Back in 2012, when Canada's Harper government announced that it would close down national archive sites around the country, they promised that anything that was discarded or sold would be digitized first. But only an insignificant fraction of the archives got scanned, and much of it was simply sent to landfill or burned.
Unsurprisingly, given the Canadian Conservatives' war on the environment, the worst-faring archives were those that related to climate research. The legendary environmental research resources of the St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick are gone. The Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland: gone. Both collections were world-class.
An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger's 19th century expedition went to the landfill, taking with them the crucial observations of marine life, fish stocks and fisheries of the age. Update: a copy of these logs survives overseas.
The destruction of these publicly owned collections was undertaken in haste. No records were kept of what was thrown away, what was sold, and what was simply lost. Some of the books were burned.
Hutchings saw the library closures fitting a larger pattern of "fear and insecurity" within the Harper government, "about how to deal with science and knowledge."
That pattern includes the gutting of the Fisheries Act, the muzzling of scientists, the abandonment of climate change research and the dismantling of countless research programs, including the world famous Experimental Lakes Area. All these examples indicate that the Harper government strongly regards environmental science as a threat to unfettered resource exploitation.
"There is a group of people who don't know how to deal with science and evidence. They see it as a problem and the best way to deal with it is to cut it off at the knees and make it ineffective," explained Hutchings.
"The other worrying thing is that no one seems to care a great deal about it. There is minimal political cost for doing these things just as there is no political cost to making bad decisions about ocean management."
Many scientists, including Hutchings and world famous water ecologist David Schindler, compared the government's concerted attacks on environmental science to the rise of fascism and the total alignment of state and corporate interests in 1930s Europe.
"You look at the rise of certain political parties in the 1930s," noted Hutchings, "and have to ask how could that happen and how did they adopt such extreme ideologies so quickly, and how could that happen in a democracy today?"
What's Driving Chaotic Dismantling of Canada's Science Libraries? [Andrew Nikiforuk/The Tyee]