Scientists who study climate change from a remote post on Ellesmere Island are planning to shut down their cash-strapped project after the federal government refused to refinance a key climate-change research foundation.
The Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) is located 1,100 kilometres from the North Pole, and collects data on the changing climate of the Far North, where global warming is found to be most intense.
But in a conference call this week, PEARL scientists were not discussing their findings but were making plans to shut down the lab, including complicated arrangements to air lift out their equipment.
It's quite clear we have a government that says they believe this is an issue but really don't care about it. Andrew Weaver, climatologist at the University of Victoria
In its budget last week, the Harper government provided no new money for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmosphere Sciences. The foundation is the country's main fund for scientists studying everything from global climate models, to the melting of polar ice and frequency of Arctic storms, to prairie droughts and shrinking Rocky Mountain glaciers.
For many in the research community, the budget decision merely confirmed the view that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government remain skeptical of climate-change science and hostile to those who provide evidence that aggressive action must be taken to avert catastrophic global warming.
"It's quite clear we have a government that says they believe this is an issue but really don't care about it," said Andrew Weaver, a world-renowned climatologist from the University of Victoria.
"It's quite clear by their actions with [the climate foundation]and its lack of funding that they're basically saying, 'We don't want your science any more.'"
The foundation was endowed with $110-million nearly 10 years ago under the former Liberal government, but will run out of money by early 2011. As a result, scientists must wind up their projects.
"There is nowhere to apply for more money," said James Drummond, a Dalhousie University physicist who is principal investigator for the PEARL project.
He said the government is financing research infrastructure but not providing support for salaries and operational expenses. His network has already lost several colleagues and more are planning to leave the country. "It's like a family that needs a new car and you buy them a Ferrari. But they can't afford the insurance, they can't afford the gas, and they can't afford the maintenance. So what good's the Ferrari?"
Environment Minister Jim Prentice insists the government remains committed to basic research on climate change. He said the foundation has been operating for 10 years and it is now time to assess its work.
"We think it is appropriate that the foundation report to the government on the progress it has made, how those dollars were invested and what we've learned from the research that was done," he said.
Mr. Prentice said the government has other avenues for financing research on climate change - including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the government's often-touted High Arctic research station. But that facility won't be ready for several years. Climate scientists said that as the funding dries up, the country's capacity to make use of the station will be lost.
Liberal environment critic David McGuinty said the Harper government is taking its cue from the climate-change skeptics, who have seized on some embarrassing e-mails from a British university in East Anglia to suggest researchers are rigging their results.
The Liberal critic said the scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that man-made climate change is real and poses a serious challenge to the global community.
The funding crunch "is unfortunate at a time when we should be investigating more, getting more evidence," Mr. McGuinty said.
"If we find out it's not as bad as we thought, we take a mid-course action. If we find out it's worse than we thought, we take mid-course correction. It's a never ending quest for knowledge and understanding."