The role of scientific evidence in Canada's west coast energy conflicts

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Clermont, Holly
Dale, Ann
King, Leslie
Reed, Maureen
Knowledge mobilization
With salience, credibility, and legitimacy as organizing themes, we investigated how opposing communities engaged with scientific information for two contentious proposed energy projects in western Canada, and how their perceptions of science influenced its use in decision-making. The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, to carry diluted bitumen from northern Alberta’s oil sands to tankers on British Columbia’s (BC) south coast, was expected to adversely impact biodiversity and contribute to climate change. The Bute Inlet hydroelectric project, a large renewable energy project planned for BC’s Central Coast, was anticipated to impact biodiversity but was largely seen as climate-friendly. Based on surveys and interviews with 68 participants who had made one or more personal or professional decisions pertaining to the projects, we discovered that values, cultural cognition, and media effects permeated all aspects of using scientific evidence—from commissioning scientific research to selecting, assessing, and weighing it with other forms of information. As a result, science was developed and used to support positions rather than to inform decisions. We discuss ways to improve the use of science in environmental assessments and other planning and development processes where engaged communities are divided by oppositional positions. We hope this research will lead to community-university partnerships that identify broadly salient, credible, and legitimate sources of information about energy and climate issues, and foster knowledge mobilization across conflict divides.
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