Health and the environment

Portrait of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

• Preventing illness is the best way to get healthcare costs down. So why aren’t governments doing more to protect the environment? We’ve long known environmental factors contribute to disease, especially contamination of air, water and soil. Scientists are now learning the connection is stronger than we realized.

New research shows 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases affecting humans – those that rapidly increase in incidence or geographic range – starts with animals, two thirds from wild animals. Lyme disease, West Nile virus, Ebola, SARS and AIDS are just a few of the hundreds of epidemics that have spread from animals to people. A study by the International Livestock Research Institute concludes more than two million people a year are killed by diseases that originated with wild and domestic animals. Many more become ill.

According to an article in the New York Times, “Emerging diseases have quadrupled in the last half-century.” The increase is mainly due to human encroachment into wildlife habitat and its destruction. For example, one study concluded a four percent increase in Amazon deforestation led to a 50 percent increase in malaria because mosquitoes, which transmit the disease, thrive in the cleared areas.

Another example from the article shows how interconnected life is. Development in North America has destroyed or fragmented forests and chased many predators away. This has led to a huge increase in white-footed mice, which carry Lyme bacteria. The mice are not good at removing ticks and their larvae and so the ticks pick up bacteria from the mice and spread it to other mammals, including humans. Because the number of Lyme-infected ticks has multiplied, more are transferring the disease to humans.

Global warming is adding to the problem. A study in the journal Nature, “Impact of regional climate change on human health,” notes heart attacks and respiratory illness, due to heat waves, altered transmission of infectious diseases and malnutrition from crop failures can be linked to a warming planet. Research has also shown that warming ocean waters are increasing the incidence of waterborne illnesses, including those caused by toxic bacteria in shellfish.

The World Bank estimates a severe influenza pandemic could cost the world economy $3 trillion. Environment Canada says air pollution alone costs the Canadian economy billions of dollars a year.

A key solution, according to One Health Initiative, is to look at the links between human, animal and ecological health and to manage our activities in a sustainable and holistic way. The US-based initiative is bringing experts in human, animal and environmental health together to study these links. Another promising area of research is natural capital evaluation. Forests and green spaces filter water and store carbon. Urban green spaces provide cooling and protection from storms. And ecosystems in balance help protect us from disease outbreaks.

With the world’s human population now at seven billion and growing and the demand for technology and modern conveniences increasing, we can’t control all our negative impacts. But we have to find better ways to live within the limits nature and its cycles impose. Our physical health and survival and the health of our economies depend on it.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Lakes research next to be nixed

Portrait of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

• We can’t live without clean water. Canada is blessed with an abundance of lakes and rivers and has a global responsibility to manage them well. But if we really want to protect freshwater supplies and the ecosystems they support, we must understand how human activity and natural disturbances affect them.

The world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area in Southern Ontario has served as an outdoor laboratory for this purpose since 1968. By manipulating and studying conditions in 58 small lakes and their watersheds, scientists there have made many discoveries about the effects of human and natural activity on freshwater ecosystems and fish. Over the past 45 years, they’ve taught us about the impacts of acid rain, mercury pollution, nanoparticles, nitrogen overload, climate change and fish farming.

That’s about to end. The federal government announced it will close the unique facility in 2013. It’s an odd decision, especially considering it costs just $2 million a year to operate – one-tenth the cost of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s security detail and about the same amount the government spent during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto to build a tourism pavilion with a fake lake. To make matters worse, it will cost taxpayers $50 million to shut the ELA down!

In an open letter to government, senior scientists point out “research conducted at the ELA has been instrumental in the development of environmental policy and legislation both nationally and internationally.” We often hear how Canada “manages” its natural resources, but how can we do that without sound knowledge about the intricacies of the water cycle?

The timing is also odd. The ELA is being shut down as the government eviscerates laws and regulations designed to protect freshwater and marine habitat and resources with its omnibus budget bill. Included in the bill are changes or cuts to the Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, Species at Risk Act and Canadian Environmental Protection Act and a complete gutting and rewriting of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Changes to the Fisheries Act are especially troubling. Habitat protection has been removed and the focus has shifted to economically viable and aboriginal fisheries only. That has some former fisheries ministers worried. In a letter to the prime minister, Conservatives Tom Siddon and John Fraser and Liberals Herb Dhaliwal and David Anderson wrote, “Canadians are entitled to know whether these changes were written, or insisted upon, by the minister of fisheries or by interest groups outside the government. If the latter is true, exactly who are they?”

