SHAFAQNA- Hundreds of early-career researchers have penned an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several of his cabinet ministers, asking for more scientific rigour and transparency in environmental decision making.
More than 1,300 researchers from across Canada, as well as those living abroad, released the letter late Monday.
“We have a huge opportunity right now in Canada for the public to help strengthen environmental and regulatory processes,” said Aerin Jacob, a post-doctoral fellow in conservation trade-offs and sustainable development, who is the lead author on the letter.
“The federal government specifically asked for public input — and that’s really exciting for young researchers, because we are personally and professionally affected by these decisions for a long time, so we’re excited to use our scientific knowledge and training to help.”
A review of environmental and regulatory processes, which was one of the priorities for the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, is currently underway by an expert panel and will take public input in Calgary from Nov. 21 to 23.
Scientists from the University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge and University of Alberta are among the signatories on the letter.
“I am a scientist on one side, but I am also a mother,” said Laura Coristine, a post-doctoral fellow at the U of C. “I have two young children and I work on climate change. They are always asking why the world is looking like it is, why their future will be a certain way.
“I explain it to them — I am pretty open about the science and what we know and what’s going on, but part of this means we need to maybe do a better job in looking at the science when we are making decisions.”
The researchers are recommending five actions — including the use of the best information.
“Science is one of the things to consider,” said Jacob. “It’s not the be-all and end-all but, since we’re writing as researchers, that’s our expertise so we can’t speak about Indigenous knowledge — although we respect it hugely.”
They are calling for more information in the role science plays in decision making on projects such as the Pacific Northwest LNG project or various pipelines.
“Where gaps exist, it’s not OK to just assume a knowledge gap means no risk,” she said.
Other actions include asking for more transparency, focusing on cumulative effects, considering conflict-of-interest and looking at the bigger picture.
“If millions of salmon are affected by something, but it produces x number of jobs, is that a direct trade-off?” asked Jacob, noting they’d like the government to better explain those decisions.
Similarly, Coristine said it’s become clear that there was scientific research available before the 2013 flood in southern Alberta that proved to be accurate.
“Yet, this isn’t science that is being taken into the environmental assessment processes,” she said.
Researchers who have signed the letter come from natural, social and health sciences, as well as law and engineering.
They are based at 60 Canadian and 30 international post-secondary and research institutions, including most of Canada’s top 50 research universities.