How ‘organized climate change denial’ shapes public opinion on global warming

Climate communication researchers say climate skepticism is taking new form

An estimated four million people worldwide took part in the climate strikes on Sept. 20, which are part of a broader movement to raise awareness about carbon emissions. (Shutterstock / Ben Gingell)

With citizens around the world filling the streets demanding climate action, it might appear that the voices of contrarians are growing fainter. But doubts about climate change still surface.

Just this week, Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, told the Toronto Star‘s editorial board that “while the climate may be changing, this is not due primarily to human activity.”

In the U.S., climate contrarians hold key political positions.

“We have the president of the United States basically enunciating climate denier talking points, so it’s still alive and well,” said Robert Brulle, a professor at Brown University in Providence, R.I., who has spent years researching climate contrarians.

John Cook at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University recently completed a study tracking climate misinformation in internet articles. He discovered an increase in rhetoric denying that warming is happening — but he also saw evidence of an uptick in misinformation about climate change solutions over the last few years.

Other climate communication researchers say they’ve noticed a similar trend.

“In some ways, the face of climate denial in political rhetoric has shifted,” said Matto Mildenberger, a Canadian climate policy researcher currently working at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“It tends to be much more either, ‘We can’t do anything about it’ or ‘It’s not important enough to do right away.'”

The researchers have also found evidence that climate misinformation is affecting public opinion about the nature of climate change and the efficacy of solutions.

‘Organized climate change denial’

The phenomenon of climate misinformation has been the focus of a growing field of research, which began when social scientists noticed an emerging anti-climate change narrative in response to scientific evidence of global warming.

Environmental sociologist Riley Dunlap was one of the first researchers to investigate what he calls “organized climate change denial.” (Riley Dunlap)

The first assessment of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released in 1990, and concluded that human activities were increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations that would warm the earth’s surface.

The evidence and scientific consensus for climate change caused by human activities has accumulated since then. This week, a new IPCC Special Report described widespread melting of ice sheets and ocean warming and stressed the need for “ambitious emissions reductions coupled with coordinated sustained and increasingly ambitious adaptation actions.”

Environmental sociologist Riley Dunlap, one of the early climate communication researchers, was intrigued in the ’90s when he recognized a “counter-movement” to climate activism.

“You get these almost always conservative counter-movements that emerge when the first movement is pushing society, with some success, in a progressive direction,” said Dunlap.

In one paper, Dunlap identified the members of the movement as “contrarian scientists, fossil fuels corporations, conservative think-tanks, and various front groups,” along with “a bevy of amateur climate bloggers and self-designated experts, public relations firms, astroturf groups, conservative media and pundits, and conservative politicians.”

Over the last three decades, a series of investigative news stories as well as academic research revealed additional evidence of what Dunlap called “organized climate change denial.”

In 1991, a New York Times story described how a campaign by coal-burning utility companies and coal producers aimed “to ‘reposition global warming as theory’ and not fact.”

In 1998, leaked documents from the American Petroleum Institute, a trade organization for the oil and gas industry, described its plan to boost uncertainty about climate change. Those documents, now published online by the Union of Concerned Scientists, describe a global communications action plan where “victory will be achieved when … recognition of uncertainties [around climate science] becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.'”

“The conservative movement/fossil fuel complex quickly adopted the strategy of ‘manufacturing’ uncertainty and doubt (perfected by the tobacco industry) as its preferred strategy for promoting skepticism,” Dunlap wrote.

New climate election report delivers tough message to candidates: ‘None of your plans do enough to stop expansion of oil and gas industry’ report assesses platforms for Canada’s major political parties, reveals none meet level of ambition called for by UN IPCC report to avert worst impacts of climate change

Image result for burning earth


UNCEDED COAST SALISH TERRITORY (VANCOUVER, BC) — International environmental organization’s new report “A climate election guide for a world on fire” released Wednesday, October 9, assesses the climate plans for Canada’s major political parties. The report delivers a tough message to candidates that none of the parties’ platforms do enough to stop the expansion of the oil and gas industry.

Without adequate supply-side policies to stop new expansion projects, Canada will not be able to meet the level of ambition called for by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change landmark report Global Warming of 1.5ºC, which lays out the steps we must take to avert the worst impacts of climate change by keeping the world to 1.5°C of warming.

