in a minority government, said that this is perhaps one of the most important challenges in our time — which is one of the few true things he’s ever said on the subject. So it’s not outright denial. It’s not that they don’t see the problem. It’s just that they don’t want to deal with it.

G: Can you elaborate on the role you see oil playing in the future of Canada’s economy?

CT: If you’re looking at the big picture, we know by mid-century or so — if we intend to mitigate against seriously catastrophic climate change — that we need to get to a point where something like 80 per cent of our current greenhouse gas emissions are gone. Between now and then, a lot of oil is going to get burned. Even by 2050, we’re probably looking at an economy where oil is still [playing] critical roles. It is a very valuable fuel source. It’s not accidental or crazy that we got as dependent on it as we did. It does certain things very, very well. But that doesn’t mean we can continue to do them without consequence.

Inevitably what I think is going to happen is that non-polluting alternatives, whether Canada likes it or not, are going to become more attractive, just as cost effective, and you’ll start to see that in the price of oil. But it’s going to be there. We currently produce two million barrels a day or so from the oil sands. That’s not going to go anywhere and it’s probably going to grow from there. But that doesn’t negate our need to be a part of the solution.