Leaked document reveals Canadian federal climate scientists being muzzled from media contact

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"Leaked document reveals Canadian federal climate scientists being muzzled from media contact"

The Government of Canada has cut virtually all programs aimed at funding climate science. I get the sense that they feel that science is a nuisance. They ignore science in their decision making; they muzzle their federal scientists by imposing impossible media-contact regulations; they cut programs designed to allow scientists to develop knowledge.” “” Andrew Weaver, professor at the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, and Canada Research Chair

That’s from “Troubling Evidence,” a startling new report from the Climate Action Network Canada.  It was “released just days after a federal budget that effectively slashed funding for university-based climate science.”

A CAN Canada spokesman says of the Harper government, “they’re putting climate deniers in key oversight positions over research, and they’re reducing funding in key areas.”¦  It’s almost as though they’re making a conscious attempt to bury the truth.”

The muzzling is quite extensive, as the Montreal Gazette reported Monday:

OTTAWA “” A dramatic reduction in Canadian media coverage of climate change science issues is the result of the Harper government introducing new rules in 2007 to control interviews by Environment Canada scientists with journalists, says a newly released federal document.

“Scientists have noticed a major reduction in the number of requests, particularly from high profile media, who often have same-day deadlines,” said the Environment Canada document.

“Media coverage of climate change science, our most high-profile issue, has been reduced by over 80 per cent.”

The analysis reviewed the impact of a new federal communications policy at Environment Canada, which required senior federal scientists to seek permission from the government prior to giving interviews.

In many cases, the policy also required them to get approval from supervisors of written responses to the questions submitted by journalists before any interview, said the document, obtained in an investigation into the government’s views and policies on global-warming science that was conducted by Climate Action Network Canada, a coalition of environmental groups.

The document suggests the new communications policy has practically eliminated senior federal scientists from media coverage of climate-change science issues, leaving them frustrated that the government was trying to “muzzle” them.

Apparently Harper learned some tricks from Bush and Cheney.

A 2007 report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee concluded:  “The Bush administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.”  The U.S. House Report found, “It was standard practice for media requests to speak with federal scientists on climate change matters to be sent to CEQ for White House approval. By controlling which government scientists could respond to media inquiries, the White House suppressed dissemination of scientific views that could conflict with Administration policies. The White House also edited congressional testimony regarding the science of climate change….  There was a systematic White House effort to minimize the significance of climate change by editing climate change reports.”

Sounds familiar:

Many (federal climate change) scientists are recognized experts in their field, have received media training, and have successfully carried out media interviews for many years,” said the document, leaked by an Environment Canada employee who asked not to be named.

“Our scientists are very frustrated with the new process. They feel the intent of the policy is to prevent them from speaking to media.”

The Environment Canada analysis noted that four prominent scientists, who regularly spoke for the government on climate change science issues, appeared in only 12 newspaper clippings in the first nine months of 2008, compared with 99 clippings over the same period in 2007.

“There is a widespread perception among Canadian media that our scientists have been ‘muzzled’ by the media relations policy,” said the Environment Canada document. “Media coverage of this perception, which originated with a Canwest story in February 2008, is continuing, with at least 47 articles in Canadian newspapers to date.”

Shame on the Harper government for trying to hide the truth from the citizens of Canada, especially when climate change is already hitting their country very hard:

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21 Responses to Leaked document reveals Canadian federal climate scientists being muzzled from media contact

  1. Raleigh Latham says:

    Jesus, considering the overwhelming public support for climate action and policy in Canada, the government is taking the most radically anti-science stance you can think of. What is controlling them!? The tar sands lobby, or their own political interests?

  2. John Mac says:

    Re #1: Answer is A) The tar sands lobby.

  3. paulm says:

    Its time for Harper to go…

  4. MapleLeaf says:

    Raleigh,

    Harper is an Albertan (Calgary), tar sands country. It gets worse, the minister of science (Gary Goodyear) is a young earth creationist.

    http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20090317/goodyear_evolution_090217/20090317

    Harper has a shady past when it comes to science and uber right wing (in a Canadian sense at least, he is no Inhofe). he does not believe in AGW and is doing everything he can to undermine the scientists in Environment Canada, and scientists in other federal agencies.

    Last on not least, as a Canadian scientist, a big thank you to Joe for this post!

  5. mark says:

    Last year, the program “the current” on cbc radio managed to do a lengthy broadcast series on climate change with many interesting and informative interviews with climate scientists. I do not remember if they were “government” scientists. Part of the series dealt with the tar sands oil extraction, and water shortages and problems in Alberta being caused by that mess.

    Unfortunately “the current” has moved on. I have emailed them several times asking to cover issues such as the Methane discharges that I learned about at this site.

    They no longer cover climate at all. Since the current does not respond to my emails, I have not received any explanation for this. I do not know if they feel as though their audience is uninterested, or if the program producers themselves are bored with this subject.

