Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ozone monitoring cuts backlash

Let's check in on how it's going since government cuts to Canada's long time ozone monitoring program made news and the international scientific community took note.

Karen Dodds, the assistant deputy minister in the Environment department is claiming that the program can be made more efficient, redundancy can be eliminated. Where we now have two components of an ozone measuring program, there can be one:
"We're saying we don't need the same level of redundancy that we have now," Dodds said, noting that the department now has two networks monitoring different aspects of the ozone.

"So instead of doing both measurements as frequently as we have and at as many sites as we have, it is quite possible, (and) scientifically rational, to move to a system that combines the two," she said.
So they are in fact cutting the existing program. Peter Kent is using similar language to Dodds, speaking of "optimizing and streamlining." The government characterization of what they're doing is, however, directly challenged by an environmental scientist:
Thomas Duck, an atmospheric researcher at Dalhousie University, takes issues with many of Dodds' comments and said there is "no redundancy" in the Canadian ozone monitoring system.

"I could get a lineup of scientists to tell her flat out that the statement (about redundancy) is not scientifically defensible," he says.

If there were better ways to measure ozone, Ducks says the Environment Canada scientists would already being doing it. "They are using the best tools for the job, and to suggest they should do anything else is quite strange," says Duck. "These are professionals who care about what they do, and what's more, they are at the top of their game."
 Elsewhere he explains how the two current measuring systems work:
The "Brewer" methodology measures the total amount of ozone, but doesn't work in the Arctic during winter. And the weather-balloon approach called ozone sondes measures ozone just once a week and doesn't measure ozone on the ground, he explained.

"They do very different things, they take very different measurements," Duck said. "Both of them are absolutely necessary."
The scientists within Environment Canada are not being permitted to speak to the media (Postmedia link) so it is only the external scientific community who will be speaking to this issue on a scientific basis for we the Canadian public. Given the conflicting views above, it's difficult to see how the government's word on this will settle the issue at all.

It also seems a little strange for an assistant deputy minister to be so out in front on a controversial issue like this. This is a political controversy, not sure why the assistant deputy minister is carrying the flag on this. 

Beyond the environmental file here, this is likely a template of things to come. Cuts are undertaken yet lo and behold, we're told the services or the function at issue will not be impacted. This is relayed to the public in bureaucratic platitudes about redundancies, synergies, optimizing, streamlining, finding the best mix and technological advancements. They're better than Rob Ford at the federal level, after all.