published Sept. 29, 2011 by Postmedia News
OTTAWA – Revelations about the federal government’s plan to cut monitoring of the ozone layer have prompted denial at the highest levels of Environment Canada, along with an attempt to pinpoint who blew the whistle, alleges an American atmospheric chemist.
Jennifer Logan, a senior research fellow from Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, was contacted by the department’s top bureaucrat a few days after sending him a letter on Sept. 15 to stress the importance of Canada’s monitoring network of the ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from the sun’s harmful radiation.
But instead of discussing the science, Logan alleged that the department’s deputy minister, Paul Boothe, was more interested in denying the government’s plans to downsize the monitoring and also to identify Canadian sources of an article about the cuts that was published in the British scientific journal, Nature.
“He definitely wanted to know whether I had talked to Canadian scientists,” said Logan, who has used Canadian data for more than 25 years for research and analysis of ozone and atmospheric trends. “Why does he want to know who I heard it from?”
Environment Canada indicated Wednesday that the department regularly “reaches out to academics, environmental organizations, industry and civil society to seek their views and advice on important environmental issues,” and confirmed the conversation with Logan. But Boothe disputed her description of what he told her.
“The deputy minister did call Dr. Logan to discuss her letter regarding ozone monitoring,” said Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson. “He disagrees completely with your characterization of the conversation.”
Logan and other atmospheric scientists have noted that the existing monitoring programs are essential and have helped reveal a record loss in ozone protection over the Arctic that was reported last spring.
She also warned that Canada was in danger of losing an entire community of ozone and climate experts. But she said that Boothe didn’t show any interest in hearing scientific information about Canada’s monitoring efforts.
“I know in the U.S., the Republicans would like to say the entire climate science community has a conspiracy of lying,” she said. “But why would scientists be lying about this? Nature isn’t going to write an article about something if statements are not true.”
Scientists have also expressed astonishment over explanations from senior Environment Canada managers about their plans, noting that they suggest the officials have not spoken to their scientists and fail to understand the nature of ozone monitoring technology.
According to computer models, it could take 10 to 40 years for the ozone layer to recover from depletion caused by substances released prior to an international agreement signed in 1987 in Montreal to phase them out of products such as spray cans and refrigerators. But scientists say that there is uncertainty in the predictions because of the ongoing release of some ozone- depleting substances that can be tracked through the existing monitoring and measurements.
NDP environment critic Megan Leslie suggested the government should come clean on any analysis it has done about the impacts of the ozone monitoring cuts on the environment and human health.
“I find it very alarming that it looks like the government is more interested in finding out who went public, than finding out what the impacts are of cutting these programs,” said Leslie, who represents the riding of Halifax.
“What it says to me is that they don’t care very much about the facts. The only thing they do care about is what they believe in and there’s a very big difference between the two.”
The government has said it will continue to monitor ozone levels but is attempting to “optimize” the way it does this.