June 21, 2004

Science research cuts erode Canada's ability to deal with environmental threats

Scientists from across Canada are calling for a restoration of funding to support strong government research infrastructure for atmospheric science. In a new report titled Beyond the Breaking Point? they warn that cost-cutting measures at the Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC), which began in the mid-1990s, will erode its ability to sustain leading-edge research. The report suggests that loss of this infrastructure will adversely affect Canada's ability to understand and deal with environmental threats such as climate change, air pollution and severe weather.

Scientists from the MSC, McGill University, York University and the Universities of Victoria, Western Ontario and Toronto collaborated on the report. While commending recent increases in university research funding, they stress that universities cannot replace the resources, commitment and administrative and technical support that a large government organization can offer.

"Canadians have come to expect that government oversees important functions such as extreme weather forecasting and air pollution," says U of T geography professor Miriam Diamond, a report co-author. "However, Canadians need to understand how successive years of cutbacks by the federal government have imperilled our capacity to have this information readily available."

Furthermore, says Diamond, cutbacks are crippling Canada's ability to be a full participant in international negotiations on climate change and air quality.

The scientists cite the 2002 closure of the Eureka observatory in the high Arctic, which monitors atmospheric ozone depletion, as an example of the cutbacks. Temporary funding from a university consortium brought Eureka back into service in 2004 but its future remains in doubt.

Tom McElroy, a senior scientist at MSC and a report co-author, says "The partnerships between university and MSC researchers have been very productive in the past. But this productivity has required an active participation by the government partner-a role which is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain in many areas.

"The government contribution is vital to the understanding of complex environmental issues. Only government can supply national monitoring networks, long-term programs, and other support that universities can't," he says.

Diamond adds that it is critical for the Canadian population to understand that federal funds spent on science are not wasted. "We've been led to believe that the civil service is a waste of money. In fact, government science is extremely cost-effective and efficient," she says. "As Canadians we see great return on investment for money that goes into government science."

A pdf version of the report may be viewed on-line at www.atmosp.physics.utoronto.ca/people/jim/beyond_the_breaking_point.pdf. More information is available from Tom McElroy of the Meterological Service of Canada, 416/739-4630, E-mail tom.mcelroy@ec.gc.ca, or Miriam Diamond of the University of Toronto's geography department, 416-978-1586, E-mail miriam.diamond@utoronto.ca.

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