Our Future, Our Practice, Our Rights, and Objective Reality of Scientific Projections.

President’s Blog

April 8, 2019
By Mark Thompson, President of the APB

“Resilience in Practice” is the theme we have selected for the 40th Year Anniversary AGM of the APB. Biologists can help to address the pressing issues of our time. Is the new professional reliance model as proposed going to help us mobilize and prepare for the challenges we face, including climate change, continued decline of species, and loss of populations? What can we do to prepare for a precarious future?

The premature release of the government of Canada’s Changing Climate Report (CCCR)[1] should have us worried. Its main conclusion? Canadian society is in peril. This contrasts sharply with the way that projects and a business-as-usual model continues to advance in Canada, and in decisions concerning the development of our natural resources.

We have unequivocally entered into a sixth mass extinction. On a global scale we have witnessed the extinction of 34 (possibly 122) amphibian species, but only 2 are recorded as lost from North America. None have gone extinct in Canada (that we are aware). The global pattern reveals rapid and drastic declines where species richness is greatest, especially in the tropical regions of the planet.[2] 

Most of us are more familiar with the reported loss of caribou. We have witnessed the process of extinction in a real-time play-by-play narrative on the numbers, ranges, and events. More recently we have learned that invertebrates have been going quietly extinct.[3] The biggest cause for alarm in this sixth mass extinction is not the extinction of species, but the decline of populations in endless retreat.

As president of the APB and as a professional biologist I would like to borrow this opportunity to blog some of my perspectives on major developments concerning British Columbia’s natural resource industry and our professional response that is anticipated to unfold under the Professional Governance Act. I specialize in herpetology. Amphibians are declining faster than any other vertebrate species.


Enabling Biologists Through Partnership in Professional Reliance

The primary threads of discussion at the College of Applied Biology Annual General Meeting (CAB-AGM) in Victoria on “Right to Practice: What’s the Future?” were focused on audits, scrutiny, oversight, checking our ethics, the public interest, and knowing if we are competent and qualified to perform the work we do. The underpinning philosophy in current discussions has me concerned. The emphasis is one-sided and unbalanced, but I remain optimistic that the process is still under review. I believe that the APB has a larger and more important role in this process that has yet to be fully recognized.

Our professional capabilities will be strengthened by balancing regulation through CAB with equalized support from the APB. The CAB was created to serve the public interest whereas the APB is here to represent the interests of professional biologists. Professional reliance must include a thriving and well-funded network of support. Somehow the importance of the APB has been forgotten, lost, or overlooked in these discussions concerning our right-to-practice. This needs to change.

The Practice of Biology and the Public Interest

There is no hard distinction between the public interest and the interests of our members. The values and mission of the APB must not be viewed as an external player that could come or go, but as an essential and equal partner in professional reliance. It is in the public interest to ensure that practicing biologists have the capability, freedom, and resources to provide the type of services that we offer.

A recent article in Nature points out that scientists, ecologists specifically, “…face a public increasingly distrustful of their work…but changes to government policies and legal reforms are bringing ecologists, who document and address environmental challenges, into direct conflict with policymakers”.[4] Are we to work in a landscape of fear? Our members have expressed as much in a survey that we coordinated on Professional Reliance Review in January 2018 citing “…the perception that industry and lobby groups have undue influence on professionals and decision-making processes”.[5]

There was discussion during the CAB-AGM that science cannot be the only factor that comes into play during governmental decisions. While this is surely true and applicable for social policy concerning more nuanced issues, like education or religious freedoms, it fails the test of survival when it comes to the CCCR projections. People may disagree with the science, but it would be unwise and not in the public interest to ignore the science in as much as it is a dangerous play to the devastating end of our society as some may wish to leave open negotiation for differences of opinion on this point. I’m concerned that weighing the public interest has become a tool to weight decisions in any number of ways that can be used to sidestep objectivity and evidence.

Killer whale populations are another large provincial vertebrate under threat. The whale issue is become particularly newsworthy under the National Energy Board’s (NEB) approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline project. The NEB determined that the pipeline project was in the public interest despite “…significant adverse effects that are likely to be caused by Project-related marine shipping on the Southern resident killer whale and Indigenous cultural use associated with the Southern resident killer whale”. The NEB reconsideration report also states that greenhouse gas emissions are “likely to be significant”; this does not account for the downstream emissions in overseas markets.