It’s a valid concern. Postmedia obtained government documents showing that Enbridge, the company behind the dual Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, lobbied the government heavily before the changes were brought in. Documents also indicate pressure from Enbridge was partly responsible for the government’s decision to pull out of a joint marine-planning process on the Pacific North Coast between industry, First Nations, citizens’ groups and conservation organizations.

One can’t help but notice that many recent cuts and changes are aimed at programs, laws or entities that might slow the push for rapid tar sands expansion and pipelines to the west and south, along with the massive sell-off of our resources and resource industry to Chinese state-owned companies, among others. Any research or findings that don’t fit with the government’s fossil fuel-based economic plans appear to be under attack.

Development is important, but when it’s focused on a single polluting industry, at the expense of other economic priorities and the environment, it doesn’t make sense. When industry and government go to such extreme lengths to promote a shortsighted and narrow interest, it’s an affront to the democratic traditions that Canadians of all political stripes have built over the years.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Environmental laws gutted

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

Portrait of David Suzuki

Canada’s environmental laws are under attack by both the federal and Ontario governments. In Ottawa, the government introduced Bill C-38 to implement far-reaching measures announced in its budget. Ontario’s government introduced a similar omnibus bill with profound implications for the environment.

The 420-page Bill C-38 will gut a raft of federal laws passed over the years to ensure that our air, water and most vulnerable wildlife populations are protected. Casualties include the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act, Species at Risk Act, National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy Act and the Kyoto Implementation Act.

In a surprisingly similar action, the government of Ontario recently introduced Bill 55. The 327-page bill seriously affects no less than six important resource and wildlife laws, with amendments that strike at the heart of Ontario’s Endangered Species Act and other vital environmental legislation. When Ontario introduced its Endangered Species Act in 2007, legal experts and advocates lauded it as one of the strongest environmental laws in North America. Ontario’s leadership was commendable.

Although biodiversity loss receives less attention than issues such as climate change, it threatens the very life-support systems of our planet: clear air, clean water and productive soil… Scientists say Ontario is particularly vulnerable to biodiversity decline and has a global responsibility for stewardship.

A study in the renowned scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences identified the boreal forest (which makes up more than 40 percent of Ontario) as the biome on the planet most vulnerable to damage from industrial activities and the effects of human-caused global warming. The study’s authors showed that, in recent years, these areas have lost more forest cover to resource development and natural disturbances exacerbated by human-caused climate change than any other biome on the planet.

By weakening its Endangered Species Act, Ontario will be unprepared to cope with ongoing threats to its precious ecosystems and biodiversity, such as urban sprawl, the spread of invasive species and climate change.

The federal government has justified its efforts to eviscerate environmental laws by cynically claiming that caring for nature is a barrier to economic prosperity. But this ideologically driven agenda will harm our nation and undermine the future for our children. We can’t hope to have healthy economies and communities in Ontario or the rest of Canada without healthy ecosystems and species diversity.

A recent study by the David Suzuki Foundation found that biodiversity in Ontario’s Greenbelt alone helps to filter, store and regulate drinking water for millions of people in the Greater Toronto Area. The health of our air, water and most vulnerable wildlife populations are too important to be treated so callously. The government of Ontario must withdraw the proposed amendments to its Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws.

The environment can’t simply be a fair-weather friend for politicians running for election. True leadership means committing to the long haul and ensuring that air, water, land and wildlife are protected now and into the future in Ontario and across Canada.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Terrestrial Conservation and Science Program director Faisal Moola. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Speak out on June 4

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

Portrait of David Suzuki• Canada would be a different place without our 80,000 registered charities dedicated to everything from health to economic policy to the environment. Recent efforts by the federal government and its backers in media and industry front groups like Ethical Oil to demonize and silence legitimate organizations ignore the important role charities play in Canada. That’s why environmental and other organizations are joining with Canadians for “Black Out Speak Out” (blackoutspeakout.ca or silenceonparle.ca en), launched on May 7 and culminating in a website blackout June 4.

Canadians understand the value of charitable organizations. Close to 85 percent of us over 15 years of age donate to charities every year. Often, it’s to help people in other parts of the world. According to Charity Village, Canadians gave $20 million… within four days of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. For supporting worthy causes, Canadians are entitled to a small tax break.

