The United States and Canada exemplify the power of the dominant energy interests. The governments of both countries strongly support the expansion of domestic fossil energy extraction, production, and export. But the collision between climate science and energy politics, and threats to freedom of communication, are playing out differently in the two countries. “Obama and Harper — Modes of Support for Fossil Fuel Development”, by CSW director Rick Piltz, was posted today by Index on Censorship.
Index on Censorship is a London-based international organization that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression. Index uses a unique combination of journalism, campaigning and advocacy to defend freedom of expression for those facing censorship and repression, including journalists, writers, social media users, bloggers, artists, politicians, scientists, academics, activists and citizens.
Excerpts from “Obama and Harper — Modes of Support for Fossil Fuel Development“:
With the Harper government in Canada, for years we have witnessed an ongoing repression of climate and environmental science communication by government scientists, along with systematic cutbacks of environmental research and data collection. “Harper’s attack on science: No science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy“, an excellent review and discussion in the May 2013 issue of the Canadian journal Academic Matters, itemized a series of moves by the Harper government to control or prevent the free flow of scientific information across Canada, particularly when that information highlights the undesirable consequences of industrial development. The free flow of information is controlled in two ways: through the muzzling of scientists who might communicate scientific information, and through the elimination of research programs that might participate in the creation of scientific information or evidence.
It appears that the issues on which government scientists are subjected to the tightest political control of communications include climate change, the Alberta tar sands, the oil and gas industry, and Arctic wildlife. In other words, issues on which free communication of scientific evidence could pose problems for corporate energy development interests.
The situation in Canada has driven government scientists to hold public protest rallies twice in the last year. In September, rallies in major city centers and on university campuses were held across the country.
[D]espite the numerous constructive action items in Obama’s Climate Action Plan, there appears to be a contradiction at the heart of Obama’s policy, as indicated by the administration’s adoption of what they call an ‘all of the above’ approach to energy development. …
There are sIgns that the administration may be allowing political pressure from the natural gas industry to compromise investigations by the Environmental Protection Agency into fracking contamination incidents. The EPA has pulled back from several high-profile investigations in a manner that raises questions about whether this indicates a pattern of failure to act on scientific evidence. When the EPA’s scientists found evidence that fracking was contaminating water supplies, the EPA stopped or slowed down their work in in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming.
“Not only does this pattern of behavior leave impacted residents in the lurch, but it raises important questions as to whether the agency is caving to pressure from industry, antagonistic members of Congress and/or other outside sources,” Kate Sinding at the Natural Resources Defense Council notes. …
Obama has adopted a forward-looking position on climate change. But his ‘all of the above’ energy policy, and particularly his full-speed-ahead support for shale gas fracking, raises the question of whether politics is impeding freedom of communication by government experts — and whether the EPA is thereby being impeded in doing its job of protecting the public against the environmental dangers of fossil fuel development.
An internal report shows that EPA staff and scientists were raising concerns about data on water contamination near natural gas hydrofracking wells in Pennsylvania even as EPA was shutting down further testing, the Los Angeles Times reported in an investigative story July 27. Meanwhile, Republicans held congressional hearings this week aimed at attacking federal fracking regulation and EPA research.
In Index on Censorship, CSW director Rick Piltz writes about President Obama, science integrity, and environmental policy. There remain significant questions about the strength and limits of Obama’s commitment to scientific integrity, especially in cases when the science might be inconvenient for policymaking and political messaging. “The lamentable truth,” said Nature in a 15 September editorial on how science and the environment appear to be taking a back seat in Obama’s campaign for re-election, “is that in the world of US politics, environmental protection is still debated as if it were an optional and expensive accessory to modern living. In the process, science is set aside.”
In “The Denial Machine,” we reviewed eight years of the climate change disinformation campaign in the Bush administration for a special end-of-2008 issue of Index on Censorship devoted to examining the Bush legacy on human rights, secrecy, and censorship. IOC looked to the future of free expresssion in the US after Bush and asked: “What will it take to roll back the culture of secrecy and surveillance?”
“To the extent that we tolerate the suppression of science in Canada, we can expect a correlative suppression of democracy,” writes Carol Linnitt in “Harper’s attack on science: No science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy.” Climate scientist and IPCC lead author Andrew Weaver says “we have a crisis in Canada … in terms of the development of information and science to inform decision-making. What we have replaced that with is an ideological approach to decision-making.”
The continuing saga of the Harper government’s suppression and manipulation of public communication by Canadian government scientists is documented in a new report from the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. The report concludes: “The policy changes that have been implemented by the federal government of Canada under the leadership of Prime Minister Harper have dramatically affected the way government information is disseminated in Canada. … Federal civil servants in Canada, and in particular scientists, are being muzzled by the federal government.”