Read the report:

“After analyzing the climate plans for Canada’s major political parties, one thing is patently clear: elected officials, especially those who hope to lead the country, lack the necessary sense of urgency about climate change,” said Sven Biggs, Climate & Energy Campaigner at “Our politicians lack the courage to be honest with Canadians about the nature of the problem and the hard choices that have to be made to solve it. They are part of a new form of climate denialism, where they say say they understand and accept the scientific warnings about climate change, but they are in denial about what this means for public policy, and the measures necessary to reverse the effects of climate change before it’s too late.”

The report assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the climate plans for the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the New Democratic Party, and the Liberal Party, revealing:

  • The Conservative Party’s plan is merely a throwback to an era in which climate-insincere politicians try to trick climate-concerned citizens into believing they are taking action on greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Green Party’s plan is a house-on-fire climate emergency action plan that honors Canada’s commitments in the Paris Agreement and keeps global warming to near 2°C, but is a little short on details and they do not explicitly communicate that much of Canada’s fossil fuel reserves will need to stay in the ground.
  • The New Democratic Party’s plan includes an aggressive emissions-reduction target that makes it clear they take the issue of climate change seriously, but it doesn’t provide enough details about carbon pricing and doesn’t include any supply-side policies to stop oil and gas expansion.
  • The Liberal Party’s climate track record is an improvement over the government that came before them, but it simply won’t get the job done. The introduction of a “net zero” target by 2050 is ambitious, but the combination of their track record and a complete lack of details on how they will meet this new target does little to inspire confidence.

The report also outlines what candidates can do to become true climate leaders by implementing policies that stop the expansion of the oil and gas industry:

    • No new fossil fuel projects: Stop approving, investing in, and building new fossil fuel projects — including no new or expanded pipelines, LNG terminals, coal mines, or tar sands mines.
    • Create an exit plan: Create an exit plan that breaks our economic reliance on the oil and gas sector, while supporting workers and communities impacted by the shift to a sustainable economy.
    • No tax breaks and subsidies: Stop giving tax breaks and subsidies to fossil fuel companies and invest that $3.3 billion of taxpayer money in renewable energy sources and other clean technologies.
    • Keep it in the ground: Acknowledge the world cannot afford to burn all of our fossil fuel reserves, particularly the oil from the tar sands, and acknowledge what’s left must remain in the ground.

“Every day we make it harder in Canada to fight climate change because we are expanding oil and gas production. If your house is on fire, you don’t add more fuel,” said Tzeporah Berman, International Program Director at “At this moment in history, we need leaders who will put in place an exit plan to stop the expansion of the oil and gas industry, implement a just transition by scaling up cleaner and safer jobs, and diversify our economy.”


A year after Prince George pipeline blast, B.C. First Nation wants answers

Legal action, safety report still underway in aftermath of 2018 explosion

Speaking to CBC after the 2018 natural gas pipeline explosion, Lheidli T’enneh First Nation member Violet Bazoki said she’s long worried about the risk of an explosion or fire cutting off the only road to her community of Shelley, B.C. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

A year after a natural gas pipeline exploded near Prince George, B.C., the people who felt their homes shake are still waiting for answers about what exactly went wrong and what can be done to prevent future incidents.

Approximately 100 Lheidli T’enneh residents in the community of Shelley, 15 kilometres northeast of Prince George, fled their homes as a precaution after the explosion.

They were allowed to return the same evening, and no injuries were reported.

Investigators determined the explosion was caused by a rupture in a 36-inch pipeline owned by Enbridge.

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) then launched a more detailed analysis and is now writing a final report on the matter.

Cracks from corrosion — TSB

In June of 2019, the TSB sent a letter to Enbridge stating the likely cause of the pipeline rupture were cracks from corrosion caused by moisture.

The TSB recommended the company review its infrastructure management practices, including how often it inspects pipelines for faults.

A large fireball seen rising into the sky above Shelley, a small community about 15 kilometres northeast of Prince George after a natural gas pipeline ruptured and exploded on Oct. 9, 2018. (@Dhruv7491/Twitter)

The TSB also singled out Enbridge’s use of polyethylene tape on its pipelines, writing “this type of coating has a tendency to separate (disbond) from the pipeline, allowing moisture present in the soil to contact the pipe surface.”

