Can Canada’s Meteorologists Say ‘Climate Change’ on Air?

Government-funded weather scientists are allegedly banned from publicly speaking about the issue.

(Photo: Anthony Seebaran/Getty Images)

Jun 2, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Talk about the daily weather forecast, but avoid any public mention of climate change. That’s the message Canadian officials have allegedly given meteorologists who work for any government-funded agency—including Environment Canada.

The government department communicates weather and meteorological information and runs a 24-hour meteorologist hotline for journalists. But if a reporter calls with questions about last winter’s polar vortex or other severe weather events, a communications protocol allegedly prohibits the meteorologist who answers the phone from making any connection to climate change.

It is the Canadian government’s latest effort to curb talk of climate change. Media coverage of the issue has dropped 80 percent since 2007, when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration passed a law prohibiting that nation’s climate scientists from talking about their research and findings without government approval.

In March, an internal Environment Canada document was leaked to the press suggesting that “a new communications policy has practically eliminated senior federal scientists from media coverage of climate-change science issues, leaving them frustrated that the government was trying to ‘muzzle’ them,” the Montreal Gazette reported.

In an email to independent investigative journalist Mike de Souza, the department defended the policy.

“Environment Canada scientists speak to their area of expertise,” spokesman Mark Johnson wrote to 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.”

“It’s all very scary,” Dr. Chris Metcalfe, director of the Institute for Watershed Science at Trent University, told Vocativ. “It’s all about controlling the message. In my estimation, the government doesn’t want the work of environmentalists running counter to their official policies.”

What’s unclear, however, is whether this restriction also applies to meteorologists employed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The state-sponsored television network has meteorologists who appear on air and tell viewers what the high temperature is going to be. But if they are also banned from talking about climate change on air, that gives the public the idea that it’s not a problem worth mentioning.

“It’s definitely a scandal,” Graham Saul, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, told the Montreal Gazette. Saul says the Harper administration is “muzzling scientists; they’re putting climate deniers in key oversight positions over research, and they’re reducing funding in key areas.... It’s almost as though they’re making a conscious attempt to bury the truth.”