A photo of Dr. David Schindler earlier in his career.
Photo by: IISD Experimental Lakes Area

The Council mourns the loss of world-renowned ecologist David Schindler 

Dylan Penner
6 months ago

This past Thursday, March 4, 2021, the world lost Dr. David Schindler, “Canada’s leading ecologist.” The Council extends its condolences to his friends and family. 

Dr. Schindler was Killam Memorial Chair and Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta’s Department of Biological Sciences. His scientific research has had a tangible impact on water and climate policies in Canada, including in relation to the regulation of toxins, acid rain, and the effects of the tar sands. 

And Dr. Schindler is also someone the Council had the honour and privilege of working with over the years. 

Tar Sands

Dr. Schindler was outspoken on the impacts of the tar sands, including at a 2008 Council of Canadians press conference in Edmonton where he warned about the impacts of the tar sands on the already worsening water and climate crises. 

In June 2019, Schindler and the Council’s former chairperson Maude Barlow wrote in the Globe and Mail about the importance of protecting the Athabasca River from toxic tar sands tailings

“Indigenous people downstream of the oil sands have largely ceased eating fish or drinking water from the Athabasca River. With the proposed increased discharge of toxins, the area affected could expand farther down the system to the Slave and Mackenzie Rivers and adjacent communities. At best, the situation would be a violation of the terms of Treaty 8, which guarantees the livelihood of the area’s Indigenous peoples, a clear violation of human rights. The plan to dump toxic tailings into the river should be scrapped.” 

Experimental Lakes Area

The Council also worked with Dr. Schindler on opposing the former Harper government’s attempt to shut down the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), as well as pushing back against that government’s all-out assault on freshwater protections. Dr. Schindler co-founded the ELA and spent many years there studying the effects of water shortages and climate disruption.  

The ELA is a unique federal research program that studies the long-term impacts of global threats to freshwater lakes. Operating for more than 40 years, the ELA consists of 58 small lakes in Northern Ontario where scientists study the effects of water pollution, climate change and other threats. The ELA is recognized as one of the most distinguished projects in the world for studying freshwater lakes and it’s where the impact of fertilizers on lake health was first discovered. 

Together, the Council and Schindler penned opinion pieces and hosted public forums on the importance of the ELA to water and climate science in Canada. The Council worked with the Coalition to Save the ELA and other allies to keep the ELA open. The Council also commissioned a poll that found that 60 per cent of Conservative Party voters opposed the cuts to the ELA, delivered a $50 million invoice to then Environment Minister Peter Kent for closure of the ELA, and occupied the ELA. 

The efforts were ultimately successful in saving the ELA through an agreement that transferred control to the Ontario government and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). 

As the IISD put it, “Without Dave, there would be no IISD Experimental Lakes Area as we know it today.” 

Diane Orihel, former Director for the Coalition to Save the ELA as well as Dr. Schindler’s last PhD student, tweeted that Dr. Schindler was “a man of big dreams, big science, big impact. I celebrate his storied career as a giant of #cdnsci. But moreover, as a bold environmental scientist who wasn't afraid to speak truth to power.” 

Honouring Dr. Schidler’s Legacy

We can honour Dr. Schindler’s legacy by remembering his many contributions and keeping up the struggle for a tar sands free future. This includes continued organizing for climate and water policies to be based on science, for greater water protections from coast-to-coast-to-coast, and solidarity with frontline Indigenous struggles to protect the lands and waters from the negative impacts of industry that Dr. Schindler spent a lifetime exposing.