From government scientists to First Nations citizens and environmentalists, pretty much everyone working to protect the air, water, land and diversity of plants and animals that keep us alive and healthy has felt the sting of attacks from sources in government, media and beyond. Much of the media spin is particularly absurd, relying on ad hominem attacks (focusing on perceived character flaws to deflect attention from or invalidate arguments) that paint people who care about the world as greedy conspirators bent on personal enrichment or even world domination! It would be laughable if so many people didn't take it seriously.
Government tactics have been more insidious, often designed to silence anyone who could stand in the way of massive resource extraction and export policies. Politicians in the U.K., Australia, the U.S., Canada and elsewhere have created a false dichotomy between the environment and the economy in efforts to downplay the seriousness of issues like climate change and the need to address them. The arguments are wrong on so many levels.
First, the economy is a human invention, a tool that can be changed when it no longer suits our needs. The environment is the very air, water, land and diversity of plant and animal life we cannot live without. Why not work to build a healthy, prosperous economy that protects those things?
Volumes of research also conclude ignoring climate change will be far more costly than addressing it. The massive bills for cleaning up after events related to extreme weather, such as flooding, are just a start. Climate change is also affecting water supplies and the world's ability to grow food, and is contributing to a growing number of refugees. According to the World Health Organization, close to 150-million people are already dying every year from causes related to global warming -- and that doesn't include death and illness related to pollution from burning fossil fuels.
Here in Canada, the rush to exploit fossil fuels and get them to market as quickly as possible has sparked a concerted effort to muzzle anyone who would stand in the way, including the government's own scientists. A recent survey by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada found many have been told to alter or exclude information from government documents for non-scientific reasons and prevented from speaking to the public or media about their work. The survey also revealed cases where political interference actually compromised the health and safety of Canadians and the environment.
Meanwhile, a recent Environment Canada report says Canada is failing to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reductions targets under the Copenhagen Accord. With the federal and some provincial governments relying on oil sands and gas fracking -- mostly for export -- as the cornerstones of both economic and energy policy, the situation is likely to get worse.
The campaign to promote fossil fuels over clean energy has also been taken up by others. In several cases, it has devolved to the level of schoolyard taunts and bullying -- in government, but even more so in certain mainstream media. Some outlets have stooped to ignoring ideas and rational argument in favour of lies, innuendo, exaggeration and personal attacks.
Ironically, one source is a media personality with government ties who has demonstrated a pattern of using bogus arguments and faulty reasoning, leading to a string of libel charges and convictions, censure over violations of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ethics code and complaints about racist statements.
It's sad to see so much of our media and governance in such a sorry state that we can't even expect rational discussion of critical issues such as climate change and energy policy. And there is room for debate -- not over the existence of climate change or its causes; the science is clear that it is real and that we are a major contributor, mainly through burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests.
But there's room for discussion about ways to address it. And address it we must. We won't get there, though, if we hinder scientists from conducting their research and speaking freely about it, and if we allow the discussion to be hijacked with petty name-calling and absurd allegations.
With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.
Researchers in Britain have found that <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22076055" target="_blank">climate change could cause increased turbulence</a> for transatlantic flights by between 10 and 40 percent by 2050. (ALEXANDER KLEIN/AFP/GettyImages)
A 2012 study from the U.S. Forest Service found that without "major adaptation efforts," parts of the U.S. are likely to see "<a href="http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/42363" target="_blank">substantial future water shortages</a>." Climate change, especially for the Southwest U.S., can both <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/02/25/1638541/study-climate-change-dry-up-us-reservoirs-lake-powell-lake-mead" target="_blank">increase water demand and decrease water supply</a>.
Research by British government found that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/15/somalia-famine-climate-change_n_2883088.html" target="_blank">climate change may have contributed to a famine in East Africa</a> that killed between 50,000 and 100,000 people in 2010 and 2011. At least 24 percent of the cause of a lack of major rains in 2011 can be attributed to man-made greenhouse gases, Met Office modeling showed. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
The <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/25/frozen-spring-arctic-sea-ice-loss" target="_blank">dramatic and rapid loss of sea ice in recent years</a> has consequences beyond the Arctic. Scientists have found the melting shifts the position of the Jet Stream, bringing cold Arctic air further south and increasing the odds of intense snow storms and extreme spring weather.
