Canada wins Dodo Award
- October 19, 2012 11:43 AM |
- By Quirks
By Bob McDonald, Quirks & Quarks
Canada has won the embarrassing Dodo Award from the Convention on Biological Diversity Alliance, at a UN Conference on Biodiversity currently taking place in India. The award is given to countries that have "failed to evolve" and whose actions contribute to, rather than prevent, the loss of biodiversity.
Canada was chosen because of the recent uncontrolled geo-engineering "experiment" off the coast of British Columbia, where 100 tons of iron-rich material was dumped into the Pacific Ocean by a private company in an attempt to increase fish stocks and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This action is in violation of a moratorium on ocean fertilization and geo-engineering adopted by the Convention on Biodiversity in 2008 and 2010.
The idea of using iron to fertilize the ocean is not without merit. In nature, when iron from volcanic eruptions or windblown dust enters the ocean, phytoplankton and other microbes that feed on iron multiply quickly. Since they form the bottom of the ocean food web, it is believed that fish will ultimately benefit as well. Phytoplankton are also photosynthetic, like plants, so they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
But as we report this week on Quirks & Quarks, scientists are uncertain whether artificial ocean fertilization actually works as well as its proponents claim, and warn that there could be serious negative consequences from the fertilization that could do more harm than the intended good. More science needs to be done before a large-scale experiment like this is carried out.
So how did this get past our federal agencies that are supposed to protect the oceans?
The organizers of the iron dump say they informed the federal government of their plan, but no federal scientists were involved. Environment Minister Peter Kent says he is looking into it, which is after the fact.
Whether the government knew about this or not, the point is scientists do not have an ear at the federal level when it comes to issues of the environment. This was brought to the public eye in July, when hundreds of scientists from across the country held a mock funeral on Parliament Hill called "The Death of Evidence."
This stifling of the scientific voice by government is unusual for a developed country. Most Western countries, like the U.S., have an official science advisor to help their leaders navigate complex public issues that involve science. But here in Canada, our one science advisor, Dr. Arthur Carty, was dismissed shortly after our current government came to power.
I recently had the honour of meeting Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal in the UK, who was speaking in Vancouver about the significance of science in the 21st century. Following the event, on the way to the airport, he said, "The reason I'm wearing a suit is because two hours after getting off the plane in London, I'm speaking to the House of Lords." He went on to say that every department in the British government has a science advisor.
Canada has the longest coastline in the world. We have a responsibility to protect it, which means keeping an eye on what happens to it. This recent, and possibly illegal, iron dump caused a phytoplankton bloom that covered 10,000 square kilometres and could be seen from space. But it seems the eyes of government were closed.
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