Minister McKenna: Where is the Science?
On 16 June 2017, the Qualicum Institute submitted Environmental Petition No. 4081 to the Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development. The Commissioner is appointed by the Auditor General and “provides parliamentarians with objective, independent analysis and recommendations on the federal government’s efforts to protect the environment and foster sustainable development.”2 (Here you can find the Qualicum Institute petition along with the Ministers’ responses.)
Our petition consisted of nine questions, but the first question contains our central concern: “What peer reviewed science—not neoclassical economics—is the government relying on to make the claim that we don’t need to choose between a healthy environment and a strong, growing economy?” We know that economic growth and population growth are the primary drivers of CO2 emissions3 and biodiversity loss.4 It follows from this, as many scientists have pointed out (see references in our documents), that economic growth and a healthy, sustainable environment appear to be mutually exclusive goals. This contradiction surely warrants, at the very least, implementation of the precautionary principle; a prudent government would be working towards planned degrowth. Sadly, the government’s present policies of continued economic and population growth will have catastrophic consequences for Canadians. This is not hyperbole.
Despite our specific request for peer-reviewed science, we did not get it. To support her government’s claim that Canada does not have to choose between a healthy environment and economic growth, the Minister pointed to a “significant body of published research” but it related chiefly to economic theories such as the Porter hypothesis and the environmental Kuznets curve. We examined this research and its claims are disputed and unconvincing. (See our response to the Minister’s comments). Our conclusion? This government’s environmental policies seem to be based on discredited theory and a perilous tendency to discount current and future harms in the interest of present benefits.
Note: The environmental petitions process5 was established by the Parliament of Canada to ensure Canadians can “get answers from federal ministers on specific environmental and sustainable development issues that involve federal jurisdiction.” The Ministers have a 120 day deadline to respond to these petitions. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, within the office of The Auditor General of Canada, reports annually to Parliament on the petitions process.
We have sent our response to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change as well as the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, and also to Elizabeth May and Andrew Weaver. Other than what is essentially an acknowledgment of receipt we have heard nothing.
3 IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and O. Edenhofer Eds. 2014. Climate change 2014: mitigation of climate change: Working Group III contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY
4 Czech, B. 2000. Economic growth as the limiting factor for wildlife conservation. Wildlife Society Bulletin 28:4–15