The cause of the explosion itself has not been released.

A spokesperson for the Transportation Safety Board said a full report into the explosion — along with recommendations — will be published by early January 2020. MORE

Striking UAW Member: We’ll Strike “As Long as It Takes” to Demand Fair Salaries and Benefits

Democracy Now!: About 48,000 workers at General Motors have entered their fourth week on strike. It is the longest national strike at GM by the United Auto Workers in nearly 50 years. Workers are seeking higher pay, protection of their healthcare benefits, greater job security and a commitment from GM to build more cars and parts in the United States. On Sunday, UAW officials announced they had rejected the company’s latest offer, saying negotiations had “taken a turn for the worse.” We speak with Steve Frisque, a striking GM worker and former president of UAW Local 722.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: About 48,000 workers at General Motors have entered their fourth week on strike. It’s the longest national walkout at GM by the United Auto Workers in nearly 50 years. Workers are seeking higher pay, protection of their healthcare benefits, greater job security and a commitment from GM to build more cars and parts in the United States. This is Steve Goralski, a striking GM worker in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

STEVE GORALSKI: We’ve got a company that had $35 billion in profits in the last few years. We’ve got temporaries that have been here over seven years and are still temporaries, and they’re asking for more temporaries. They’re moving our plants out of country; they’re taking them to Mexico and to China. And now they’re asking for concessions on our healthcare. I don’t know about you, but that’s the only reason I took this job. I used to have my own drywall company. I took it for the benefits.

AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, UAW officials announced they had rejected the company’s latest offer, saying negotiations had, quote, “taken a turn for the worse.” In a letter to union members, UAW Vice President Terry Dittes wrote, quote, “The Company’s response did nothing to advance a whole host of issues that are important to you and your families! It did nothing to provide job security during the term of this Agreement.”



GM strike’s economic toll: Idle trucks and shuttered factories stretching from Mexico to Canada
GM strike hovers over sluggish year for Canadian auto production

This Is Not a Drill: 700+ Arrested as Extinction Rebellion Fights Climate Crisis with Direct Action

Demoncracy Now!: More than 700 people have been arrested in civil disobedience actions as the group Extinction Rebellion kicked off two weeks of protests in 60 cities worldwide, demanding urgent government action on the climate crisis. Its members have superglued themselves to government buildings, occupied public landmarks, shut down roads and taken to the streets to sound the alarm about the impending catastrophe of global warming. Extinction Rebellion, a nonpolitical movement, launched last year in the U.K. and rose to prominence in April, when it disrupted traffic in Central London for 11 days. For more about the significance of the coordinated global protests, we speak with Extinction Rebellion co-founder Gail Bradbrook.

This is protester Jake Lynch speaking from the streets of London.

JAKE LYNCH: Well, it’s now five months since Parliament declared a climate emergency, and yet we’ve seen no emergency legislation brought forward to take effective action to stem the climate crisis. So we’re still subsidizing fossil fuels more than any other country in Europe. Globally, carbon emissions are still increasing. We’re heading in precisely the wrong direction. We here at Extinction Rebellion are taking action to interrupt the flow of normality, because it is that flow that is carrying us towards disaster.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Extinction Rebellion launched in London last year and has since grown into a global movement. Prime Minister Boris Johnson attacked the group’s protesters Monday night, calling them “uncooperative crusties.” Climate activist George Monbiot responded, tweeting, quote, “I’m proud to be an #UncooperativeCrusty. #ExtinctionRebellion continues. Come and see why Boris Johnson hates it so much, and how it challenges the life-destroying system he defends.”

AMY GOODMAN: In New York City, nearly 90 activists were arrested after staging a die-in on Wall Street, pouring fake blood on the iconic bull statue outside the New York Stock Exchange. Dozens were also arrested in Amsterdam, Vienna and Madrid. In Brisbane, Australia, an activist hung from Story Bridge in a hammock for six hours. Activists also took to the streets in Chile, Colombia and Mexico. Brazilian protesters held a die-in on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Protesters shut down the street in central Paris near the Notre-Dame, and hundreds flooded the streets of Berlin to demand action to combat global warming. This is German climate activist and migrant rescue ship captain Carola Rackete speaking from Berlin.

