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.