Research indicates that increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide <a href="http://www.onearth.org/blog/poison-ivy-climate-change" target="_blank">result in larger poison ivy plants</a>. Even worse, climate change will mean that the plant's irritating oil will also get more potent.
The <a href="http://www.livescience.com/28320-climate-change-allergies.html" target="_blank">spring 2013 allergy season could be one of the worst ever</a>, thanks to climate change. Experts say that increased precipitation, along with an early spring, late-ending fall and higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide may bring more pollen from plants and increased mold and fungal growth.
North American alligators require a certain temperature range for survival and reproduction, traditionally limiting them to the southern U.S. <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/animal_forecast/2013/02/alligators_in_virginia_climate_change_could_be_pushing_cold_blooded_species.single.html" target="_blank">But warming temperatures could open new turf</a> to gators with more sightings farther north.
High in the Peruvian Andes, parts of the world's largest tropical ice sheet have melted at an unbelievable pace. Scientists found that significant <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/world/americas/1600-years-of-ice-in-perus-andes-melted-in-25-years-scientists-say.html" target="_blank">portions of the Quelccaya Ice Cap that took over 1,600 years to form have melted in only 25 years</a>. (Perito Moreno Glacier pictured)
Along with other agricultural impacts, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/08/climate-change-wine_n_3039673.html" target="_blank">climate change may have a dramatic effect on the world's most famous winemaking regions</a> in coming decades. Areas suitable for grape cultivation may shrink, and temperature changes may impact the signature taste of wines from certain regions.
Thanks to climate change, <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/blog/polar-arctic-greenland-ice-climate-change" target="_blank">low-lying island nations may have to evacuate</a>, and sooner than previously expected. Melting of the Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets has been underestimated, scientists say, and populations in countries like the Maldives, Kiribati, Tuvalu and others may need to move within a decade.
Warmer winters in northern latitudes could mean <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2013/01/18/hamilton-climate-change-rinks.html" target="_blank">fewer days for outdoor hockey</a>. An online project called RinkWatch aims to collect data on the condition of outdoor winter ice rinks in Canada and the northern U.S. and educate people on the impacts of climate change.
Experts speculate that <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/08/100806-oyster-herpes-global-warming-climate-change-science/" target="_blank">warming oceans may have played a part in a strain of herpes</a> that has killed Pacific oysters in Europe in recent years.
As Arctic ice melts and polar bears see more of their habitat disappear, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/14/polar-bears-turn-brown-climate-change_n_2878684.html" target="_blank">animals could lose their famous white coats</a>. Researchers have already witnessed polar bears hybridizing with their brown cousins, but note that it would take thousands of years from them to adapt themselves out of existence.
Climate change means warmer winters in northern latitudes and a shorter ski season. By 2039, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/us/climate-change-threatens-ski-industrys-livelihood.html" target="_blank">more than half of the Northeast's ski resorts</a> will not be able to maintain a 100-day season, according to the New York Times. Ski areas will be less likely to receive regular snowfall, and warmer daily low temperatures mean fewer opportunities for snowmaking.
Apples produced in one Himalayan state of India are already losing their taste and even turning sour, experts say. <a href="http://zeenews.india.com/news/eco-news/arunachal-apples-losing-taste-due-to-climate-chang_831169.html" target="_blank">Increased rainfall and erratic weather in the region mean less than ideal conditions</a> for famously-sweet Kashmiri apples.
With climate change already impacting northern latitudes, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/06/sports/warm-weather-forces-changes-ahead-of-iditarod-race.html" target="_blank">warmer winters in Alaska could mean less than ideal conditions</a> for the famous Iditarod sled dog race. “It definitely has us concerned,” a musher and Iditarod spokeswoman who's already breeding dogs with thinner coats told The New York Times.
<a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/11/121108-climate-change-coffee-coffea-arabica-botanical-garden-science/" target="_blank">Climate change may dramatically shrink the area suitable for coffee cultivation</a> by the end of the century and cause the extinction of Arabica coffee plants in the wild. Starbucks has already declared that "<a href="http://www.starbucks.com/responsibility/environment/climate-change" target="_blank">Addressing climate change is a priority</a>."
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