France Benoit is a farmer on the Ingraham Trail, and explains how she sees the effects of climate change on her daily work.
“I have been here almost 30 years and I have seen a lot of changes. More so, I would say in the last five or six years. The season’s changing … it is much, much earlier that you can plant, and things stay in the ground much longer.
“The other thing is insects which we didn’t have before. Something new that I’ve have to add to my daily to-do list is this issue of pest management which weren’t present before. I’m assuming because generally the winters have been warmer, that the insects don’t die in the winter so there’s this cycle that’s going on.”
France tells me how climate change is her “primary concern. This is something that is overarching. I care deeply about many many issues, but I see climate change as the overarching component, as everything that I care about is going to be affected by it.”
She gives examples of less money for government social spending, since they’ll likely be dealing with natural disaster emergencies.
And for the future? “I expect the worst and the best at the same time.
“Some people will be better equipped, but it’s something that is very threatening to people as well as it shatters belief and value systems that they’ve had. But climate change knows no borders, it affects everybody. So, I tend to think like Greta, I don’t want hope, I want action.”
Emily Lawson leaned across the counter at the Old Town Glassworks studio.
She tells me that she feels “very concerned” about the changing climate. In particular, she notes extreme weather events.
“This is the first year I’ve seen a March meltdown, I’ve never seen one before.”
In addition to early melting she notes the “extreme brutal winter” which prevents her from walking to work and she catches cabs instead.
News reports of more hurricanes, and international droughts also concern her. More subtle things demonstrate the changes in seasons, pointing out that on Halloween, “when my son was two, every costume was a ghost or a witch because you could put it over a snowsuit … but this year we went walking on Halloween with my grandkids, and that’s one generation.”
Emily also expresses concerns about pressures on water, both in Canada and internationally. She describes getting “the creepies” when outside governments seem to eye up the water resources North of 60.
“We’re seeing water wars all over the place, it’s going be a thing that’s headed for (this) generation.”
Olivia Lanteigne is a Grade 12 student at Sir John Franklin High School. When she hears the words “climate change,” she doesn’t just think of rising temperatures or “global warming.”
She’s got vegetables, the snow castle and magpies on her mind.
“My biggest worry is … the temperatures might be getting really warm, and it’s really great because everyone loves warm weather. But, the weather is getting more unpredictable which is a really big concern.”
“Not only is it unpredictable, but it’s becoming quite erratic,” added Olivia.
She worries about what climate change will mean for animals and their migratory patterns.
Magpies, Olivia has noticed, are becoming more common in Northern skies, something she says could be linked to climate change.
As for another, more definitive example of climate change’s encroaching impact? Olivia offered two words: snow castle.
To fight back against climate change, the battle begins locally, she says. Citing the Yellowknife Co-op’s goal of producing and selling vegetables grown in a hydroponic greenhouse, Olivia hopes the idea will take root so that communities can become less dependent on food grown using planet-hurting pesticides.
“Healthier on us, healthier on the environmental, and overall just a great thing to have,” says Olivia.
Roger Deleeuw guts a fish in front of Jolliffe Island while I prompt him to talk about a changing climate.
“The last year for us, and everyone, the fishing’s been pretty off. We’re not overfishing or anything … but we’re seeing a big contrast in diversity and how they’ve changed their schedule from where they used to be – they’re not there anymore.”
Roger is unsure, however, whether this change is linked to climate change or just bad weather, “We don’t know what it is really for us.”
But things are impacting their catches, and he says that there has been a dramatic drop in their volume: “We’re getting a tenth of the fish we used to get.”
Meanwhile, outside the processing plant, others in his fishing crew had just moved from truck to Ski-Doo to empty their nets 30 kilometres south on Great Slave Lake, a journey made longer and more arduous by the early melt.
Elaine Gillespie is a mechanical engineer with Tag Engineering Inc.
Her work takes her to communities across the North where she helps design heating, ventilation and fuel systems for buildings.
“In terms of the energy use, the biggest thing is that diesel is integral to our existence in the North right now and burning diesel is still the primary way to produce both electricity and heat in the NWT,” she tells me.
She says our best way to reduce greenhouse emissions is to try and find a viable replacement for carbon fuels or to reduce their use as much as possible, “but it sometimes feels that there’s not enough change fast enough for where we need to be going to prevent the worst effects of climate change.”
Progress in “energy efficiency standards have come a long way and renewable energy use has increased, but it doesn’t seem to be making a change to the overall dependence on diesel as the main pillar on which everything rests.”
“There’s a paradigm shift that certainly hasn’t happened yet, away from carbon based fuels as the standard.”
Ask Lydia Bardak about climate change, and she’ll tell you about her 80-year-old mother.
“She has some young grandchildren and she’s really worried about what the future will be like,” says the community advocate on a downtown street corner.
While her mother says climate change is unlikely to affect her in her lifetime, Bardak says she’s still very concerned about what kind of planet will be left to her grandchildren.
“She really worries about her grandchildren and the future for them,” says Bardak.
Personally, Bardak worries about insufficient rainfall, and the consequences that can follow.
In 2014, Yellowknife was often shrouded in heavy smoke due to a severe forest fire season.
“That was miserable,” recalls Bardak. “If we’re facing another burning summer, that’s not good.”
To curb the impacts of climate change locally, Bardak is relying on her blue bins. She began recycling in Edmonton in the 1980s, when the city became the first in Canada to institute curbside recycling.
Bardak brought her penchant for the three R’s to Yellowknife, where she brings her recyclables, on foot, to designated areas in the city.
Shauna Morgan says she’s witnessed the effects of climate change first-hand.
“I’m a builder of the snow castle,” she says. “It’s a bit disheartening to work on a community project for 60 days straight to see it sabotaged by climate factors out of our control”
For Morgan, this is the reality that we have to face today.
“I get to do a lot of on the land travelling and extended trips out in the wilderness and you get to see the effects first hand,” she says.
“There are profound changes to rivers and sources of food like wild game and fish and these are things that can get taken for granted,” she tells me. “We have one of the few places left in the world with an abundance of untouched wilderness and sources of fresh water and the things that we need as humans to survive, which are becoming more scarce in the world today.”
All of these natural factors make up an intricate web and when thing falling apart “it can be terrifying,” but she also sees an opportunity for us to adapt.
“This is a new reality, but we have new technologies and opportunities to adapt,” she says. “We can move forward and find ways to thrive.”
– with files from Brett McGarry, Matilda Becker, Brendan Burke and Ezra Black