CAROLA RACKETE: [translated] As Extinction Rebellion, we demand that net emissions be reduced to zero by 2025 as part of an emergency program, as well as an immediate halt to the loss of biodiversity. What we also demand, and this is the interesting part, is that there be a citizens gathering which votes on the necessary measures. Extinction Rebellion will never make concrete policy proposals. We are saying the issue has to be handed back democratically to the citizens, who then decide on the measures together.

AMY GOODMAN: Protests continue today in cities around the world. In London, Extinction Rebellion plans to plant at least 800 trees outside of Parliament.




Buddhist Economics: How to Start Prioritizing People Over Products and Creativity Over Consumption

“Work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure.”

Much has been said about the difference between money and wealth and how we, as individuals, can make more of the latter, but the divergence between the two is arguably even more important the larger scale of nations and the global economy. What does it really mean to create wealth for people — for humanity — as opposed to money for governments and corporations?

That’s precisely what the influential German-born British economist, statistician, Rhodes Scholar, and economic theorist E. F. Schumacher explores in his seminal 1973 book Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (public library) — a magnificent collection of essays at the intersection of economics, ethics, and environmental awareness, which earned Schumacher the prestigious Prix Européen de l’Essai Charles Veillon award and was deemed by The Times Literary Supplement one of the 100 most important books published since WWII. Sharing an ideological kinship with such influential minds as Tolstoy and Gandhi, Schumacher’s is a masterwork of intelligent counterculture, applying history’s deepest, most timeless wisdom to the most pressing issues of modern life in an effort to educate, elevate and enlighten.

One of the most compelling essays in the book, titled “Buddhist Economics,” applies spiritual principles and moral purpose to the question of wealth….

Traditional Western economics, Schumacher argues, is bedeviled by a self-righteousness of sorts that blinds us to this fact — a fundamental fallacy that considers “goods as more important than people and consumption as more important than creative activity.” He writes:

“Economists themselves, like most specialists, normally suffer from a kind of metaphysical blindness, assuming that theirs is a science of absolute and invariable truths, without any presuppositions. Some go as far as to claim that economic laws are as free from “metaphysics” or “values” as the law of gravitations.”

From this stems our chronic desire to avoid work and the difficulty of finding truly fulfilling work that aligns with our sense of purpose. Schumacher paints the backdrop for the modern malady of overwork:

“The consequences of these attitudes both in theory and in practice are, of course, extremely far-reaching. If the ideal with regard to work is to get rid of it, every method that “reduces the work load” is a good thing. The most potent method, short of automation, is the so-called “division of labor”… Here it is not a matter of ordinary specialization, which mankind has practiced from time immemorial, but of dividing up every complete process of production into minute parts, so that the final product can be produced at great speed without anyone having had to contribute more than a totally insignificant and, in most cases, unskilled movement of his limbs.”

Schumacher contrasts this with the Buddhist perspective:

The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give a man a chance to utilize and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centeredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence. Again, the consequences that flow from this view are endless. To organize work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence. Equally, to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure.

From the Buddhist point of view, there are therefore two types of mechanization which must be clearly distinguished: one that enhances a man’s skill and power and one that turns the work of man over to a mechanical slave, leaving man in a position of having to serve the slave.


Advance polls are open this weekend

People throughout Canada have been making it clear that the environment is a key issue in the federal election. Advance polls open tomorrow, so it’s time to get out and vote for an environmental champion in your riding.

You can vote at your assigned polling station from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on:

    • Friday, October 11
    • Saturday, October 12
    • Sunday, October 13
    • Monday, October 14

To find your advance polling station, check your voter information card or use the Elections Canada Voter Information Service.

You can also vote at one of more than 500 Elections Canada offices before 6 p.m., Tuesday, October 15. You will vote using the special ballot process and will need to know the first and last name of your chosen candidate on the ballot. If you write only the name of a political party, your vote won’t be counted.

A couple of other things you should know:


Federal Party Survey on Environmental Platforms

2019 Canadian Federal Election

In anticipation of the need to bring forth important issues facing Canadians today – environmental protection, economic justice and human rights – a questionnaire representing the collective priorities of the organizations listed below was sent to Canada’s six main political parties in July 2019.

Below is a summary of the official responses from the political parties surveyed.

