Top Canadian scientists are accusing the Harper government of politicizing science funding and jeopardizing climate research by naming global warming critics to key boards that fund science.
The government's actions are "dreadful," said Garry Clarke, a leading international glaciologist at the University of British Columbia, and undercut public pledges to tackle climate change.
"Their mouths are doing one thing and their hands are doing something different," Prof. Clarke said.
Already alarmed over funding cuts to basic research, scientists say two appointments in particular are worrisome. Mark Mullins, the executive director of the conservative-leaning Fraser Institute - and a former adviser to the Canadian Alliance Party - was recently appointed to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which funds university research projects that have included studies on climate change.
Dr. Mullins is an economist and critic of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations-sanctioned scientific body that has authored warnings of floods, famine and extinctions that triggered political efforts around the world to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
More than 200 Canadian scientists have contributed to the IPCC's work and most of them are employed by the federal government.
The 18-member NSERC already includes another Harper government appointee, mathematician Christopher Essex, who wrote a book challenging the "myth of climate change."
On the same day Dr. Mullins was appointed to NSERC, last month, another skeptic of global warming was appointed to the board of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which funds large research projects. John Weissenberger is a close friend of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a former chief of staff in the Harper government and a geologist who works for Husky Energy in Alberta.
Dr. Weissenberger has written opinion pieces in the media and on his Internet blog expressing his "skepticism about global warming." That and other comments by the two appointees on the public record were compiled by NDP researchers and verified by The Globe and Mail.
Both Dr. Mullins and Dr. Weissenberger told The Globe and Mail they are well-qualified for the positions, and both said they have no intention of using the posts to advocate for reduced funding for climate science.
While both NSERC and the Canada Foundation for Innovation fund some climate-change research, climate scientists are particularly concerned that their main source of federal funding - the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences - will have to shut its doors next year unless it receives new funding.
Prof. Clarke, who has co-authored IPCC reports, said "I don't see anything wrong with putting a Fraser Institute person in there. It's just when there's a sense that they're going to stack the deck that it becomes problematic."
University of Victoria climatologist Andrew Weaver, another lead author of past IPCC reports, said politics should be kept at a distance from these boards. He also said it is "very disturbing" that people who dispute global warming are making strategic decisions on scientific research.
"What would the public think if we appointed outspoken proponents of the fallacy 'smoking doesn't cause cancer' as members of the boards funding medical and, in particular, cancer research?" he said.
Bill Rodgers, a spokesman for Environment Minister Jim Prentice, declined comment on the individuals appointed. But he did say: "Since we took office in 2006, we have made no bones that climate change is one of the greatest challenges the world is facing."
NDP MP Bill Siksay said the appointments highlight the need for the Conservatives to honour their 2006 pledge to have federal appointments reviewed by an independent commission. "This is a requirement in a democratic society to have that kind of oversight," he said.
The climate skeptics
Dr. Mark Mullins, executive director of the Fraser Institute
The quote "It strikes me that the science is not settled," he said in a 2007 interview posted at BCbusinessonline. " 'Put caps on global emitters' is not the natural conclusion I would come to."
The appointment April, 2009. Dr. Mullins is one of 18 members of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), a body that makes strategic decisions on the agency's priorities. The granting agency funds university research. Specific projects are approved by a separate panel at arm's length from the council.
What he says now "I've got personal views on all kinds of things. I've never been asked for any of them in relation to this appointment and it's got no implications, I don't think, for any of the work that might be done there. We're not, as I understand it, vetting any sort of scientific research at the board level."
Dr. John Weissenberger, a geologist with Husky Energy and former chief of staff in the Harper government.
The quote "To those who doubt the scientific basis of global warming theory, we say: Don't let a cabal of government-funded scientists, environmental activists and journalists convince us they're the mainstream." - April 28, 2006, opinion piece co-authored in the Calgary Herald.
The appointment April, 2009. Dr. Weissenberger will work as one of 15 board members at the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The foundation helps fund the purchase of expensive research equipment. The board of directors makes final decisions on what to fund and sets strategic objectives.
What he says now "My appointment should be judged based on my academic and professional qualifications."
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