A Letter to the Editor of Canadian Geographic

Update: September 12, 2013. When I wrote the letter below to Mr. Harris he provided me with a very comprehensive reply. I am posting that reply here so you can read what he had to say. I am prompted to do this as Warren Bell, (commenting below) has now written an open letter to Canadian Geographic about their surprising Energy Issue in June 2013, read it here. The response from Mr. Harris is below.

The October issue of Canadian Geographic is all about climate changenorway climate change . Wonderful I say, but…..

It has been tarnished by the Canadian Government message of ‘Climate Prosperity’. This really disappointed me. I have worked with Canadian Geographic in the past and I feel that they  have been compromised while promoting this piece of spin.

You can see the slogan and diagram in question here (on a tar sands funded website), or read Desmogblog for a bit more information on this. Below is my response and letter to the Editor of Canadian Geographic.

Eric Harris
Canadian Geographic
1155 Lola Street, Suite 200
Ottawa, Ont. K1K 4C1

Dear Mr. Harris,

As a Canadian photographer who focuses on climate change internationally and whose work has been featured in Canadian Geographic, I congratulate you on your dedication to climate change in the October 2010 issue. However, I was disappointed at the magazine’s choice to promote the industry and government-created slogan of ‘Climate Prosperity’.

The ‘Climate Prosperity’ project publicly states its aims as being to acknowledge the need to adapt to and mitigate climate change, and to profit from this mitigation. However, I believe this slogan is an intentionally manipulative exercise in spin from an industry and government who have no intention of curbing carbon emissions.

The term ‘prosperity’ communicates to the reader that climate change will be overwhelmingly positive for Canada, although your articles and the ‘climate prosperity’ diagram state otherwise. It incorrectly implies that we do not have to act ambitiously to mitigate climate change. And, it ignores the plight of millions around the world adversely affected by climate change.

I was saddened that Canadian Geographic, a respected, politically independent institution, and wonderful work partner, supported the government and oil industry in this instance. Having documented the progress of the UN climate conferences for the last three years leading up to the Copenhagen summit, I can tell you with certainty that our government’s climate policy is abysmal and the most regressive in the world. I believe strongly that this sort of greenwashing and politics does not belong in the pages of Canadian Geographic.

Mr. Harris, thank you for taking the time to read my concerns. I would welcome a response and I hope that we can continue to work together on environmental and climate issues in the future.

Robert van Waarden

Response from Mr. Harris

Hi Robert,

Many thanks for your letter. We’re past the deadline for it to appear in the next issue, but I will ensure that it is included with all the additional letters that we’ll post online. (The entire letters to the editor section consists of reactions to the theme of the October issue.)

Here’s my perspective of our partnership in this issue: the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, which was established by the Mulroney government in 1988 in response to the Bruntland Report, is (in principal, at least) an independent advisory council whose mandate is to advise government on policy pertaining to the environment and economy. Its board members, appointed for finite terms, come from a range of backgrounds — business, science, environmental advocacy — although, it’s true, they are political appointments. NRTEE’s mandate, though, is to objectively conduct and assess environmental science and develop non-partisan policy advice. Whether government accepts this advice is another matter.

Its “Climate Prosperity” program is one aspect of its much larger body of work; and I agree, it certainly could have chosen a less provocative title.

Ultimately, though, the goal with this project (or, at least, my interpretation of the goal) is to alert Canadians that (a) climate change (warming in some regions, cooling in others, more extreme weather, issues with water quality and quantity, etc.) is without doubt happening; (b) reduction and mitigation, of course, must be the priority (c) even if anthropogenic carbon outputs ceased today, it would take decades for the environment to remediate, and thus we should be prepared for conditions to change. In economic terms, most change will be for the worse; some for the better. Either way, we’d be smart to get ready to adapt, rather than ignore. And some may find prosperous opportunities in adapting.

The magazine’s editorial line-up was independently developed; NRTEE did not suggest, dictate or vet the magazine’s editorial content. (We did cite some of their sources/reports.) The component they did provide, which we reproduced, was the “Degrees of Change” diagram on the poster map. (It’s the result of NRTEE’s compilation and analysis of a couple of decades worth of climate science reports.) We felt this was of interest to our readership because it attempted to depict, for the first time, Canada-specific climate impacts in one assemblage. Whether the points on the diagram are understated or overstated has become a significant part of the debate/discussion triggered by the RCGS/NRTEE partnership.

I view this project as one in a continuum of climate change coverage by Canadian Geographic dating back to the 1980s. While this issue may have been overly Canada-centric, others (see CG October 2008, for example) have included a strong international perspective.

I don’t see that we are “supported the government and oil industry” with this issue. They are significant, omnipresent players, with the right to purchase ad pages to covey their messages, but they had no influence on editorial content. That was all our own doing!

Robert, I really appreciate your taking the time to write. Of all the letters we’ve received, yours is one of the most articulate ones. Which is what prompted me to provide such a lengthy reply.

Best regards,


Eric Harris
Canadian Geographic