Book review: The War on Science

By Tamara Cottle

With the recent Senate scandal blowing up and revealing a sea of political corruption, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s integrity has come under attack. Calgary-based author Chris Turner intensifies this assault on the Conservatives and Harper in his latest book, The War on Science: Muzzled Scientists and Wilful Blindness in Stephen Harper’s Canada.
Turner is no stranger to political contention after running as the Green Party candidate for Calgary Centre during the 2012 federal by-election and losing only by a margin to Conservative incumbent Joan Crockatt.

The War on Science is a bold indictment against the Conservatives for eroding the legitimacy of evidence-based research to allow for unhampered resource extraction.

The book begins by detailing the July 10, 2012 demonstration and mock-funeral on Parliament Hill where approximately 2,000 scientists mourned the “death of evidence.” The protest was in response to the passing of Bill C-38, which completely rewrote the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and amended the Fisheries Act and the Species At Risk Act, and Bill C-45, that amended the Navigable Waters Protection Act, to clear the way for corporations to exploit Canada’s abundant natural resources. The bill also slashed funding to various environmental agencies, such as Parks Canada, and cut funding to data gathering and basic research programs and departments. In addition to these cuts, Turner explains, the bill also scrapped jobs in the Department of Fisheries monitoring stations and leveled hits against environmental assessments of proposed industrial projects in an effort to eschew the government’s role in environmental stewardship.

The tone of The War on Science is one of absolute virulence towards the political and corporate powers who are bent on destroying what Turner deems a Canadian tradition of leadership in environmental awareness.

In The War on Science, Turner describes a treacherous plot by the Conservative government to undermine reason and evidence-based policy creation in order to push through grand-scale projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline. But he fails to explain why this is important. In devoting so many words to vilifying Harper and ignoring the relevance of science in supporting environmental sustainability, Turner assumes that Canadians actually understand the connection between healthy ecosystems, our health and a robust economy. If there is one failing in the book it is that The War on Science, when compared to his last two books, The Leap: How to Survive and Thrive in the Sustainable Economy and The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need, appears almost cursory when examining this connection. After acknowledging the support given to the recent throne speech where bundled television channels were on the top of the list of issues for most Canadians, Turner ought to turn his gaze on the shameful levels of distraction among the citizens in this country.

On the other hand, Turner excels in unpacking the minutiae of the 40-page-long Bill C-38, as well as analyzing the ultimate implications of such a bill. While this is an essential task to take on, he does so in the contrived language of someone trying to leverage science as the saviour to all our environmental woes. The book would have been better titled The War on the Environment to better represent its main focus.

Even with its seemingly hurried execution and misappropriated contexts, The War on Science is a must read for every Canadian who believes we need to protect our environment and the jobs that help us better understand how to do that.

One of the strongest, though mostly implied, messages of the book — in light of the current political climate of economic deregulation and aggressive industrial development — is that academia and reason are of little value to the Conservative government.

The War on Science may not be one of Turner’s best reads, but it packs with a political punch that could contribute to the further destabilization of the already shaky ground that Harper, and those like him, stand on.

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