    Our prime minister is from Alberta. A few years ago, he said that the science behind climate change was part of a socialist plot to destroy our economy.

    so, any “muzzling” is not really a surprise.

    Still, this is not an excuse for our media to ignore this crisis. There are lots of other places to get information. such as this site, which I recommended to the CBC “The current”.

  6. Leif says:

    What is wrong with society that we must endure the cross purpose battle between capitalism, corporations and the long term survivability of humanity. Both capitalism and corporations are the product of the society that they function within. They are not written in stone and passed down from above. Surely humanity deserves a seat at the bargaining table when it’s very existence is in jeopardy.

  7. paulm says:

    MapleLeaf #4.

    This is unreal. The Harper government are a bunch of Flat Earthers!

    I cant get over it. I knew they were actively sabotaging Climate action but the scope of it is Unreal. Gee! It as bad as Bush US. Unbelievable!

    Harper needs to go! Time for Flat Earthers to go!

  8. prokaryote says:

    Canada should be [INSERT WORD HERE]

  9. paulm says:

    The true colors of Richard Black are coming out. The guy is doing a disservice to everyone being in such an essential position on the BBC.

    He was probably maneuvered there by anti-science/anti-climate change action big wigs higher up. No wonder were on a crash course with catastrophe with the stacking like this.

    Climate ads far from divine
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/richardblack/2010/03/climate_ads_far_from_divine.html

  10. Concerned says:

    In addition to muzzling federal scientists for releasing their results, they are also not allowing some research to go ahead if they can anticipate that the results will not align with their policies (ex: let’s not look too closely at how we can meet our Kyoto or new revamped targets, as it might mean that we actually have to do something…)

  11. MapleLeaf says:

    Mark @5, I understand your frustration. The Current does cover climate, albeit too infrequently, and seems quite taken with the contrarians at times.

    One has to be concerned when the CBC starts towing the Harper line.

    I sent them Dr. Mashey’s excellent expose– no response.

    Try Bob McDonald from Quirks and Quarks.

    Harper is playing partisan political games with our future– he has one intention only, to hold on to power. It is really that simple, and everything else is of secondary importance. As a result Canada’s international reputation is in tatters and Canadians are divided.

  12. sasparilla says:

    Wow, when I had heard Harper and Co. were getting into power up North I was afraid things would get harder, but I had no idea they’d be using the Bush/Cheney playbook.

    Our hearts/minds are with you Canada (even if you did beat us in the Hockey Final).

  13. Andrew Cuddy says:

    Joe,

    I authored the “Troubling Evidence” report for CAN and am glad that you enjoyed it.
    Thank you very much for posting coverage of it on CP.
    Canadians care very VERY much about their international reputation and so any negative coverage we can get internationally of our government’s approach to climate change is very helpful for convincing that portion of the “moderate” public that is yet undecided.
    Along with cataloging an unsettling pattern of behavior by the Canadian government to–in a host of different areas–undermine climate science research, one intention behind the report was too further highlight the disparities between the US and Canada. Namely, that Obama has substantially increased financial support for future climate research and publicly defended the veracity of past research. Unfortunately, this key point (and the resulting potential for a massive exodus of Canadian climate scientists to the US) was not picked up on by the media in any of the coverage.

    All the Best,

    Andrew

  14. James Newberry says:

    This is like the end-of-times end game. Orwell would be impressed.

    While we worry about money involved with health care, our actual health as a civilization is being transferred to corporatists for the last extraction of commodity wealth agendas and resultant spread of disease and death. At least our health costs will increase thereby raising the really gross domestic product.

    They intend to deforest Alberta, etc. while increasing climate public health catastrophy. Goodbye what’s left of democracy, goodbye ecosphere. Financial government plutocracy run amuck.

  15. Alex Smith says:

    Canwest news service reports that three top Canadian climate scientists got 80% fewer news quotes in the last year, based on Cuddy’s report for Climate Action Network.

    But independent journalist Stephen Leahy, writing for IPS, got the coverage right.

    See: “In Canada, No News Is Bad News”
    http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50682

    Or listen to Leahy’s interview with Graham Saul of Climate Action Network in this week’s Radio Ecoshock Show, (1 hour, 14 MB) found here:

    http://www.ecoshock.net/eshock10/ES_100319_Show_LoFi.mp3

    Not only are Canadians kept in the dark (and fed bullshit) – but people around the world are being denied good science about what is happening in a huge country, one of the most highly impacted by climate change (especially in the Arctic).

    Climate research for 2011 was just cut in the new Harper budget.

    Three climate deniers have been appointed to the boards that direct what little climate science funding is left. Graham Saul, and Leahy, name names. These new appointees have written that climate change is over-rated, or not happening at all. One, Christopher Essex, wrote “Taken By Storm” with denier Ross McKittrick.

    Another was the head of the infamous right-wing think-tank, the Fraser Institute. Harper is even appointing his buddy and former Chief of Staff. None of these men have climate credentials.

    It’s an echo of the worst days of George Bush – and as we see in Joe’s indispensable blog, this couldn’t come at a worse time.

