Science too often ignored by governments

From the invention of the wheel to the astounding technical achievements our modern society takes...

From the invention of the wheel to the astounding technical achievements our modern society takes for granted, scientific discovery has underpinned human advancement.

Yet paradoxically, the vast majority of mankind has no appreciation or understanding of the technology they use every day, and often harbour myths that have no scientific basis.

One current myth that’s gained traction is that electromagnetic communication devices cause disease. I was reminded of this when delegates at last year’s B.C. Municipalities Convention vigorously debated a resolution demanding a moratorium on BC Hydro’s wireless “smart meter” reading program.

Seems none of the delegates knew they were using exactly the same Wi-Fi technology when they turned on their laptops at the convention.

Politicians and regulators frequently come under intense pressure from ill-informed groups opposing commercial ventures even when it’s abundantly clear there’s no evidence of a discernable impact – environmental or otherwise.

Consider the numerous proposals to bottle and sell water from four of BC’s remote coastal mountain streams. Although the amount of water that would be siphoned off is infinitesimal compared to flow volumes, and the fact that this fresh mountain water will co-mingle with saltwater in the Pacific Ocean only a few kilometres downstream, five different environmental groups have demanded a costly, full-scale environmental assessment of “cumulative impacts”.

Politicians are also prone to knee-jerk policy decisions based on incomplete scientific analysis and reverberating rhetoric.

The ban on incandescent light bulbs is a classic example. Calculations of energy savings from switching to fluorescent bulbs only considered the reduction in electricity use.

While this may be an adequate approach in the Southern US and other warm regions, it leads to erroneous conclusions in Canada’s northern climate. Why? Because heat given off by incandescent bulbs serves to offset energy needed for space heating during our colder fall, winter and spring months.

And during our short summers, Canada’s northern latitude enjoys long days of sunlight, further lessening the energy savings from fluorescent lighting.

Besides these flawed calculations of energy savings, the analysis used to justify banning incandescent lights didn’t examine the health and environmental impacts of mercury used in the manufacturing of fluorescent bulbs.

The federal government recently announced a two year deferral of the incandescent bulb phase out to the end of 2014, “to consider the concerns about . . . perceived health and mercury issues including safe disposal of compact florescent lamps”.

Meanwhile, manufacturers have already moved to shut down incandescent production, creating another knee-jerk “green” policy fiasco based on incomplete scientific analysis.

Sometimes costly decisions are made in response to populist public perception, even when thorough scientific analysis shows the expenditure wouldn’t benefit, or may even harm, the environment.

A text-book example is the proposed $782 million sewage treatment plan for Victoria, BC. The city’s sewage currently undergoes primary screening before being pumped offshore into Juan de Fuca Strait.

Because of its unique oceanographic setting, huge tidal flows through the Strait drive strong currents that break-up and oxidize the sewage quickly and thoroughly.

Measurements show that within just one hundred metres of the outflow point, effluent quality as good as that disposed by cities much larger than Victoria into rivers of comparatively tiny flow volumes.

An expert panel appointed by the Victoria Capital Regional District found no scientific evidence of significant contamination and more than 10 marine scientists and six current and former medical health officers have stated that deep ocean disposal presents minimal effect on the marine environment and no measureable public health risk.

Yet both the federal and provincial government have insisted that a land-based treatment system be built. Why?

Prophetically, the expert panel report signalled that its conclusions may be ignored because of public sentiment based on “ethics, aesthetics or other factors that cannot be resolved on purely scientific grounds”.

But the pending victory of public perception over scientific fact doesn’t end there.

While ocean disposal was thoroughly assessed, the environmental impacts of land-based treatment were not.

These impacts include utilizing good farm and/or recreational land for sewage treatment plants, odour emissions to adjacent residential areas, substantial energy consumption, atmospheric emissions and surface contamination from treating, transporting and disposing of thousands of tonnes of sewage sludge per year.

Public policy decisions that ignore scientific facts in favour of pressure from vocal minorities can kill job creating commercial ventures, or cause unnecessary public expenditures.

In both cases, society loses.

Gwyn Morgan is the retired founding CEO of EnCana.

Courtesy of Troy Media.

 

Just Posted

Hirsch Creek Golf Course Volunteer, Augie Penner, talking about how he continues the tradition, set by Joe Atamchuck, to catch and release fry that keep spawning at the course. (Jacob Lubberts photo)
VIDEO: Kitimat golf course volunteers making moves for the fishlings

During the highwater season, salmon are known to lay their eggs in the ponds at the golf course

Ocean Wise’s cetacean photogrammetry research program uses aerial images collected by boat-launched drones to measure the body condition of whales. (Ocean Wise Marine Mammal License MML-18 photo)
LNG Canada commits $750K to whale research, conservation initiative

Ocean Wise education team will work alongside educational and Indigenous leaders in the area

The Sam Lindsay Aquatic Centre will be closed from June 28 until September 13 for annual facility maintenance as well as teach pool and decking repairs. (Black Press photo)
Sam Lindsay Aquatic Centre closed: June 28 – September 13

The aquatic centre will be closed for annual facility maintenance

Shoes are being left at the viewpoint on Haisla Blvd in response to the 215 bodies discovered at the Kamloops Residential School. (Jacob Lubberts photo)
Haisla Nation responds to 215 Indigenous children found buried at the site of Kamloops Indian Residential School

“Many Haisla children were sent far away, to places such as Port Alberni, and to Coqualeetza”

Susan Jay hosted a plant and garage sale on May 25 and donated all of her proceeds to the Kitimat General Hospital Foundation to help with the purchase of a new bus for residents at Mountain View Lodge, Delta King and the new Kitimat Valley Housing Society dementia home. (Barbara Campbell photo)
KGHF thanks Susan Jay for her help to purchase a new bus for seniors in multi-level care

Susan donated all proceeds to KGHF, her efforts netted the hospital foundation a total of $1,760

Hirsch Creek Golf Course Volunteer, Augie Penner, talking about how he continues the tradition, set by Joe Atamchuck, to catch and release fry that keep spawning at the course. (Jacob Lubberts photo)
VIDEO: Kitimat golf course volunteers making moves for the fishlings

During the highwater season, salmon are known to lay their eggs in the ponds at the golf course

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Most Read