Scientists Protesting! An Unprecedented Event

A commentary on the Global March for Science

Bill Nye, the Science Guy (from CBC.ca)

CBC recently published an article, Global March for Science which caught my attention. When I read the headline, I was immediately curious as to why a global protest about science was going on. I had never heard of such a thing before and being as I was science teacher, my curiosity got the best of me.

The article reports that scientists along with their supporters marched in hundreds of cities around the world on Earth Day protesting against proposed U.S. government funding cuts to scientific research and public rejection of established science such as climate change. People in at least 18 locations across Canada are participating in marches to promote and advocate for science.

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22.  Assorted events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection worldwide. It was first celebrated in 1970 and now events are held in more than 193 countries.

The purpose of the global march was to spread the message that science matters. Protesters are saying to the politicians who try to undermine science, ruin trust in science, or politically motivate funding of science are a risk to the planet and so they are speaking out against it. While climate change is a major issue, protestors are also concerned about a number of Trump’s executive orders and his proposed budget, which proposes massive cuts to scientific research.

So, my next thought was what is this inexperienced, seemingly uninformed president doing south of our border to rile up the science community?. Anything that Trump does regarding the environment is concerning to me since their environmental policies directly affect my country. Acid precipitation is a good example of that. I proceeded to do some research.

Times article, Donald Trump’s Science Denial Is Becoming National Policy, reports soon after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, the official White House website purged all mentions of climate from the site except one,  the promise to eliminate the “harmful and unnecessary” Climate Action Plan implemented by former President Obama. Soon thereafter, scientists and other employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) were told not to speak to the public. When a National Park Service Twitter account sent out impartial facts, the White House had them deleted, plus the EPA was told to take down its climate-change page. Climate change is a huge issue and Trump did tweet on November 6, 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Then on October 19, 2015, Trump tweeted: “It’s really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!” This clearly tells me that this man is ignorant of science.

The Times article also says Trump appointed Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an anti-vaccine activist to run a commission on immunization safety. Both Trump and Kennedy have spread far-flung theories linking vaccines to autism in children, an idea that medical experts overwhelmingly reject. Experts have warned the refusal to immunize is endangering public health by discouraging parents from immunizing their kids. Trump also appointed Dr. Scott Gottlieb to run the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Gottlieb is a strong supporter of the pharmaceutical industry and has supported deregulation. Trump is also known to have called the fact that asbestos causes cancer a “con” and even refused to believe the objective scientific reality of drought in California.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.  Susan Margaret Collins, a Senator who is generally seen as the most pro-environment Republican in the Senate, said she was not convinced that Pruitt would protect public health. According to USA Today, she quoted as saying;

I have significant concerns that Mr. Pruitt has actively opposed and sued EPA on numerous issues that are of great importance to the state of Maine, including mercury controls for coal-fired power plants and efforts to reduce cross-state air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” Collins said. “His actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the Agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.

National Geographic’s, A Running List of How Trump Is Changing the Environment, reports that Trump’s proposed budget plans deep cuts to U.S. science and environmental agencies, especially EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in an effort to increase defence spending by $54 billion. Actions speak louder than words. Even though Trump says, “We can and must protect our environment without harming America’s working families,” the fact that he is proposing a cut of 31% to the EPA tells me how he really feels about protecting the environment. I find this alarming. Americans should be as well.

National Geographic also say that against the advice of the EPA’s chemical safety experts, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt rejected a decade-old petition asking that the EPA ban all use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. In 2000, the EPA banned its use in households, but the pesticide is still used on farms, which EPA scientists recommended stop. Even though Dow Chemical, the pesticide’s manufacturer, argues that it is safe when properly used, research suggests that chlorpyrifos may be associated with brain damage in children and farm workers, even at low exposures.

That same article claims President Trump signed a joint resolution passed by Congress revoking the U.S. Department of the Interior’s “Stream Protection Rule.” That rule, put in place by President Obama, placed stricter restrictions on dumping mining waste into surrounding waterways. It seems that mining companies are now free to throw whatever waste they desire in American waterways. These wastes eventually end up in the ocean and affect the ocean’s health. Once again, alarming.

So, is the world’s science community and all its supporters over reacting? Based upon my research, NO! I’ve only mentioned some of the policy changes made by the Trump administration. These policy changes are ALARMING to say the least. I am concerned about the planet. Trump’s choices affect the planet as the U.S.A. is the second largest contributor (15%) of greenhouse gases in the world, second only to China at 22.7% (see Gas Emissions, 2010). Canada only emits 1.7%. I personally would like an inhabitable planet for my children and grandchildren to reside on. Evo Morales, President of Bolivia since 2006, says it best. “Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What [hu]mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans”.