    Mr. Tar Sands rules the great white north, at least the once great white north. Now it’s brown, getting ready to burn.

    Alex Smith
    host
    Radio Ecoshock

  16. MapleLeaf says:

    Andrew @13,

    Thanks for the report! Great work!

    Yo might also want to have a look at who has been meeting with Harper and his ministers. I’d be interested to see if the following names come up.

    Tim Ball, Tom Harris, Doug Leahey, Madhav Khandakar, Peter Salonius, Ross McKitrick, Paul Clark, Ian Clark, Wayne Goodfellow, Fred Michel, Brian Pratt, George Reilly, Curt Rose, Mitchell Taylor, Stephen McIntyre

    Basically any of the board members of “Friends” of Science and or Tom’s group (Climate ‘science’ international). Also look at Fraser Institute members and see if they have been chatting with our PM or his ministers.

    FoS are staunch anti-science and strongly deny the link between increasing GHGs and GW.

    If Harper is listening and meeting with the denialists and lobby groups, and not say, Dr. Andrew Weaver, then we should all be extremely concerned.

  17. joe says:

    Also recently announced by the Canadian government: no more funding for climate research through the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences. My doctoral research was funded through CFCAS, so maybe I’m biased, but the scope of their projects and the number of advances made through CFCAS funding over the last 10 years has been tremendous (a rigorous Google Scholar search gives me 694 papers with “CFCAS” and “acknowledgements”…)

    Yet the Harper government insists that they need to see progress – something tells me they don’t want to look for it (G&M article – http://tinyurl.com/yh84gky):

    “Environment Minister Jim Prentice insists the government remains committed to basic research on climate change. He said the foundation has been operating for 10 years and it is now time to assess its work.

    “We think it is appropriate that the foundation report to the government on the progress it has made, how those dollars were invested and what we’ve learned from the research that was done,” he said.”

    Scary.

  18. bill says:

    Don’t assume all of Harper’s role models are only North American! Many of his techniques are straight out of the playbook of our former odious Prime Minister, John Howard. He was very keen on muzzling our (then) Greenhouse Office and our major federal scientific body – the CSIRO – and our Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

    Australians like to imagine we ‘punch above our weight’. In terms of sabotaging any action on climate we certainly did; having done his best to wreck Kyoto (remember despite Australia’s involvement in creating it Howard refused to sign it) he still demanded a seat for Oz in all climate negotiations in order to throw a spanner in the works, and was not above bullying our Pacific neighbours! All in the name of king coal…

    And for more inspiration, see http://www.canada.com/windsorstar/news/story.html?id=dafea59b-825c-436f-b11e-43b04c20a72a

    Also, here’s our CSIRO’s (and Weather Bureau’s) current report on the last 50 years of Australia’s climate http://www.csiro.au/files/files/pvfo.pdf

  19. MapleLeaf says:

    Joe, CFCAS has provided yearly updates/annual reports. They also invested the money and managed it so well that they were able to eek out another call for proposals and fund them. The money has been spent very wisely, and the government knows this, or at least should know as they were privy to the information.

    Prentice should know that, there is no need to re-assess, he is playing games, delaying and being disingenuous. People need to remind him of that.

    I wonder if Prentice knows, or cares, that we just beat the last record warm winter, a record set very recently in 2005/2006?

  20. Susann says:

    Science is vulnerable to political interference as long as it is under the direct control, through funding and governance, of politicians. When faced with research that threatens the agenda, it’s all too easy to strategically cut funding and decimate programs, revise reports or hide them on some back shelf so that the adverse message doesn’t get out or conflict with the agenda. There are far too many examples of this in the past with issues such as regulating pollution and industrial effluent, consumer safety, etc. Climate change is too big an issue with too wide-reaching consequences to allow politics to interfere with the science.

  21. Sou says:

    This is awful. I agree with Bill that this could easily happen here in Australia, which is already experiencing quite severe effects of climate change.

    Governments of both major parties in Australia have been increasingly muzzling senior public servants for at least the last decade. The ‘central’ media offices control much of who says what and there are strict guidelines about what to do if asked to comment. You don’t see public servants talking to the media much any more. It’s mostly Government Ministers, who are also tightly controlled (and the obligatory snap responses from the opposition spokespersons).

    This means that Australia is also seriously at risk of nobbling climate information from reaching the public. At the moment our government is trying to get through legislation to reduce CO2 emissions, but the legislation has been watered down so much in the attempt that it’s not worth much.

    If the government here were to change, I could see us going the same way as Canada, because about half the current opposition don’t believe the climate is changing or that CO2 is causing it. The current leader of the opposition says that climate change is ‘crap’. The immediate past leader of the opposition was outed because of his strong views supporting action to mitigate climate change. We also have at least one creationist in the Senate. He got in by a mistaken strategy in the ballot and few take him seriously, but he often holds the balance of power in legislative matters.

    Sometimes I wonder if democracy will survive the climate!