by Michael Pealow
& Peter Turner
It’s time we had a conversation about how the Yukon’s economy and way of life are primarily fueled. It would be nice if this could be done with renewable energy and, while it certainly is in part, the reality is that most of our energy needs are being supplied by fossil fuels. This is why the Yukon Chamber of Commerce is launching a conversation called “Fueling Yukon’s Economy.”
Recently, Ben Ryan, who holds an MSc in Financial Economics from Oxford University, presented a paper that indicates a big energy challenge facing Yukoners. “The elephant in the room” is not the 20 per cent of energy that we consume as electricity but the other 80 per cent of the energy we currently consume in Yukon for heating and transportation. Almost all this is in the form of fossil fuels imported from outside the territory.
Yukoners spend more than $200 million on fossil fuels annually, all of which leaves the territory and takes jobs with it. Two-thirds of these dollars leave the Canadian economy to purchase fuels from North Dakota and Alaska.
These fuels power our cars, trucks, snowmobiles, ATVs and boats. They heat our homes, offices, stores and recreational facilities. They fuel our aircraft, and everything from our chainsaws and diesel generators to our outfitters’ camps and placer mines, and other off-grid resource businesses.
Virtually everything we consume is transported by diesel trucks. We drive between distant communities, to Atlin, Dawson City or Haines Junction for music festivals, or home to Marsh Lake, Lake Laberge, or Mendenhall. A number of us heat our homes and businesses with oil, natural gas, or propane, and we fly to Calgary, Edmonton, Yellowknife, or Vancouver for business, pleasure, or medical treatment.
Looking at this list, it becomes clear how central fossil fuels are to our day-to-day Yukon lifestyle, employment, and the provision of basic requirements of food, shelter and heat. Other than the portion that comes to us from Alaska, this fuel needs to travel 2,000 to 3,000 kilometres to reach us.
Bill McKibben, an American environmentalist and author who has written extensively on global warming, also spoke recently in Whitehorse. He explained his position that the world must stop consuming fossil fuels and leave the carbon in the ground. Although this sounds like an easy solution to climate change, when would this occur and how would it affect our current dependency on fossil fuels for both transportation and heating?
The Yukon Chamber of Commerce is interested in starting a conversation with Yukon businesses about how we can both reduce the $200-million annual leak and do so in a way that limits our carbon footprint as much as possible. Business is also interested to know more about how future carbon-pricing policies might affect both their bottom line and the possible development of local resources.
This month the Yukon chamber will launch a website designed to start the Fueling Our Economy discussion, and over the next year we hope to put on a number of related events.
Taking charge of Yukon’s fuel future starts by talking about it and getting everyone engaged. Let’s do that together.
Michael Pealow is vice-chair of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce. Peter Turner is the chamber’s president.