Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cuts with consequences

The Harper government's cuts to Environment Canada and their tinkering with our ozone monitoring systems deserve lots of ongoing attention. Note this from Climate Progress Saturday, the giant ozone hole that was detected and reported on recently may have had significant health and food production consequences for Western Europe in particular.
An unprecedented ozone hole opened in the Arctic during 2011, researchers reported this week in the journal Nature. Holes in the Antarctic ozone layer have opened up each spring since the early 1980s, but the Arctic had only shown modest springtime ozone losses in the 5% – 30% range over the past twenty years. But this year, massive ozone destruction of 80% occurred at altitudes of 18 – 20 kilometers in the Arctic during spring, resulting in Earth’s first known case of twin ozone holes, one over each pole. During late March and portions of April, the Arctic ozone hole was positioned over heavily populated areas of Western Europe, allowing large levels of damaging ultraviolet rays to reach the surface. UV-B radiation causes skin damage that can lead to cancer, and has been observed to reduce crop yields in two-thirds of 300 important plant varieties studied (WMO, 2002.) The total loss of ozone in a column from the surface to the top of the atmosphere reached 40% during the peak of this year’s Arctic ozone hole. Since each 1% drop in ozone levels results in about 1% more UV-B reaching Earth’s surface (WMO, 2002), UV-B levels reaching the surface likely increased by 40% at the height of this year’s hole. We know that an 11% increase in UV-B light can cause a 24% decrease in winter wheat yield (Zheng et al., 2003), so this year’s Arctic ozone hole may have caused noticeable reductions in Europe’s winter wheat crop.
We were impacted too although not as much as Europe it seems due to our north being less populated: "The hole covered two million square kilometres — about twice the size of Ontario — and allowed high levels of harmful ultraviolet radiation to hit large swaths of northern Canada, Europe and Russia this spring, the 29 scientists say." Although it's not clear from that statement what "large swaths of northern Canada" would cover. 

Note too the prospect that Europe's wheat crop may have been affected. We, as wheat producers, among other crops, should take note of the connection between such environmental factors and the possible economic losses if our crop growth were to be affected. But for the location of this ozone hole during this past spring, it well might have been and could be in the future. Things an economically minded government might want to consider, as it contemplates rejigging our environmental measurement systems. 

The discovery of that ozone hole was in significant measure due to the existing Canadian systems that the Harper government has in their sights to cut:
“The Canadian stations were an absolutely key element of the network of stations we used to do the study,” says co-author Marcus Rex, of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, in Potsdam, Germany. “Canada is the backbone of that network.” (previous link)
The backbone of the network that is contributing to such significant scientific findings of consequence to human health and food production is something we really should be improving, not tinkering with due to supposed government termed redundancies that scientists say don't exist.

This reporting from the week makes the Harper government's moves look even more questionable and worth pursuing. 

P.S. Re Dawg's post last night on the Environment Canada scientist involved in this study being muzzled, there's something very wrong when our government distrusts a scientist like this, as they appear to do, fearing perhaps that he'll venture away from the science and into a political debate. At least the Bush administration let James Hansen of NASA and other scientists speak with journalists if they had a minder present in the room. The Harper government just doesn't let them speak. Remember the good old days when we used to marvel at such things?