Scitech | Year in review: Sci+Tech

The Daily looks back

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“Our current economic model is jeopardizing the very planetary conditions that sustain life […] Our governments are willing to bail out the economic elite, while the rest of us are stuck with the bill.”
Kristian Gareau, Climate Justice Montreal (CJM)

A look back on the year in climate change research and policy in Canada presents a bleak picture. School kicked off with “Stand Up for Science” rallies in September, where demonstrators gathered to protest the Canadian government’s muzzling of scientists and the general lack of regard for evidence-based decision making. Little has been made in the way of progress, as the Harper government is still silencing scientists, cutting funding to basic science, and prioritizing industry-friendly research.

Scientists are largely in agreement that a change as ‘small’ as 2 degrees Celsius could have a major impact on the earth’s ecosystems. Since the year 1800, global temperature has risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius (although two-thirds of that has been since 1975), pointing to the urgent need to slow down and reverse global warming. The most recent report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in September, presented overbearing evidence that human activity and climate change were directly related. Despite being “the most peer-reviewed documents there is,” according to James Ford, professor and leader of the Climate Change Adaptation Research Group at McGill, the reports were met with skepticism by some – including Canada’s environment and former natural resource ministers – who suggested that the concerns surrounding climate change are exaggerated and remain debatable.

If progress has been made this year, it’s been in the wrong direction. In early March, the National Energy Board approved the Enbridge Line 9 pipeline reversal, despite outcries from critics who pointed to the negative environmental and health effects of this decision. Meanwhile, Environment Canada revealed its plans to cut spending from $1.01 billion in 2014-15 to $698.9 million in 2016-17. Funding cuts have also been made across the board for environmental research, and the National Research Council has been restructured to fit its increasingly industry-driven attitude toward science.

Canada is currently facing a carbon bubble with a great amount of value being put into fossil fuel extraction. While the rest of the world shifts their attitudes to target climate change, Canada has been shutting out scientific evidence for the sake of profit.

—Diana Kwon


“By taking out this whole liability aspect, you are really just encouraging this whole backdoor of personal information going into the hands of police officers without there being probable cause.”
Charmaine Borg, Member of Parliament for the New Democratic Party (NDP)

This year has been revolutionary in terms of internet privacy and security. In the U.S., a leak by National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden of confidential NSA documents revealed that the government was collecting data on its citizens as well as foreign individuals. The leak caused a global uproar, along with questions in Canada regarding the conduct of our NSA equivalent, the Communications Security Establishment Canada. The revelations served as a reminder for people to be cautious when sharing information on the internet, and posed the need for civilian oversight of government policies. The U.S. has been cracking down on individuals who have attempted to leak information about the government’s breach of individual privacy. Recent years have been marked by the sentencing of Chelsea Manning and hacktivist Jeremy Hammond, as well as the proceedings against activist-journalist Barrett Brown.

In Canada, the federal government proposed Bill C-13, or the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. The bill provides legislation regarding information access and cyberbullying. If passed in the spring of 2014, the bill would lower thresholds for law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants for tracking data. It would also reduce the checks and balances in place to prevent internet service providers from sharing our personal data. Though the new legislation aims to criminalize cyberbullying by making it illegal to share intimate pictures of persons without their explicit consent, many Canadians, including Shaheen Shariff, an associate professor at McGill and founder of Define the Line, a program dedicated to cyberbullying research, remain skeptical. Bill C-13 is seen as an ineffective solution to cyberbullying that may cause more harm than benefit. The loosening of privacy protection is concerning, particularly in light of the NSA leaks.

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—Zapaer Alip

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