Canadians also know our spectacular natural environment is crucial to our national identity, health, and survival and that we can’t always count on governments and industry to look out for its interests. And so they give their time, money and voices… The David Suzuki Foundation relies on Canadians for close to 94 percent of its funding. Canadians also expect transparency and results, which is why our funding and spending information is public.

With the help of many Canadians, we’ve enjoyed many successes… [so] we’re astounded by the increasing efforts to stifle so many people and organizations that devote countless hours to ensuring that Canada remains a stellar example of an open and democratic country with strong social values and a clean and healthy environment.

If we are committed to these ideals, it follows we should also value freedom of speech on matters of national interest. It’s fair to place limits on the extent and types of work organizations with charitable status can do. It’s fair to ask questions about donations and what, if any, influence they may have on activities. But it is unacceptable to try to silence people with smear tactics designed to discredit them and deny their funding.

If our leaders want to pin all their hopes and our future on a twinned pipeline through Alberta and BC to ship raw tar sands bitumen to China, then Canadians at least deserve a proper conversation about it. We’ve seen recent signs of hope, with the Alberta government calling for a national energy strategy, for example, and with people in the media and elsewhere questioning the wisdom of employing an omnibus budget act to gut environmental laws and attack charitable organizations.

With continued suppression of those who speak out about the environment and women’s and human rights, along with muzzling government scientists and cuts to government scientific and environmental programs and departments, it’s clear we’re facing a growing campaign, in part backed by industrial interests, to silence opposition.

We expect and deserve better. That’s why we’re speaking out. Silence is not an option. We’re asking all Canadians to join us to help preserve two core national values: nature and democracy. Let’s keep Canada strong and free. Please visit the websites of your favourite environmental organizations on June 4 to add your voice.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation editorial and communications specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

 

Cure for plant blindness

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

Portrait of David SuzukiA colleague told me his toddler was wandering through a neighbourhood park picking up twigs and sticks, brandishing them as tools for digging, poking and tapping. Suddenly, the boy stopped and pointed excitedly to the canopy of branches above. “Look papa. Sticks come from trees!”

Mentally reconnecting fallen branches to their home on the trunk is obvious to an adult, but many of us have lost our profound sense of wonder about the interconnected web of life that surrounds us. This is especially true when it comes to the plant world.

Trees filter pollutants, absorb carbon dioxide and breathe out life-giving oxygen and plants provide food and medicine. However, most folks are largely oblivious to our photosynthesizing companions. This has led some researchers to examine “plant blindness,” a condition whereby we cannot see the forest or the trees.

In 1998, American botanists James Wandersee and Elisabeth Schussler defined plant blindness as “the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment,” which leads “to the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs.” This prognosis rings true in an age when most youngsters can identify hundreds of corporate logos and branded products, but can’t name the plants and trees in their backyards.

Why are we suffering from a nagging case of plant blindness? There is no simple, scientific answer, but Wandersee and Schussler argued that plants don’t capture our attention like animals and other stimuli. To the human eye, they are largely static. Thus, we tend to lump plants together into a green backdrop, failing to distinguish between the millions of blades of grass or multitude of plant species.

Part of the problem may be related to the overwhelming amount of data our eyes send to our brains. Danish author Tor Nørretranders estimates that the human eye generates more than 10 million bits of data per second. Our brain extracts only about 40 bits of data per second and only 16 bits reach our conscious vision and attention. Unfortunately, nature’s greenery tends to be drowned out in a visual flurry of noise and shinier items of interest.

How do we reconnect with nature and learn to give plants their due? The answer is simple. People, especially kids, need to connect with nature in their everyday environment and we need to bring more to our neighbourhoods, public spaces and backyards. It might surprise you, but most urban spaces are already jam-packed with natural wonders.

After volunteering in an urban apple orchard at the Spadina Museum in Toronto, Laura Reinsborough began seeing the world through “fruit goggles.” Once she became familiar with fruit-bearing trees in the city, she suddenly noticed them everywhere. This largely untapped urban bounty spurred her to found Not Far From the Tree, a group that has organized volunteers to help harvest more than 14,000 kilograms of fruit from hundreds of backyard trees over the past four years.

If you want to help bring nature to your community, join one of the many groups working to enhance it. Local efforts to restore wetlands, forests, parks and public spaces provide great opportunities to get hands-on outside time and boost your community’s natural wealth.

Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Jode Roberts. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Cycling makes cities cool

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

Portrait of David SuzukiCities cover just two percent of the world’s land area, yet they account for about 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the United Nations, 59 percent of us now live in cities; in developing countries, 81 percent of people are urbanites. And those figures are rising every day.

Even though cities are a major source of emissions fuelling climate change, “They are also places where the greatest efficiencies can be made,” according to Joan Clos, executive director of UN-HABITAT. “With better urban planning and greater citizen participation, we can make our hot cities cool again.”

The benefits of doing so go beyond reducing the risk of global warming. Cities designed for humans rather than cars are better places to live, with lower pollution levels, less traffic congestion, more parks and public spaces, improved opportunities for social interaction and healthier citizens.

With longer days and blossoming trees making Vancouver brighter, my thoughts turn to the joys of bicycling. Getting people out of cars and on to bikes won’t solve all our climate and pollution problems, and bicycling isn’t possible for everyone, but the more people cycle, the better off we’ll all be. It’s also a great way to stay in shape and make the commute more enjoyable – and often faster.

I’m particularly excited this year as the international cycling conference Velo-city Global is being held in Vancouver from June 26 to 29. The event is expected to bring together about 1,000 traffic planners, cycling advocates, architects, educators, politicians and others from around the world “to share best practices for creating and sustaining cycling-friendly cities, where bicycles are valued as part of daily transport and recreation.”

Gil Peñalosa, who will open and close the conference, says Vancouver has done a lot for cycling but it’s “not great yet.” Peñalosa, director of the Canadian non-profit organization 8-80 Cities and former commissioner of Parks, Sports and Recreation in Bogota, Colombia, believes North American city dwellers could learn from Europeans when it comes to encouraging cycling.

“Even in Europe, a lot of the bicycle infrastructure has been done in the last 30 years. And it didn’t get there by chance,” Peñalosa said in an interview with the European Cyclists’ Federation, noting that, in Amsterdam, cycling infrastructure and rates increased only after active campaigning by citizens. He also said that bicycle-friendly planning can complement well designed public transportation systems.

I hope the Velo-city Global conference will get more people in Vancouver and beyond excited about cycling. Those who ride know one of the best reasons is that it’s fun. It’s also good for you. Regular cycling reduces the risk of a range of health problems, from obesity to heart disease to stress. And that helps the economy by decreasing overall healthcare costs.

That it will also contribute to lower greenhouse gas emissions and pollution and that it can make cities more enjoyable places to live are even more reasons to get on your bike whenever you can.

Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

<div id=”edition_links”>This article appeared in the APRIL 2012 print edition &copy; Common Ground magazine.<br />

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Our oceans need help

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

david suzuki• It’s been 20 years since Canada’s East Coast cod fishery collapsed and we still have no recovery target or timeline for rebuilding populations. That’s just one finding in a damning report from a panel of eminent Royal Society of Canada marine scientists. “Sustaining Canada’s Marine Biodiversity” notes Canada has “failed to meet most of our national and international commitments to protect marine biodiversity” and “lags behind other modernized nations in almost every aspect of fisheries management.”

For a country surrounded on three sides by oceans, with the longest coastline in the world, that’s shameful. Successive federal governments have failed to recognize our oceans as much more than reservoirs of resources to exploit for short-term gain. You’d think the decline of the Northern cod fishery, largely caused by mismanagement, would have taught us something.

The Royal Society panel focused on climate change, fisheries and aquaculture… The problem, it found, was not an absence of knowledge, science or policy, but rather “a consistent, disheartening lack of action on well-established knowledge and best-practice and policies, some of which have been around for years.”

Although Canada has made an international commitment to establish a protected network covering 10 percent of our ocean territory, it has protected less than one percent.

In fact, the federal government recently rejected millions of dollars in funding for a collaborative effort to establish a marine spatial plan and network of protected areas in Canada’s Pacific North Coast waters. First Nations, industry, government and environmental organizations, including the David Suzuki Foundation, had been making progress on the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) for years, but the federal government stymied the process by failing to invest adequate funding and by rejecting support from a philanthropic organization.

Its reason? The government was worried marine protected areas and marine use plans based on ecosystem science might restrict oil tanker traffic. The loss of more than $8 million dollars from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was a blow to the process and the government has not stepped in to make up for the shortfall.