This is not intended as anti-pipeline rhetoric, but I’m obliged to follow on our code of ethics as an independent professional biologist. Scientifically the NEB decision fails the test of what is in the best public interest. Clearly the CCCR projections give pause to reflect on the spin-off effects that the projections will have on economics should events unfold to an annual average temperature “for the late century (2081–2100)…to 6.3°C for a high emission scenario[1]. These temperature increases are certain to have sizzled fish and amphibians out of existence by the time my kids turn 70 years old!

The New Advisory Model for Best Management Practices

During the CAB-AGM we heard that the CAB has been discussing plans to form an advisory committee with the provincial government to assist with policy making and practice documents. Members should be concerned that the process for framing our scope of practice may be unduly influenced by regulators if this policy advisory model should come to pass. Does this fall under the rubric of public interest? This particular role should fall under the purview of the APB and other independent advisers with expertise and training in development of applicable practice documents, such as RISC standards or Best Management Practice (BMP) documents.

The oceans ecosystems and boreal forests hold the largest reservoirs of carbon. They are vital to the regulation of the planets climate systems. This means that we are the guardians of the major carbon budget in the province. Biologists are and should be the biggest players in this discussion.

The fish, wildlife, and ecosystems that we are charged to work with, to protect, and to understand are the keystone factors adding resilience into and for the well-being of our economies. It is my hope that we can advance the scope of practicing biologists through a renewed professional reliance model that brings these issues into the forefront of governance. We need a well-regulated practice, but this requires a check in balance with oversight that the APB has the potential to offer in spades. However, the APB needs the support of biologists and our esteemed colleagues from other professional branches so that we may serve and protect the interest of our members and ensure that we sustain our natural resources for the greater public good.

This is not intended as anti-pipeline rhetoric, but I’m obliged to follow on our code of ethics as an independent professional biologist. Scientifically the NEB decision fails the test of what is in the best public interest. Clearly the CCCR projections give pause to reflect on the spin-off effects that the projections will have on economics should events unfold to an annual average temperature “for the late century (2081–2100)…to 6.3°C for a high emission scenario”.[6] These temperature increases are certain to have sizzled fish and amphibians out of existence by the time my kids turn 70 years old!

 

The New Advisory Model for Best Management Practices

During the CAB-AGM we heard that the CAB has been discussing plans to form an advisory committee with the provincial government to assist with policy making. Members should be concerned that policy, Best Management Practices (BMPs) and other guidance documents that shall serve to frame our scope of practice may be unduly influenced by regulators if the CAB advisory model should come to pass. Does this fall under the rubric of public interest? This particular role should fall under the purview of the APB including other independent advisers with expertise and training in development of applicable practice documents.

The oceans ecosystems and boreal forests hold the largest reservoirs of carbon. They are vital to the regulation of the planets climate systems. This means that we are the guardians of the major carbon budget in the province. Biologists are and should be the biggest players in this discussion.

The fish, wildlife, and ecosystems that we are charged to work with, to protect, and to understand are the keystone factors adding resilience into and for the well-being of our economies. It is my hope that we can advance the scope of practicing biologists through a renewed professional reliance model that brings these issues into the forefront of governance. We need a well-regulated practice, but this requires a check in balance with oversight that the APB has the potential to offer in spades. However, the APB needs the support of biologists and our esteemed colleagues from other professional branches so that we may serve and protect the interest of our members and ensure that we sustain our natural resources for the greater public good.

[1] https://changingclimate.ca/CCCR2019

[2] https://www.iucnredlist.org/resources/disappearing-jewels

[3] Eisenhauer, N., Bonn, A., & Guerra, C. A. (2019). Recognizing the quiet extinction of invertebrates. Nature Communications, 10(1), 50. doi:10.1038/s41467-018-07916-1

[4] Lewis, D. 2019. Global political climate of ‘fear’ threatens ecologists’ work. Nature. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-01055-3 

[5] https://professionalbiology.com/common/Uploaded%20files/Advocacy/APB-Professional-Reliance-Briefing-July-4-2018-1.pdf

[6] https://changingclimate.ca/CCCR2019/chapter/executive-summary/