See full responses here >

ended by it.

Yes Partial No No Response
1. Will you immediately legislate a climate plan that will reduce Canada’s emissions in line with keeping warming below 1.5°C?
2. Will your climate plan clearly and precisely describe programs to reduce emissions from transportation, buildings and the oil and gas sector?
3. Will you ensure that workers and their families thrive during the transition to a low-carbon economy, by extending the Task Force on Just Transition to include all fossil fuel industries?
4. Will you ensure that fossil fuel projects will not be approved unless they are consistent with limiting emissions in Canada to keep warming below the 1.5°C threshold?
5. Will you champion a connected and representative protected areas network of at least 30 per cent of land, freshwater and ocean by 2030?
6. Will you ensure Canada’s federally protected lands, freshwater and oceans are managed to the highest international standards for ecological integrity?
7. Will you protect Canadians from pesticides, pollution and toxics in everyday products by modernizing the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and strengthening federal regulation of pesticides?
8. Given our plastic pollution and waste crisis, will you work with other levels of government to implement a national strategy that includes a ban on the production, sale and distribution of the most problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics, and that works to create a circular economy focused on reuse?
9. Will you create a Federal Environmental Bill of Rights that formally recognizes the legal right to a healthy environment?
10. Will you uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the protection of Indigenous and treaty rights?


Quebec could face compensation claims for Bill 21 harms

It’s rare for a government to have to pay for a breach of Charter rights, but the door is open to it, and Bill 21 clearly violates those rights.

Image result for policy options: Quebec could face compensation claims for Bill 21 harms

Might a government owe financial compensation to the individuals it harms via use of the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Specifically, where a law harms fundamental rights and is effective only because the legislature invoked the notwithstanding clause, is it up to individuals alone to absorb those harms? On the contrary, I argue that a court might order a government to pay compensation or damages for the harms it causes.

The question arises most obviously in Quebec. In June, the Legault government in that province adopted Bill 21, An Act respecting the Laicity of the State. It shielded the law from direct challenges under much of the Canadian Charter by use of the notwithstanding clause (section 33). The law’s controversial measures include a ban on religious symbols worn by many categories of public employees. The law prevents visibly religious people from being hired as teachers, principals and government lawyers. Although there is a grandfather clause for employees who held those positions as of March 2019, it won’t cover them if they accept promotion or reassignment.

In my view, it’s open to individuals to seek an award of damages under the Charter’s remedies clause. Section 24(1) states simply that anyone whose Charter rights “have been infringed or denied may apply…to obtain such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.”

Courts haven’t often ordered the government to pay compensation for breach of someone’s Charter rights, but the Supreme Court of Canada has unquestionably opened the door to doing so. Nearly a decade ago, in Ward, the Supreme Court set out the prevailing approach. In that case, an individual was mistakenly arrested because a police officer believed that he intended to throw a pie at the prime minister. Alan Cameron Ward was strip-searched in violation of his Charter right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. He ultimately obtained $5,000. The Court emphasized the potential for Charter remedies to include constitutional damages. In short, Ward tells us that there can be damages for violation of Charter rights. Bill 21 violates Charter rights. Might the harms from Bill 21 be compensable, too?

It’s critical here to understand the textual limits on a government’s use of the notwithstanding clause. Section 33 states: “Parliament or the legislature…may expressly declare…that [an] Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding…section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.” It goes on: “An Act or a provision…in respect of which a declaration made under this section is in effect, shall have such operation as it would have but for the provision of this Charter referred to.” The constitutional language is saying that the law being shielded will continue in force, but it says nothing about what judges may do.

We need to take care not to read restrictions into the text that aren’t there. As observed by Léonid Sirota, section 33 makes no mention of section 24, the remedies clause. That means a government cannot use the notwithstanding clause to shield a law from the remedies clause: it cannot legislate that a law will operate — with potentially harmful effects — notwithstanding the remedies clause. I see no reason for judges to give governments greater immunity from the Charter than its drafters did by developing such a rule themselves. MORE


What Is Quebec’s Bill 21 & Why Does It Keep Coming Up In The Election Debates?



Materialism may influence us to choose “green buying” rather than not buying anything at all, research finds.

