Recent statements by our Yukon Member of Parliament about the health of polar bear populations have triggered an avalanche of criticism. So they should. The grossly inaccurate claims that appear in Ryan Leef’s letter to Yukon constituent Heather Cobban are based on a single study that was thoroughly deconstructed and rejected by polar bear experts years ago.
It is unfortunate that people like Dr. Ian Sterling and Dr. Steven Amstrup – who have a combined 67 years of experience studying polar bears – now have to waste their time addressing this misinformation. The letter is useful, however, in providing greater insight into our current government’s difficult relationship with climate science.
Let us be clear: this is not a simple misunderstanding about current science on polar bear populations. In his letter, Mr. Leef is deliberately endorsing the findings of a small minority of scientists – widely viewed as a fringe group of climate skeptics – at the expense of extensive and robust scientific evidence from the most prominent researchers in this field. Not only is he marginalizing a vast literature of research demonstrating that declining sea ice is negatively affecting polar bear populations, but he is rejecting these findings outright as “unscientific and inconsequential to decision makers.”
In making this statement, your Yukon MP is not only demonstrating a profound lack of understanding about what makes research “scientific” or “unscientific”, but also tacitly asserting that scientific findings are inconsequential to government decision-making. This bears repeating: your political representative in parliament is saying that government decisions should not be constrained by science. Think about that.
In the (understandable) uproar that has followed this letter, Mr. Leef made some curious statements to the National Post that may help to explain his unusual position on this issue. In defending his decision to cite American climate deniers rather than our government’s own researchers and scientists at Environment Canada, our Yukon MP stated that he did not want his constituents to think that he was simply “spewing out the propaganda of his government.”
By definition, this statement implies that Mr. Leef views the research and analysis conducted by Environment Canada as systematically biased towards a specific doctrine or cause. In fact, our federal public servants are mandated to do the exact opposite: they provide unbiased and impartial information to help politicians make informed decisions about issues that matter to Canadians.
In this case, the ‘doctrine’ being propagated by Environment Canada happens to be scientific reality: our climate – especially in the North – is changing, and this is resulting in real and harmful impacts on our natural environment and ecosystems.
In conclusion, I would like Yukoners to consider the following: is it more likely that scientists studying the impacts of climate change on our environment are advocating a dissident position through disingenuous and unreliable research and analysis? Or that political officials are looking elsewhere for minority opinions because the facts presented to them by their own experts does not suit their ideology?