Harper’s Canada Rips a Hole in the Global Ship of
George M. Woodwell
Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Sometimes we have to ask just what the purpose of government is. In the nominally democratic nations we elect our fellow citizens to public office to help define and defend the public welfare. In the normal course that welfare starts with establishing and defending rules under which we live with one another. Rules provide equity in human affairs, including our dealings with each other, and in access to essential resources, especially those resources that we take as a human birthright: air, water, land, food and a place to live in peace. The rights are embraced in every culture and commonly start with the golden rule: deal with others as you would have them deal with you. Governments build elaborate laws around that purpose. Courts amplify the laws over decades. And the rules apply in a well-regulated world of thoughtful and responsible nations.
As human numbers increase and technology expands, so do the interactions and points of friction. Corporate and national and personal interests compete. The frequency of interactions rises much more rapidly than the numbers of people. It rises in fact exponentially and the need for regulations protecting the interests of all soars with it.. Simple arithmetic puts the lie to the common assertions of Tea Party conservatives in the US and of all others, including Canadians, who claim that growth in all aspects of human affairs is possible with fewer regulations. Destruction of laws and regulations developed over decades is willful destruction of a nation and puts the nation on a rapid slide toward chaos. Commerce does not regulate itself. Worse, wise regulation requires detailed insights from science as to how the world works, a continuing flow of insights as to what will work in defending welfare of the public.
So it is at the moment in Canada as the Harper administration systematically destroys laws, regulations and institutions developed over a century to protect public resources. Jim MacNeill, a well known Canadian diplomat and former OECD officer in Paris recently suggested to me that Canada is a model of what the Tea Party and the rabid right are trying to bring to the U.S.:
“….(Harper) is now …stripping the statute books of the environmental laws and regulations that we have fought for since 1968. He is eliminating one environmental program after another and reducing the environment department to a shadow of its former self.
“At first… he talked like a disciple of George W. Bush -- environmental protection is a burden on the economy which reduces economic growth and kills jobs…..
“A month ago his Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver, on the eve of the environmental hearings into the Gateway pipeline to China, wrote condemning ‘environmental and other radical groups’ …(who were later called) ‘terrorists’”.
Elizabeth May, a brilliant and fearless Member of the Canadian Parliament and long-time conservation leader, wrote to me recently. She could have been writing about our own House of Representatives which stripped our Science Advisor, John Holdren, and his Office of Science and Technology Policy:of funds:
“…One of his first decisions was to unburden himself of the Science Advisor to the Prime Minister. Dr. Arthur Carty…... When his term ended, it was not continued, and the position dissolved.”
The Harper administration also has been cutting budgets for climate science for more than a year. March ended funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences. A $110 million program over tend years for research on climate in Canada’s major universities has been eliminated. The entire Adaptation to Climate Change Research Group was disbanded along with the group within Natural Resources Canada working on Arctic ice cores. An 80,000 year climate record in ice cores is to be abandoned
The Canadians have a long and distinguished and widely used record of research in the Arctic. The global scientific community was stunned to learn that the Polar Environmental and Atmospheric Research Laboratory on Ellesmere Island is to close. At 80 degrees north latitude, PEARL was the closest such lab to the North Pole
The Canadians also have a unique background of experimental data on aquatic ecosystems largely through the efforts of a single scientist, David Schindler, who had the vision as to what should be done and led the way through his own distinguished career. Now a rich resource, the Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario is to close. Fifty-eight fresh water lakes 250 kilometres east of Winnipeg have been the testing ground for freshwater research since the late 1960s. .In the House a week ago, the Parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Fisheries announced that it will be sold to private interests.
The list goes on. The Yukon Research Lab at Yukon College in Whitehorse is to close. The $2.7 million facility only opened last fall – October 2011- is to focus on research that is “business-led and industry-relevant”.The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is ending its national contaminants programme. 75 scientists, many with long careers invested studying marine toxicology across Canada, are being laid off. According to Dr. Peter Ross “The entire pollution file for the government of Canada, and marine environment in Canada’s three oceans, will be overseen by five junior biologists…” These cuts are being made as huge areas of the Beaufort Sea are being leased for oil drilling.
The common assumption of such libertarian views is that the market system is adequate to protect essential resources and ration them to all users. But the failures of the market to protect the public welfare are legion and conspicuous around the world. The market system gave us slavery and will again, given the chance. Management of human affairs and essential resources lies at the very core of governmental function. Harper’s minions and the US far right, including the Tea Party, deny the core purpose of government.
G.M. Woodwell is Founder and Director Emeritus of the Woods Hole Research Center in Woods Hole Massachusetts, scientist, member of the NAS , author and lecturer.