Malala Yousafzai: One of Today’s Heros

A commentary on the impact of Malala Yousafzai

On April 12, Malala Yousafzai became a honourary Canadian in a ceremony in our parliament in Ottawa.  That is when Canadian citizenship is bestowed upon a foreigner for extraordinary distinction. It is purely a symbolic honour as recipients do not take the Oath of Citizenship or receive rights, privileges, or duties typically held by a Canadian citizen. Only five other foreigners have received honorary Canadian citizenship before Malala. Two notables are Nelson Mandela and Tenzin Gyatso. In 2001, Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist, former President of South Africa, and recipient of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize became a honourary Canadian citizen. In 2006, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and recipient of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize also became a honourary Canadian citizen. Malala Yousafzai became the sixth person in history to receive such an honour.

Ms. Yousafzai is a Pakistani student and education activist who was born July 12, 1997, making her a mere 19 years old. She is known for her crusade for girls’ and women’s rights, most especially for a girl’s right to go to school. Sadly, she was a victim of a gunshot attack in October 9, 2012, when she was shot by the Taliban. The Taliban are a radically militant Islamic group that controlled some 90% of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2000. They set out to create the world’s most pure Islamic rule by introducing a disturbing and deeply revolutionary form of Muslim culture. Under the Taliban, women were forbidden to work outside the home, were forced to wear a head-to-toe covering known as a burka, and could not leave the home without a male guardian. The Taliban also prevented women from having access to health and education. After the assassination attempt, Malala was given emergency treatment in Pakistan and then moved to Great Britain for more medical treatment.

Malala Yousafzai is one impressive young lady. For a person who has only lived 19 years, she has had an enormous impact on this planet. At age 11, she became known because of a weblog published by BBC News. The BBC issued translated writings about her life under Taliban rule. In October 2013, a book about her life I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban was published, with her help. This is a very educational and inspiring book, so I would encourage you to read it. Yousafzai was chosen by TIME magazine as a candidate for 2013’s Person of the Year. She was nominated for the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child in 2014. Also in 2014, Yousafzai has won a Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest person ever to do so. She will also be given a Doctor of Civil Law degree by the University of King’s College located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’m sure her list of accomplishments will grow. This is a person I have grown to admire and in fact consider a hero. If you haven’t heard the speech she delivered on April 12, here it is.

I happened to be waiting for our SUV to be serviced in a waiting room in the car dealership with the TV on. At that moment, a news channel was broadcasting Malala’s speech. Two parts of her speech caught my attention. The first was:

The man who attacked Parliament Hill called himself a Muslim — but he did not share my faith. He did not share the faith of one and a half billion Muslims, living in peace around the world. He did not share our Islam — a religion of learning, compassion and mercy.

I am a Muslim and I believe that when you pick up a gun in the name of Islam and kill innocent people, you are not a Muslim anymore.

He did not share my faith. Instead, he shared the hatred of the man who attacked the Quebec City mosque in January, killing six people while they were at prayer.

The same hatred as the man who killed civilians and a police officer in London three weeks ago.

The same hatred as the men who killed 132 schoolchildren at Pakistan’s Army Public School in Peshawar.

The same hatred as the man who shot me.

Malala is confirming what I have stated before in posts such as; Are All Muslims Extremists? Contrary to the rhetoric we’ve heard south of the border, all Muslims are NOT terrorists. Most Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding individuals. As Malala says, “when you pick up a gun in the name of Islam and kill innocent people, you are not a Muslim”.  The same holds true for Christians as well. When a person picks up a gun in the name of Christianity and kills an innocent person(s), you are not a Christian. In fact, the same is true for any world religion as when you get down to the core beliefs or practices of any world religion, they all advocate for peaceful coexistence. It is when people start interpreting religious sacred scripture in ignorance that the true teachings of the religion become warped.

The other portion of Malala’s speech that caught my attention is:

I have travelled the world and met people in many countries. I’ve seen firsthand many of the problems we are facing today — war, economic instability, climate change and health crises. And I can tell you that the answer is girls.

Secondary education for girls can transform communities, countries and our world. Here’s what the statistics say:

  • If all girls went to school for 12 years, low and middle income countries could add 92 billion dollars per year to their economies.
  • Educated girls are less likely to marry young or contract HIV — and more likely to have healthy, educated children.
  • The Brookings Institution calls secondary schooling for girls the most cost-effective and best investment against climate change.
  • When a country gives all its children secondary education, they cut their risk of war in half.

Education is vital for security around the world … because extremism grows alongside inequality — in places where people feel they have no opportunity, no voice, no hope.

When women are educated, there are more jobs for everyone. When mothers can keep their children alive and send them to school, there is hope.

But around the world, 130 million girls are out of school today. They may not have read the studies and they may not know the statistics — but they understand that education is their only path to a brighter future. And they are fighting to go to school.

Now as an educator for 35 years, I know this to be true. Secondary education, not just for girls, but for all people can transform communities, countries and our world. I especially was struck by her statement, “When a country gives all its children secondary education, they cut their risk of war in half”.  It seems to me that the cure for violence and conflict is education. This makes sense to me as through education we can teach tolerance and understanding. It is ignorance, and especially fear, that breeds tensions and conflict. It is education that will decrease a fear of Muslims. It is education that will prove to sexists and misogynist that the sexes are equals. Science has unequivocally proved this. To quote Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. So as Malala says, “Education is vital for security around the world”.

