This week I spoke with a group of filmmakers who are hoping to put together a documentary about the changes the local ecology has gone through over the generations, interviewing elders and current hunters to try and estimate where things are going.
One thing that really struck me was a brief discussion about how United States President Donald Trump wants to start drilling for oil and gas in sacred caribou calving grounds “that no man can step foot in.”
So I figure I should clarify my stance from the column last week.
Natural gas is less greenhouse gas intensive than pretty much every other fossil fuel when done right, but it is still a fossil fuel and there are limitations to where and how it can be explored.
Caribou, whales, bears and the rest of the biosphere are more important than money. Someone wiser than me once pointed out that nature is the source of all wealth.
Therefore that source needs to be treated in a sustainable fashion and with respect.
Economic development of any kind, be it building roads or ports or digging mines or wells or building a housing or industrial development all have clear and well documented environmental impacts.
While some might argue the North lags behind in economic development, there is a distinct advantage that civic and economic planners now have a very well documented paper trail of what works and what doesn’t and more importantly why it does or doesn’t.
Municipalities across the planet have now dealt with environmental missteps that have ended up costing them huge sums of money to clean up — a good chunk has probably been documented enough to allow newcomers to the development table to learn from past mistakes. We have a chance to do development the right way up here, or at least better than it was done the first few times around.
How do you balance preserving an untouched ecosystem and economic growth? Up to this point, the practice has usually been to surrender the former in favour of the latter. But if my weekly news briefs about melting Arctic sea ice and new diseases attacking marine mammal populations are any indicators, this cannot go on.
I still maintain from last week that having its own natural gas reserves would allow the North to reduce its dependency on diesel for its electricity, which would reduce CO2 emissions substantially — but not at the expense of habitat. Coupled with a lot more of the solar panels I see around town, it seems as if northern communities could have a climate and habitat friendly infrastructure program in place before it’s needed.
But as I mentioned, indicators are that if governments ever engage in serious fossil fuel reduction efforts, demand for oil is going to be increasingly low. If they don’t, the alternative is full-force climate change, which if the warmup the world’s been experiencing the last few years — much more pronounced in the North — tells us anything, the economic bumps are the lesser of two evils by several light-years.
The road to economic growth is riddled with environmental dead ends. Let’s take a lesson from Geoweek and pay attention to the map.