Rather than protect the Pacific’s valuable resources, opportunities, and habitat… it appears the government would rather risk it all by pushing the Northern Gateway pipeline project to ship crude bitumen from the tar sands through precarious Pacific Coast waterways to China and California.

Besides an apparent lack of interest on the part of government regarding the health of Canada’s oceans, the report identifies a major problem that puts us behind most developed nations: a “major conflict of interest at Fisheries and Oceans Canada between its mandate to promote industrial and economic activity and its responsibility for conserving marine life and ocean health.” The panel offered a number of sensible recommendations, which include addressing the conflict of interest and living up to our commitments to marine biodiversity.

Our government is gaining a reputation for ignoring or discounting the advice of scientists. Let’s tell our leaders our future depends on the future of the oceans and this advice must be heeded. The science is clear; it’s time to do more.

Northern Gateway money vs environment

SCIENCE MATTERS

by David Suzuki

• The battle lines are drawn and Northern BC’s pristine wilderness is the latest front. With hearings underway into the proposed $5.5-billion, dual 1,172-kilometre Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project to transport bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat and imported condensate to dilute it from the coast back to Alberta, the fossil fuel industry and its supporters have stepped up the rhetoric. Environmentalists and people in towns, rural areas and First Nations communities in BC have lined up in opposition.

It’s not just about potential damage from an oil spill… The larger issues are about our continued reliance on polluting fossil fuels and the economic impact of rapidly exploiting and selling our resources and resource industries.

It’s about Canada’s national interest. With lax royalty structures and massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, not to mention foreign ownership of tar sands operations and lobbying by foreign companies, Canadians are not enjoying the real benefits of our oil industry. In fact, increasing reliance on the tar sands is hurting other sectors of the economy, manufacturing in particular.

Thanks to the government’s support of the fossil fuel industry, ours is a petro dollar that rises and falls with the price of oil. The high price of oil has increased our dollar’s value and that has hurt the more labour-intensive manufacturing sector, which relies on exports. Not only have hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs been lost over the past few years, but Canada has also been missing out on opportunities to join the boom in production of renewable-energy technology.

Industry adherents have come up with many arguments supporting the Northern Gateway project. Some have more holes than an oilfield. Take the jobs argument. Even Enbridge admits that most would be in short-term construction work. Only about 35 to 40 long-term jobs would be created at the Kitimat marine terminal.

Most economic benefits from increased tar sands production would go to the companies and their shareholders, including firms from the US, Korea and China. In fact, state-owned PetroChina, which already operates in the tar sands, has just bought 100 percent of the MacKay River project.

The “ethical oil” argument is so absurd as to be hardly worth mentioning, but it’s one the government has latched on to. Oil can’t be ethical or unethical. People, and by extension the companies they own and operate or the governments they represent, can behave in ethical or unethical ways, but a product can’t.

The Northern Gateway project and much of the recent and pending tar sands expansion will help companies owned by the government of China dig up the bitumen and send it there for refining and use. The ethical oil folks admit China is a police state, so why do they support selling them our industry and resources? The anti-American conspiracy theories are even more absurd. Saying that opposition to the Northern Gateway is a plot by US funding agencies to protect America’s access to Canadian oil is just idiotic.

The only real argument for Northern Gateway is that it will increase profits for the oil industry and hand over more of our resources and the associated profits and jobs to China. The arguments against it are so numerous we’ve barely touched them here.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation editorial and communications specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Restoring Eden

SCIENCE MATTERS

by David Suzuki

 

Portrait of David SuzukiThe federal government has announced an exciting NIMBY project. It will put nature in millions of backyards by establishing Canada’s first urban National Park in the country’s largest urban area.

Nestled in the east end of the Greater Toronto Area, Rouge National Park will be unlike any other. It won’t offer the panoramas of Jasper or Banff or provide a safe haven for polar bears, like Manitoba’s Wapusk National Park, or be larger than some European countries, like Wood Buffalo National Park. But it will help connect urban dwellers with nature and ultimately protect and restore a once great forest.

Rouge National Park will be established within the heart of one of the fastest growing urban areas in North America. Home to a wealth of plant and animal life – snapping turtles, butternut trees and rare wetland flowers – the area’s significant and growing human footprint is already evident: two major highways, nearby housing estates and stormwater drainage. Managing existing and future infrastructure in the park, especially roads, will be critical so the growth and spread of surrounding suburbs won’t adversely impact its sensitive ecology.

