Critical issues deserve a higher standard | Science Matters | David Suzuki Foundation
Photo: Critical issues deserve a higher standard

The environment is the very air, water, land and diversity of plant and animal life we cannot live without. (Credit: Chris Yakimov)

By David Suzuki with contributions from Ian Hanington, Senior Editor

From government scientists to First Nations citizens and environmentalists, pretty much everyone working to protect the air, water, land and diversity of plants and animals that keep us alive and healthy has felt the sting of attacks from sources in government, media and beyond. Much of the media spin is particularly absurd, relying on ad hominem attacks (focusing on perceived character flaws to deflect attention from or invalidate arguments) that paint people who care about the world as greedy conspirators bent on personal enrichment or even world domination! It would be laughable if so many people didn't take it seriously.

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Government tactics have been more insidious, often designed to silence anyone who could stand in the way of massive resource extraction and export policies. Politicians in the U.K., Australia, the U.S., Canada and elsewhere have created a false dichotomy between the environment and the economy in efforts to downplay the seriousness of issues like climate change and the need to address them. The arguments are wrong on so many levels.

First, the economy is a human invention, a tool that can be changed when it no longer suits our needs. The environment is the very air, water, land and diversity of plant and animal life we cannot live without. Why not work to build a healthy, prosperous economy that protects those things?

Volumes of research also conclude ignoring climate change will be far more costly than addressing it. The massive bills for cleaning up after events related to extreme weather, such as flooding, are just a start. Climate change is also affecting water supplies and the world's ability to grow food, and is contributing to a growing number of refugees. According to the World Health Organization, close to 150 million people are already dying every year from causes related to global warming — and that doesn't include death and illness related to pollution from burning fossil fuels.

Here in Canada, the rush to exploit fossil fuels and get them to market as quickly as possible has sparked a concerted effort to muzzle anyone who would stand in the way, including the government's own scientists. A recent survey by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada found many have been told to alter or exclude information from government documents for non-scientific reasons and prevented from speaking to the public or media about their work. The survey also revealed cases where political interference actually compromised the health and safety of Canadians and the environment.

Meanwhile, a recent Environment Canada report says Canada is failing to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reductions targets under the Copenhagen Accord. With the federal and some provincial governments relying on oil sands and gas fracking — mostly for export — as the cornerstones of both economic and energy policy, the situation is likely to get worse.

The campaign to promote fossil fuels over clean energy has also been taken up by others. In several cases, it has devolved to the level of schoolyard taunts and bullying — in government, but even more so in certain mainstream media. Some outlets have stooped to ignoring ideas and rational argument in favour of lies, innuendo, exaggeration and personal attacks.

Ironically, one source is a media personality with government ties who has demonstrated a pattern of using bogus arguments and faulty reasoning, leading to a string of libel charges and convictions, censure over violations of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ethics code and complaints about racist statements.

It's sad to see so much of our media and governance in such a sorry state that we can't even expect rational discussion of critical issues such as climate change and energy policy. And there is room for debate — not over the existence of climate change or its causes; the science is clear that it is real and that we are a major contributor, mainly through burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests.

But there's room for discussion about ways to address it. And address it we must. We won't get there, though, if we hinder scientists from conducting their research and speaking freely about it, and if we allow the discussion to be hijacked with petty name-calling and absurd allegations.

October 31, 2013
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2013/10/critical-issues-deserve-a-higher-standard/

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7 Comments

Nov 01, 2013
1:05 PM

https://m.facebook.com/groups/334593519926149#

SAVE OUR WATER!! Say “NO” to the proposed mega dump in Ingersoll/Beachville/Centreville. We need your help!!

Nov 01, 2013
11:57 AM

sounds good to me

Nov 01, 2013
11:56 AM

Sounds right on to me!

Nov 01, 2013
10:20 AM

It’s fairly clear that considerable effort is being expended in resisting any movement toward a global economy that runs on less fossil fuel. This effort works hard to shape our beliefs, and to convince us there is no viable alternative to the way things are.

Those in a position to control the messages on such a large scale do so in short term self interest. The fact that this type of manipulation is even possible demonstrates catastrophic failings of the mechanisms protecting democracies running capitalist economic systems.

Within the field of economics some academics have begun to decry flawed mainstream concepts that have been used to prop up dominant Neo Liberal policy initiatives which posit that completely free markets will best serve individuals making rational choices in self interest. One has only to look at the housing bubble fiasco of 2008 to see the folly of that view when only a few regulations on banking were loosened.

Just as climate change competes with nihilist mythology spinning public opinion, so economics has it’s own myths generating false notions about the mechanics of government spending and it’s relations to personal taxation that fool the public into thinking government is financially constrained in it’s ability to put people to work in support of public purpose and the common good, or that functional government institutions should be downsized, cut or privatized.

Service to such narrow interests is contradictory to democracy so we must start helping the economy and the environment both by working toward a restoration of democratic principles in society so governments can again begin working toward the common good.

Nov 01, 2013
4:53 AM

Recently watched the QANDA (ABC Australia) episode that David appeared on and much like Bob Browns retirement appearance on said program the audience was not only stacked but the questions allowed so limited it was facile to say the least. But more importantly it was disrespectful and the dumb on display by apparently smart people left me gob-smacked.

But fact is fiction and no there really isn’t room for debate nor even discussion as we give voice too stupid too often and it wins most of the time.. The right doesn’t debate it bullies and the “left” swallows, anywho it’s too late…

Nov 01, 2013
4:52 AM

Recently watched the QANDA (ABC Australia) episode that David appeared on and much like Bob Browns retirement appearance on said program the audience was not only stacked but the questions allowed so limited it was facile to say the least. But more importantly it was disrespectful and the dumb on display by apparently smart people left me gob-smacked.

But fact is fiction and no there really isn’t room for debate nor even discussion as we give voice too stupid too often and it wins most of the time.. The right doesn’t debate it bullies and the “left” swallows, anywho it’s too late…

Nov 01, 2013
4:52 AM

Recently watched the QANDA (ABC Australia) episode that David appeared on and much like Bob Browns retirement appearance on said program the audience was not only stacked but the questions allowed so limited it was facile to say the least. But more importantly it was disrespectful and the dumb on display by apparently smart people left me gob-smacked.

But fact is fiction and no there really isn’t room for debate nor even discussion as we give voice too stupid too often and it wins most of the time.. The right doesn’t debate it bullies and the “left” swallows, anywho it’s too late…

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