Editorial: Face facts

Published on December 27, 2016

Climate change


Think domoic acid and 1987.

Then ask yourself just why it is that governments can be such laggards on global warming.

It was almost 30 years ago now, but the first outbreak of domoic acid poisoning killed three people and over 100 developed toxic symptoms. The outbreak was found in P.E.I. shellfish, and the reaction was startlingly fast. The scientific community quickly narrowed the cause down to toxic marine diatoms, members of the genus Pseudo-nitzschia, and testing and prevention protocols were developed and implemented.

Since then, domoic acid problems have cropped up in areas as far-flung as the Dungeness crab fishery off California and Oregon this fall, but testing for the neurotoxin has limited the damage that can be done.

When the scientists completed their research and flagged the problems, no one said, “Ah, ignore it, they’re probably wrong and you should just keep eating those mussels.”

Because that’s not how evidence-based decision-making is done.

Right now, scientists are virtually united in maintaining that global warming is happening, and that the warming is being caused by human action.

But there seems to be a large number of people — including people who want to be prime minister — who are suggesting they’re better scientists than the scientists themselves, and that global warming isn’t a problem at all.

Take Brad Trost, a Conservative leadership hopeful and geophysicist who suggested this week that “This whole climate change agenda is not science (or) fact-based. It’s based on the government wanting to take away our prosperity and to take away our freedoms.”

Right. And Trost is far from alone.

So far this year, scientists are pointing with increasing horror towards the failure of the polar ice formation — at the same time, they’re pointing out that a weakening jet stream is allowing cold air to plunge southwards, dropping temperatures in central North America and causing far more serious weather events.

Both, of course, are things those same scientists predicted years ago as the likely result of the continuing increase of temperatures around the world. Temperatures are rising; in fact, they’re now rising at a higher rate than scientists had predicted.

It means more serious weather events in our future, with heavier rainfalls or snowfalls, more flooding — and, paradoxically, more drought and much more stress on the vegetation and animals we currently see as native species, both on land and in the ocean.

You can’t just decide to ignore it.

One of the most unusual things about domoic acid poisoning?

It caused short-term memory loss and permanent brain damage, a symptom that led to its initial description as amnesiac shellfish poisoning.

Let’s hope that kind of memory loss isn’t affecting politicians and anyone else who wants to ignore scientific evidence merely to live cheaply and messily.