The good news is that humans are not the first creatures to have emitted a critical amount of planet-imperilling gas.
The oceans were teeming with bacteria, most of which was anaerobic, which means these ancient life forms metabolized their food without oxygen.
But then a remarkable new life form called cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, came on the scene.
Armed with their new photosynthetic abilities, these blue-green algae formed big colonies. The fossilized remains of their ancient civilizations are called stromatolites, which can be found all over the North. In fact, the head of the Mace of the Northwest Territories, which is wielded by the Sergeant-at-Arms in the legislative assembly, is made out of stromatolitic marble from the shores of Great Slave Lake.
Floating at the surface of the ocean, these microbes used the sun’s energy to derive nourishment from carbon dioxide and water.
They started emitting huge amounts of what was then a rare commodity on earth – oxygen – as a waste product.
For many millions of years nothing much happened. The oxygen being produced bonded with other elements, but eventually a critical mass of the element built up, which launched what scientists have called the Great Oxidation Event.
This would have serious ramifications. Up until then the atmosphere was rich in methane but it began bonding with the newly released oxygen to form carbon dioxide.
Methane is a very effective greenhouse gas and it was keeping the planet warm. As it disappeared, the Earth cooled, triggering a massive glaciation event that locked the planet in an icy grip. The mass extinction that followed was bad news.
But unlike blue-green algae, we humans have governments that can set policies to curb how much gas we spew out into the atmosphere, which is good news.
But here’s where things get complicated. The federal government’s carbon tax takes effect on July 1 and Northerners will be paying more at the pump. The price of gasoline will increase by 4.7 cents per litre while diesel will increase by 5.5 cents per litre.
Over time, the tax will increase and by 2022 we’ll be paying an additional 11.7 cents per litre for gas and 13.7 cents per litre of diesel.
We need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but without a viable alternative to fossil fuels Northerners are in for a hurting.
This tax springs from basic economic theory. If people are abusing greenhouse gases by pumping too much of it into the atmosphere, the answer is to tax the burning of fossil fuels to encourage the development of benign alternatives.
The problem is that there are few alternatives in the North.
Electric cars are becoming as economical and practical as cars with conventional engines. Prices for lithium-ion batteries are plummeting, while technical advances are increasing driving ranges and cutting recharging times.
But this electric-car future is still missing some pieces, especially in the North. It would be impossible to drive an electric vehicle from Edmonton to Yellowknife, as there are not enough places to recharge. Battery-powered cars still cost thousands of dollars more than many gasoline vehicles.
They are still vehicles for the wealthy, which leaves workaday Northerners as helpless as a bucket of blue-green algae in the face of this punitive tax.
The citizens of Yellowknife already pay the highest rent in Canada, according to data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Commission, and the cost of everything from food to clothing is sure to increase as industries pass on the carbon tax to us consumers.
The city is always struggling to attract talented people who want to live and work here, but they’ll be even less incentive to live here when the cost of living increases.
Until then, the best we can do is invest in green initiatives that won’t drive up the already high cost of living.
Moving ahead with the Taltson River Project will be one way of reducing our reliance on diesel for electricity generation.
Aviation fuel is exempted from the carbon tax, as is heating oil, which is a good thing.
But imposing this tax on a place that is bearing the brunt of climate change without giving residents a viable alternative is misguided.