It is Time to do the Right Thing.

A commentary on fair pay and gender equality.


Two stories caught my attention this week; both stories about doing the right thing. The first was a story I saw on CTV News about a Bracebridge, Ontario.-based Muskoka Brewery that was paying its employees a living wage.  That is a wage that is high enough to maintain a normal standard of living. Muskoka Brewery is the first brewery in Canada to do so. The president of the brewery, Todd Lewin, said the decision “definitely had an impact on the budget,” but the benefits have so far outweighed the cost. Mr. Lewin said boosting the hourly wage to $15.85 has resulted in a better workforce.

The CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Grosche International, Helmi Ansari also pays his employees at least $16 per hour; a move he says paid off in better productivity, improved customer service and staff retention. Mr. Ansari believes paying their staff a minimum wage in his coffee and tea merchandise business would make the company less successful.

Mr. Ansari is also a co-founder of the Better Way Alliance, an organization that is calling on companies in Canada to embrace the living wage. The website says:

There is a myth that the “high turnover and low-pay” model is the secret to success in business. But many employers see things differently. We know from experience that a commitment to decent work makes good economic sense. By speaking out, we hope to open up the conversation about what makes the most sense today.

American author, Mark Twain, once said, “Always do right – this will gratify some and astonish the rest”. Hearing of businesses doing something altruistic astonished me.

Typically, what is reported in the news media is corporate greed. The Huffington Post reports, the middle class in the United States is on a 40-year decline. The article says millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages and average family income is almost $5,000 less than it was in 1999. I am sure Canada is no different.

The article reports that the 99% of all new income is going to the top 1%, while the top one-tenth of 1% own almost as much wealth as the bottom 40%. In the last two years, the wealthiest 14 people in the United States increased their wealth by $157 billion. That increase is more than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans combined. It seems to me that businesses, and especially the corporations can easily afford to pay a living wage.

In my province, the provincial government has promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018. That sparked much debate in the province. Really, the minimum wage debate has been going on for years.

Those in favour of raising the minimum wage say it would improve the overall standard of living for minimum wage workers by providing them with a more appropriate income level to handle cost of living increases. It is pretty difficult to refute that argument. Some also say it would boost economic growth as consumer spending typically increases with increases in wages. A higher minimum wage would put more dollars in consumer’s hands and that money would subsequently flow to retailers and other businesses.

Those arguing against increasing the minimum wage say it causes businesses to increase prices, thus fuelling inflation. Opponents argue that raising minimum wage increases operating expenses for companies thereby increasing the prices of products and services to cover their increased labor costs. Increased prices mean an increase in the cost of living consequently offsetting any advantage gained by workers having more dollars in their pockets. One of the biggest arguments in my province is an increased minimum wage causes the potential for job losses.

No matter how much I read in terms of research into the minimum wage debate, there seems to be research to support both sides of the issue. There seems to be no clear answers. I do know from experience that it is impossible to have a decent standard of living on a minimum wage. I used to have my students do a project in one of the courses I taught in high school. The project was to have my students plan a budget while living on minimum wage. They had to rent accommodations with or without a roommate. They had to plan expenses such as food, utilities and transportation. The bottom line is not one of my students could come up with a budget living on minimum wage that suited their desired standard of living. It was not possible. As of today, the minimum wages in Canada range from $10.72/hr. in Saskatchewan to $13.00/hr. in Nunavut.

A report released in 2016 calculated the living wage for Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, as $20.64 an hour. This would be the amount needed for a family of four with both parents working full-time at $20:64 to pay their necessities.  The province of British Columbia’s minimum wage at the moment $10.85/hr. In my view, the right thing to do is for businesses to pay a living wage.  It is morally right! It is the altruistic thing to do! It is our duty to do what is best for our neighbour. It should be a no brainer.

The other story that caught my attention was that Iceland is the first country to propose equal pay legislation. Iceland’s parliament is considering a new law forcing most companies and institutions to prove that they are paying men and women equally. Any company with 25 or more employees will have to go through audits and receive certification that equal pay is provided, or they could face fines (see BBC). That is “ground breaking”. That is fantastic! Hopefully, more countries will follow suit.

I worked in a career where gender pay was equal. It didn’t matter whether you were male or female, you got paid the same. Your pay was determined by years of education and years of experience. It seems that is not the case in most working environments. The Globe and Mail 2015 article, Gender pay gap in Canada more than twice global average, study shows, says Canadian working women are making about $8,000 less a year than men doing an equivalent job. I once thought that gender inequality was becoming a thing of the past, but once again I was just naive.

So, I applaud the living wage movement. It is the right thing to do. I give a “thumbs up” to Iceland. Why? Because it is the right thing to do. To quote one of my heroes, Mohandas K. Gandhi, “You have to do the right thing… You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result”.