COLUMN: Science support crucial to society

NANAIMO – Everything we do and know is the result of science.

The federal Conservative government is doing Canadian municipalities an injustice by cutting budgets for science, be it fisheries, meteorological or environmental assessments.

Democracy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government fails to understand, depends on informed decisions. Then again, maybe that’s the plan.

Less information, less knowledge, less informed electorate.

I can envision Harper rubbing his hands together and laughing like Vincent Price while mumbling “eternal majority” over and over.

Spooky.

But maybe not as spooky as the real cuts that have been made.

Here is an abbreviated list: Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Library Archives Canada, National Research Council, Statistics Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

Save for fisheries staff, most of those cuts won’t affect jobs here in Nanaimo, but make no mistake, they will have a major impact on how Nanaimo grows in the future.

How?

First off, everything we do and know is the result of science, be it building codes, transportation, agriculture, health care … the list goes on and on.

Secondly, I think we can all agree that climate change is real.

According to Dennis Frenchman, an architect and professor of urban planning at MIT, today’s city planners must take into serious consideration how climate change will affect human migration in the coming decades.

In an article in Popular Science, Frenchman states that by 2060 the world’s population will reach nine billion, and because of climate-change induced environmental degradation – farm land drying up or flooding, coast line erosion, etc. – scientists predict tens of millions of people will move into today’s small and medium-sized cities.

That, said Frenchman, will require some serious forethought and planning by municipal planners, and they and senior levels of government will need all of the scientific evidence possible to assist with that planning.

Transportation networks will need to be rethought, power generation will need to be localized (already in existence are microsize nuclear power plants, such as the GE Hitachi PRISM, capable of powering 240,000 homes efficiently), food production will need to be localized (ever heard of vertical farming?), and land use will need to be reconsidered.

The last point is especially pertinent to Nanaimo. Frenchman states that single-purpose spaces like shopping centres and housing developments will need to be exchanged for mixed-use neighbourhoods that contain everyday services. By squeezing essential services into designated corridors, even massive metropolises will have a village-like feel, and people won’t have to travel as far on a daily basis.

Many other ideas for fast-growing small and mid-sized cities require, you guessed it, science and research.

This is why hundreds of Canadian scientists stepped away from their Bunsen burners, petri dishes and microscopes on July 10 to denounce the Harper government’s sweeping cuts to science and research in their Death of Evidence mock funeral. Putting jobs ahead of the environment and taking away information needed to effectively plan and innovate, they cried, is wrong.

As we enter into an exciting new era that could make or break society as we know it, our federal government has put the brakes on the very institutions we rely on to make informed and educated decisions to adapt to our changing environment, and evolve as a society.

It seems machiavellian to go in any other direction but evidence-based science, but then it seems the term ‘evolve’ may not be present in the Harper government’s lexicon given its preference to base Canada’s future on the oily remains of a creature that has been dead for millions of years.

reporter2@nanaimobulletin.com

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