Environment

Canadian Weather Forecasters Forbidden From Discussing Climate Change

May 29, 2014 | by Stephen Luntz

Photo credit: PD-USGOV-NAVY. Canadian weather forecasters have been forbidden to discuss the climatic influences on specific events

Weather forecasters employed by the Canadian Meteorological Service have been banned from publicly discussing climate change. The decision has been justified on the basis that years of study of meteorology does not make a person qualified to discuss climatic events longer than a few months. 

“Environment Canada scientists speak to their area of expertise,” spokesman Mark Johnson told investigative journalist Mike De Souza. “For example, our Weather Preparedness Meteorologists are experts in their field of severe weather and speak to this subject. Questions about climate change or long-term trends would be directed to a climatologist or other applicable authority.” The Meteorological Service of Canada is a division of Environment Canada.

Since 2006, shortly after Stephen Harper's election as Prime Minister, the Canadian Government banned scientists from speaking to the media about their findings without getting political clearance. This has been conducted in conjunction with a process of shutting down research programs likely to turn up results not in keeping with the Conservative government's agenda

The program is not limited to climate issues, or even the environment, but critics have argued that Global Warming is the key target. Since the ban there has been an 80% fall in coverage of Global Warming in the Canadian media, according to leaked Environment Canada documents.

In a survey by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada 86% of respondents said that if a government policy had the potential to harm public health and safety or the environment they “could not share their concerns with the public or media or public without censure or retaliation.” 

Weather forecasters represent something of a weak point in the government's efforts to keep the public uniformed. One anonymous response to the survey noted, “With meteorology we are in a somewhat unique position in that our availability to the media is relatively unrestricted.” Half of all media inquiries to Environment Canada relate to weather events – when a big storm is brewing journalists want to talk to an expert fast, and are reluctant to wait on approval from a government minder. The Meteorology Service operates a 24-hour media hotline, circumventing the need to gain ministerial agreement to talk to journalists.

However, while the forecasters can talk about what has happened, or what seems likely to happen, they cannot discuss why, insofar as it relates to wider climatic events. As with all the best censorship, the exact boundaries of what can be discussed without putting one's career on the line are unclear. Presumably if a huge storm was brewing as a result of exceptionally warm ocean temperatures meteorologists would be forbidden to note that the warmth was part of a long term rising trend. However, it is not certain whether it would be permissible to note that a historic record had been broken, and that this was likely to increase the anticipated severity.