Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Experimental Lakes Area: a most curious episode

         A curious episode in the ongoing saga of Canadian environmental science. The Experimental Lakes Area (northern Ontario). This multidecade project is world renowned for providing essential information on the dynamics of freshwater ecosystems and their interaction with air and water borne pollutants: acid rain, mercury, phosphorus runoff..

         In an interview on the CBC radio program, "As it happens", Prof Britt Hall, an earth science researcher claimed that the federal government gave her the run around when pressed for reasons for cutting funding to the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) project. Successive "reasons" provided:

1- Budget. This is BS for several reasons. Firstly, ELA costs a measly $2 Million (that is "Million" with an "m", not billion with an "b"). In return, not only does ELA provide info essential for assessing environmental risks, remediating them and drafting legislation but ELA puts science Canada on the world map. As one scientists puts it succinctly: "ELA is Canada's Hadron Collider". The services ELA provided in the long term study of freshwater ecosystem dynamics were, in fact, unique in the world. And all this for a measly $2 million (with an "m", remember). Secondly, most of the $2 million in funding were internal federal expenditures for the salaries of federal government employed scientists. Thus even if the feds chose to withdraw their participation in the scientific side of the project, there is no reason for physically closing it down. At present, full staff maintenance of the facility costs a mere $600,000. Maintaining a skelton maintenance staff for externally funded university and private industry researchers would cost "much less" than $600,000 (Prof Hall in the 18 march"As it happens" interview). We are now getting down into the $100,000 range which is chicken feed even for provincial governments! No, budget is not a legitimate excuse for shutting down ELA.

2- The second phony "reason" the feds tried to get Prof Hall to swallow: "not our mandate". But ELA reasearch does actually relate to the environment in Canada, duhhh.. (Who then should be responsible for the Canadian environment - the Vietnamese environmental agency, maybe??)

3- The last pathetic excuse for a rationale for killing ELA: redundancy - work done at ELA overlaps that covered by other federally funded projects. Problem: one can't find 'em when one looks for 'em.. More BS..

               When pressed by the "As it happens" interviewer for a plausible reason for the cuts, Prof Hall said simply, the only conclusion one could draw is that the feds don't want research on air pollution / fresh water ecosystem quality to continue. Aside: Prof Hall is a soft spoken woman and does not come across as an ideological firebrand of the confrontational environmental Left. She is an academic.

                 After the jaw drop provoked by this astounding interview, comes the obvious question: but WHY?? Why the hell cut a high prestige, world class long term science project of great potential value which, moreover, operates on a shoestring budget? What have the feds got for brains??!! What is Steven Harper and his friends dropping or smoking?

               Perhaps research on air quality bothers Harper's friends / supporters in the Oil Patch. This is the closest to a rational motive I could find. Anybody got better?

Podcast of "As it happens", CBC, monday, 18 march, 2013. To quickly access the  interview with Prof Britt Hall advance the cursor one third.

                 The CBC deserves a bit of credit (not much, but a little) for sticking with this story a bit longer than usual. The day following the interview with Prof Hall, Prof Moss, a limnologist (studies terrestrial water systems) registrered his astonishment at  Canada's  recent "loss of good sense": gagging scientists, restricting access to research results, radical - and apparently strategic - budget cuts to scientific projects of long term proven value. Prof Moss particularly lamented the loss of the long term data base provided by ELA's 45 years of continuous monitoring and research.

                  Access to the interview with Prof Moss is easy, first interview on clip:

Internal blog links (gives numerous internal links):  


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