Award-winning scientist says compromise needed on climate debate

The winner of a major scientific award for his work on Arctic glaciers and climate change says Canadians need to start talking and listening to each other on the problem of global warming.

John England was awarded the $50K prize in Winnipeg

University of Alberta researcher John England has been named winner of the $50,000 Weston Family prize for northern research. (Jennifer England)

Canadians need to turn down the heat and start listening to each other when they discuss global warming, says the winner of a major scientific award for his work on Arctic ice and climate change.

"I think we need to talk," said John England of the University of Alberta, who was awarded the $50,000 Weston Family prize for northern research Wednesday in Winnipeg.

"We need to have some reconciliation between these opposing viewpoints. Right now, it's too intensely dualistic."

Nobody needs to convince England that climate change is real. After a 50-year career studying glaciers, ice sheets, sea ice and sea level changes, he can reel off a half-dozen impacts already underway without pausing for breath.

"I can say without any question that the impacts on this environment are serious and they have consequences for everyone around the globe."

England's award comes the day after a U.S. agency announced the lowest level of Arctic sea ice for November on record — the seventh month this year of record low ice.

The premiers are about to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to develop a national carbon price against bitter opposition in several corners. Not all premiers are onside, First Nations are preparing lawsuits to try to block an expanded oilsands pipeline to British Columbia and anger over a carbon tax has prompted some Albertans to urge their premier be jailed.

As the national debate grows ever more bitter and positions become more entrenched, England wishes everybody would just take a deep breath.

"By saying that these things are occurring, it's not an attack on a carbon-hungry world," he said.

"I drive a car. I heat my house. It's not like I'm saying all these people that are pro-pipelines are somehow evil.

"That commonality, that mutual respect, is so critical right now in a world that wants to become much more isolationist. It's the wrong way to go."

England said talks have to take place with full understanding of scientific facts, which are increasingly certain and increasingly alarming.

"There has to be at least a dialogue that's based on middle ground, but middle ground that's based on thoughtful perspectives that are well-substantiated."

But it has to take place.

"It's very unfair to assume that someone who opposes your viewpoint doesn't have the same care about the future as you do," England said.

"If we could drop that guard, we might make a lot of progress. We're going to go much more effectively into better economies and a more peaceful world if we decide we can speak to each other."