Last week, as part of our territorial election coverage, we included an editorial calling for a reliable road network connecting the communities across our vast home.
It’s simple logic — flying and barging into or out of remote communities is prohibitively expensive, preventing any real economic development. With roads we create a means for self-transport of goods, opening the door for individuals with innovative ideas to attempt to create business opportunities.
This is all well and good but on its own is incomplete for an economic model. It’s not simply a case of build it and they will come — these transport corridors need to fall into a larger strategy. The alternative is to end up like my birth province of Alberta, where a network of poorly made backcountry roads perpetually lead nowhere and swallow up county budgets.
Fortunately for us, the world happens to be in the midst of a global economic transformation — one that’s come some 50 years too late but at least it’s finally here. I’m of course talking about our climate emergency-induced push to renewable energy sources.
With the global automobile market pushing towards electronic vehicles — China is projected to have converted almost its entire fleet by the next decade — there won’t be enough of a market left for the internal combustion engine for manufacturers to bother with it. EVs make good business sense too — if you need a truck for your business but that truck never ventures far past city limits, you would be stupid not to invest in an EV truck. Minimal maintenance, 100 per cent torque and you never have to pay for gas again. As documented in the Inuvik Drum, last winter a man drove a Tesla EV to the Arctic coast and back without the benefit of any proper infrastructure, proving the technology is capable of handling the harsh conditions of the North — and it’s only in its infancy.
Of course, to power electric vehicles you need electricity. Fortunately we now have an abundance of technology that can give us this for almost nothing. They’re call solar panels and in a part of the world where the sun doesn’t set for over a month, they have proven to work very well. As documented here, a solar array on Herschel Island has allowed the community to be nearly diesel-free all summer long, not only helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions but saving thousands of dollars which can be invested in education, infrastructure or other local benefits. Solar has become such an amazing technology it’s hard to describe it without sounding like I’m a shill for the industry. It’s extremely portable, able to be moved from one structure to another and literally the only thing you need for it is a roof, which I’m pretty sure we all have. Every single building in the NWT should have solar panels generating electricity from the sun. Every 3.5 kiloWatt hours of solar — which you can get from 10 solar panels — equates to one litre of diesel. Consider Yellowknife alone has 47 days of nonstop daylight. That’s 1128 hours of sunlight, or potentially 322 litres of diesel using the above formula — for each building.
Green technology is not just a money saver, however, it’s a money maker. All these vehicles are going to need batteries, which need rare earth metals. With the NWT’s long history of mining projects, the territory could be a big supplier of material to get the green transition moving. One such rare earth mine already exists and presumably there are other formations of the needed minerals throughout the territory.
But if we want real economic security, we need to move past the boom and bust cycles of the extraction sector. We need to develop some sort of stable manufacturing industry to export goods. Currently, this already exists in Northern artwork, the economic viability of which would only be enhanced by the policies being proposed. But those who don’t have the patience needed to be successful artists need jobs too.
With our minimalist lifestyles on the frontier and infrastructure that would be in museum anywhere else in this country, the North clearly has the first two “Rs” — reduce and re-use — down pat. But we’re completely lacking in the third, recycling. A trip to any landfill in the territory will make it clear it’s not for a lack of material. A properly set up recycling industry could be an economic juggernaut, taking all the packing material, tires, electronics and other goods raining down on us from southern warehouses and turning them into composites, base metals and other useful cold-weather certified materials and selling them back to our southern neighbours.
Contrary to traditional political rhetoric, we don’t have to choose between health and wealth. With a holistic approach, we can have both.