Humans’ overconsumption of resources—from the food and clothes we buy to the methods of transportation we choose—is a leading contributor to global climate change, says Sabrina Helm, an associate professor in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona.

Therefore, it’s increasingly important to understand the choices consumers make and how those decisions affect the health of a planet with limited resources.

In a new study, Helm and her collaborators explore how culturally entrenched materialistic values influence pro-environmental behaviors in millennials, who are now the nation’s most influential group of consumers.


The researchers focused on two main categories of pro-environmental behaviors: 1) reduced consumption, which includes actions like repairing instead of replacing older items, avoiding impulse purchases, and not buying unnecessary items; and 2) “green buying,” or purchasing products designed to limit environmental impacts, such as goods made from recycled materials.

The researchers also looked at how engaging in pro-environmental behaviors affects consumer well-being.

More materialistic participants, the researchers found, were unlikely to engage in reduced consumption. However, materialism did not seem to have an effect on their likelihood of practicing green buying. That’s probably because green buying, unlike reduced consumption, still offers a way for materialists to fulfill their desire to accumulate new items, Helm says.

“There is evidence that there are ‘green materialists,’” says Helm. “If you are able to buy environmentally friendly products, you can still live your materialist values. You’re acquiring new things, and that fits into our mainstream consumption pattern in our consumer culture, whereas reduced consumption is more novel and probably more important from a sustainability perspective.”

Study participants who reported having fewer materialistic values were much more likely to engage in reduced consumption. Consuming less was, in turn, linked to higher personal well-being and lower psychological distress.


Green buying—which may have some positive environmental implications, although to a lesser degree than reduced consumption—was not found to improve consumer well-being, Helm says. MORE

For Grassy Narrows families, mercury is an intergenerational trauma. For political parties, it’s a federal election issue

Fifty years after an Ontario First Nation learned its fish were poisoned, research suggests the damage is being handed down from parents to children. On the campaign trail, activists are pressing the parties to build a treatment centre for those afflicted

Chrissy Isaacs, 39, sits in her home on the Grassy Narrows First Nation alongside her grandson Kakiigawapi Swain, 3. Her daughters have shown neurological symptoms she believes are linked to mercury poisoning. PHOTOGRAPHY BY FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

For years, Chrissy Isaacs watched her grandfather struggle with the symptoms of mercury poisoning. He was a fisherman and a guide, his health damaged by the contaminated fish he ate.

Today, she worries about the fourth generation of his descendants. Her daughters, 18 and 13, are showing signs of neurological issues she believes are linked to the same mercury contamination that has devastated her community.

Generation after generation, Grassy Narrows First Nation has seen its crisis painfully prolonged. It has been almost 50 years since the revelation its fish had been poisoned by tonnes of mercury dumped into its river system by a paper mill owned by Reed Paper Ltd., in the Northern Ontario city of Dryden.

Recent studies by Montreal-based scientist Donna Mergler have found strong evidence – from umbilical-cord blood tests and community surveys – confirming the mercury damage is persisting from mothers to children. Children at Grassy Narrows are four times more likely to suffer from learning disabilities or nervous-system disorders if their mothers had regularly consumed fish during their pregnancies, one study found. (Dr. Mergler, professor emerita at the University of Quebec at Montreal, was the lead scientist in the studies, which were commissioned by Grassy Narrows First Nation.)

The crisis has emerged as a federal election issue, raised by candidates and audience members at national and local candidate debates since the beginning of the campaign. Activists have urged the party leaders to commit to building a treatment centre and hospice at Grassy Narrows for the victims.

In Toronto, thousands of people chanted, “Justice for Grassy Narrows” during a march for action on climate change in late September, and the mercury issue was debated again by candidates for the riding of Toronto Centre in early October. This week, at the first English-language debate of the federal leaders, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh complained that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau had mocked a Grassy Narrows supporter at a fundraiser, while Mr. Trudeau insisted that “money is not the objection” in the delays to the treatment-centre project.

A specialized medical clinic, with staff who understand the complexities of mercury poisoning and how to diagnose the syndrome, could be crucial for the people of Grassy Narrows. Without it, they must travel for treatment in Kenora or Thunder Bay or Winnipeg, where doctors often wrongly assume their neurological or mental symptoms are due to alcohol abuse, Ms. Isaacs says. MORE