Restoring the Rouge’s once verdant Carolinian and Great Lakes forest canopy will be important because a long history of agricultural land use and timber harvesting has dramatically reduced the amount of old and mature forest in the area. Intact mature and old-growth forests are rare in northeastern North America, making up less than one percent of forested land.

Plant surveys conducted since the early 1900s in southern Ontario, the Maritimes and New England have found, for example, that some plants, like American yew, do well in undisturbed forests but are so sensitive to human land use that they are often absent or rare in recovering second-growth forests. Scientists believe these plants are not able to fully recover in abandoned farm fields or old logging sites, even after hundreds of years, because habitat is no longer suitable.

Given the importance of these habitat features to the recovery of forest plants and animals, Parks Canada, in partnership with local community groups, regional conservation authorities, universities, and others, will need to work to restore areas in Rouge Park by planting indigenous tree species, removing invasive species, and, in some places, re-introducing and re-creating, by hand, the special features that are largely missing from the park, such as old dead logs, mounds and pits and vernal ponds.

Much of this restoration work is already underway. A local conservation group, Friends of the Rouge Watershed, has planted more than 100,000 native trees and wildflowers in a monumental effort to reforest a section of the park that was set aside in honour of the late Bob Hunter, who helped start Greenpeace and is considered the father of the modern environmental movement in Canada. The group now hopes to restore critical features – old logs, ponds and other habitat – in Bob Hunter Memorial Park as well as in other nearby Rouge Park sites.

It’s a fitting tribute to the memory of a great environmental hero and a wonderful gift to the people of Toronto, and indeed, all of Canada, who will see the lustre restored to this once great forest. Spending time in nature is good for physical and mental health. Having a National Park in the city’s backyard will offer benefits for generations to come.

Written with contributions from Faisal Moola. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Biased research revealed

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

In their desperation to find even a tiny shred of peer-reviewed science to challenge the volumes of research from around the world about human-caused climate change, deniers have often held up Willie Soon’s work.

Dr. Soon, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, is known for studies that purportedly show that the Sun, and not CO2 emissions from human activity, is the main factor in climate change and that climate change in the 20th century wasn’t that unusual to begin with. He has also argued that mercury emissions from burning coal are no big deal.

Now, in response to a Greenpeace investigation, Dr. Soon has admitted US oil and coal companies, including ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, Koch Industries and the world’s largest coal-burning utility, Southern Company, have contributed more than $1 million over the past decade to his research. According to Greenpeace, every grant Dr. Soon has received since 2002 has been from oil or coal interests. This despite the fact he once told a US Senate hearing he had not been hired by, employed by, or received grants from any organization “that had taken advocacy positions with respect to the Kyoto protocol or the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

Dr. Soon has also been affiliated with a number of industry front groups, including the coal-funded Greening Earth Society and the Koch-Exxon-Scaife-funded George C. Marshall Institute, the Science and Public Policy Institute, the Center for Science and Public Policy, the Heartland Institute and Canada’s Fraser Institute.

Correspondence uncovered by Greenpeace also found Dr. Soon led a plan in 2003 to undermine the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report years before it was even released in 2007.

It’s not news the fossil fuel industry has funded an ongoing campaign of doubt and misinformation about the effects of its products and about the dangers of climate change – people and organizations including science historian Naomi Oreskes (author of Merchants of Doubt) and Greenpeace have been exposing these efforts for years. From hiring trolls and front groups to posting comments on websites, submitting letters to editors, writing opinion columns and sponsoring “scientific” research and holding conferences, it’s all been well documented. (The same tactics have also been used by the tobacco industry.)

The latest revelation is a bit of an embarrassment for oil giant Exxon, though. The world’s largest oil company had admitted it funded these efforts but promised in 2008 it would stop giving money to groups that lobbied against the need to find clean energy sources.

It’s also an embarrassment for those who, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, deny the existence of climate change – or admit that it’s happening but say we can’t and shouldn’t do anything about it.

After all their digging, deniers have only been able to find a few minor errors in the volumes of peer-reviewed science about climate change and have had to rely on manufactured scandals and conspiracy theories to bolster their arguments. It only takes a bit of investigating to poke holes in the scant bits of research that have attempted to discredit real climate science. Let’s stop wasting our time on deniers. It would be better spent trying to resolve the serious problems we have created.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation editorial and communications specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org