Politics of Environmental Science: Recent Examples in Atlantic Canada

On 9 February 2017, EIUI team member, Dr. Ian Stewart, gave a lecture, entitled “The politics of environmental science: Some recent episodes in Atlantic Canada,” in the 2016-2017 seminar series offered by the Department of Biology, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Ian used the opportunity of this talk to discuss some recent media accounts of prominent political figures in Canada, where the terms “science” and “politics” appear together in problematic ways: either as opposing forms of inquiry (science versus politics), or where science is presented simply as the unquestioned authority directing political decisions in the public interest.

Ian invited the largely scientific audience to draw on insights from recent work in science policy to consider that neither of these characterizations (of science or politics) are adequate, particularly in the field of environmental sciences, and he referred to research on science policy issues related to regulation of Canada’s offshore oil and gas sector in order to illustrate why. His paper explored some of the structural features in Canada to show how environmental science and policy/politics are co-implicated in this sector, and what this means for how to understand the politics/science distinction as presented in popular discourse.

Ian concluded his lecture with some questions raised by Sir Peter Gluckman in his recent lecture on “Science advice in a troubled world” given to the Institute for Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa, in which he characterized the role of science in politics as follows:

“The days when science could operate as an ‘authoritarian elite’ are over. What is needed is something more democratically appropriate–a knowledgeable voice with something valuable to contribute, but not crying ‘we know everything!'”

An audience of over 60 from various Arts and Sciences departments, as well as faculty of the Biology Department and graduate and senior undergraduate students attended the lecture. Lively questions and discussion continued after the talk in a nearby pub!