Discovery of Arctic Ozone Hole Brings Environment Canada Cuts Sharply into Focus

This past weekend, the journal  Nature published a paper detailing, for the first time, the discovery of a hole in the ozone layer near the North Pole. This critical layer of  our atmosphere is responsible for sheltering the Earth from harmful  ultraviolet radiation, and this recent discovery is cause for concern.  Although seasonal fluctuations in stratospheric ozone concentrations are a natural phenomenon, never before have scientists observed such a  severe depletion.

Crucial to this worrying discovery, were measurements taken by Environment  Canada’s Ozonesonde program, whose sole manager, along with nearly 800  other Environment Canada scientists, recently received a letter of  notice that his position was potentially subject to being cut. These  recently announced cuts will critically undermine Canada’s ability to  monitor the Arctic ozone levels, essential data that is relied on by  scientists worldwide. These recent cuts are consistent with a longer  term trend, dating back to 2007, of the Harper government clamping down  on Canada’s scientists by requiring all senior federal scientists to  request governmental permission before speaking to media.

“Although the Environment Minister insists that the government is not attempting  to muzzle its scientists, it appears that the 776 ‘adjustment letters’ that were sent out to Environment Canada staff are casting doubt on  their jobs which, coupled with the gag orders, have created a very  troubling cloud over government science”, says Green Party Leader  Elizabeth May. “If the government actually respects the work of its  scientists, as the Environment Minister claimed repeatedly today during  Question Period, then it would not be threatening to eliminate their  jobs or the important work that they’re doing.”

The study’s authors attribute the hole to unusually long-lasting cold  conditions in the lower stratosphere, the causes of which are still  poorly understood. But given the global climatic disruptions and  instability recently observed, which continue to result from increasing  human intervention into the climatic system, this recently observed  phenomenon would fit within this trend.

The underlying point of this discovery is that the impacts of a changing  climate are not well enough understood, and the emergence of an Arctic  ozone hole warrants much further study. Yet this critical discovery has  been made at precisely the time that Environment Canada stands to lose  much of its capacity to collect and monitor data on Canada’s climate and atmosphere. The Green Party of Canada calls on the government to  recognize the critical importance of the work done by Environment Canada scientists, and to immediately rescind all of the 776 notice letters  sent out to staff.