Canadian climate novel silenced?

Government request to cancel scientist's talk on climate novel raises questions over Canada's political mood on climate change.

By | April 24, 2006

It's the not-to-distant future when climate change has heated up the planet, and Canada and the U.S. are at war over water -- that is the premise of a fictional novel whose author was asked last week to not speak about it by his employer, Environment Canada, sparking speculation the government is trying to freeze discussions about climate change. Mark Tushingham, a scientist for Environment Canada, was set to talk at Ottawa's National Press Club on April 13th about his novel Hotter Than Hell, when the government requested the talk's cancellation. Tushingham obliged, but a flurry of media articles cried foul. Ryan Sparrow, a spokesperson for Environment Canada, said it was just a breach of protocol. "We [Environment Canada] only found out about the talk from a news wire release a few days before, where Mark was billed as a government scientist," Sparrow told The Scientist. "This is against our current protocols so we asked him not to speak at the event." Sparrow added that the agency didn't want Tushingham to appear as a spokesperson for Environment Canada. "We have no problem with him speaking as a private citizen," he noted. However, the request to cancel came as a complete surprise, and is now the talk of Canada's literary community, said Elizabeth Margaris, head of DreamCatcher Publishing and Hotter Than Hell's publisher. Indeed, the cancellation sparked a flurry of blog activity, with many bloggers upset over what is perceived as a gag order. Such perceptions come amid recent claims that some Australian and US climate researchers are being discouraged from publicly talking about the effects of global warming. The cancellation of Tushingham's talk also comes during a shifting of political mood in Canada, when the new conservative Tory government has said it plans to cancel 15 research programs related to the Kyoto protocol. Last week, 90 Canadian climate experts wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, asking him to assemble a national strategy to address climate change. "At first, I was surprised when I heard about the talk's cancellation," said Lionel Pandolfo, a Canadian climate research at the University of British Columbia. "But, upon thinking about it, I could see how the government might react that way. The new Tory government wants to put their stamp on climate change and has begun to talk about how the Kyoto protocol cannot be met in Canada." When contacted by The Scientist, Tushingham said he was not commenting on his talk's cancellation at this time. In the book, many cities have become inhabitable due to climate change. When an American soldier is asked to scout out Canada, the countries end up at war. Margaris said she hopes Tushingham will be available to speak with the media in the near future. "In the meantime, we're being inundated with calls and are moving to quickly publish more copies of the book to keep up with the newfound demand." David Secko Links within this article Environment Canada Hotter Than Hell, DreamCatcher Publishing Ryan Sparrow
Elizabeth Margaris Leah Bobet S. Pincock, "Australian climate researchers gagged?" The Scientist, February 14, 2006. A. McCook, "James Hansen speaks -- and maybe says too much," The Scientist, February 13, 2006. "First steps taken towards made-in-Canada approach," Government of Canada, April 13, 2006. "Canada's top climate scientists issue open letter to Prime Minister Harper for action on climate change," Newswire, April 19, 2006. Lionel Pandolfo

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