Letter to the Editor

Harper’s games cause for concern Right now, Canada is taking part in international negotiations to address climate change.

Harper’s games

cause for concern

Right now, Canada is taking part in international negotiations to address climate change.

We’ve been hearing so much about climate change lately, and the reason is that it is the biggest challenge we face.

It means shifting the energy economy — and that is a very difficult thing to do.

In recent news reports we have heard how Ottawa has decided to reject opposition MPs from being part of the Canadian delegation.

This effectively makes the issue partisan — right when we need to be taking responsibility and working together.

What has not yet been reported is that Environment Minister John Baird and the Harper government have also refused to allow representatives from the territorial government to be part of the Canadian delegation.

Two key people from the Yukon Environment department, Jon Bowen the director of environmental programs and Johanna Smith the climate change co-ordinator have travelled to Bali to participate in the United Nations talks, but they have not been given delegate status with Canada.

Luckily, an organization out of Manitoba, called the International Institute for Sustainable Development has helped them to get in so they can at least witness the negotiations.

The IISD does the daily reporting for the UN Conference on Climate Change.

It is not its job to help the Yukon out, but they were concerned that the provinces and territories were being shut out.

Is it important that the Yukon has delegate status? I think so.

Let me give you an example.

Two years ago, when the same UN conference was being held in Montreal, I had the privilege to be part of the Canadian delegation coming from the Yukon.

At that meeting, other delegates from North of 60, representatives of First Nations and Inuit from the Arctic and I all got to sit down and negotiate to get the North recognized as an area being heavily impacted by climate change.

And we were successful.

This year when the latest UN science report came out, it listed the Arctic as a “unique and threatened system” and a major concern.

This was the report from the group that was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Right when science reports are coming out saying that the North is warming and melting faster than we had previously predicted, our Yukon representatives are being sidelined.

Thanks to a group out of Manitoba, they can attend the talks, but thanks to the Conservative government they can’t say anything.

I believe that the Harper government is acting unilaterally to weaken the UN negotiations in order to avoid taking responsibility for the problem.

But, as Canadians, we are responsible and we need to act.

As a northerner I am concerned and frustrated.

John Streicker, Yukon federal Green Party Candidate, Whitehorse

Peel watershed is priceless

Re the proposed Wernecke Winter Road into the Wind River watershed:

If that project goes ahead, it will begin a series of events that will inevitably result in the destruction of the Peel River watershed as a wilderness area.

Many indignities can be inflicted on a landscape without changing it from wilderness, but a road is not one of them.

Roads, practically speaking, are permanent. They never retreat, only advance, and as they advance, they change a wilderness to something much less.

Wilderness is rare and getting rarer, and when it is gone, it can never be restored.

Thus, wilderness in general and the Peel watershed in particular, is precious.

It is more precious than the metals and gas that can be taken from it because, while the gas and uranium will be gone and burned up in a year, the wilderness destroyed to obtain it could have existed as an inspiration, a retreat and a soul of a country forever.

A wilderness like the Peel watershed, vast, clean, trackless and biologically and scenically rich, is already unique on Earth.

There are no more second chances to save a place like this. Therefore the choice between a few years or a few decades of money and the existence of an irreplaceable piece of wilderness is not even a choice.

The continuation of this wilderness is worthwhile for its own sake.

For some, the cause of money and jobs outweighs all other interests. But there are already many making their living from the Peel River wilderness.

I make my living in the Peel River watershed as a hunting guide, and have done so for the past seven years.

I, and other hunting guides, outfitters, pilots, trappers, canoe and raft guides, and photographers can and will continue to do so as long as the wilderness exists … potentially forever.

These industries can grow and continue to provide jobs and income to the territory indefinitely, while the development of roads and resource extraction will destroy the wilderness that sustainable tourism business depends on, and will inevitably end when the last of the resources have been extracted.

Is it not clear that the permanent resource of the Peel wilderness is of greater value than the short-term financial gain and inevitable crash that resource extraction always brings?

Those who look forward to the windfall of local hiring and spending on such projects may be disappointed anyway.

Cash Minerals in particular has a poor record for local hiring, with most of its employees being brought in from outside the territory.

Furthermore, the idea of uranium exploration and mining anywhere in the Yukon is disturbing to me.

The process of exploration can result in contamination, and the possibility of a spill from a mine or during transport is terrifying.

The route of the proposed road means the possibility of radioactive contamination of either the Yukon or Peel watershed in the event of a spill, putting most of the Yukon downstream at risk.

The ultimate use and disposal of the uranium is also a problem. Depleted uranium is a deadly hazard that must be dealt with forever, for all intents and purposes.

Canada does not even have a long-term plan for the storage of radioactive waste. 

Because of the understandable attitude of “not in my backyard,” the waste is currently stored “temporarily” at the sites where it is produced.  Shouldn’t this problem be dealt with before the uranium is even taken from the ground?

The mandate of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board is to make recommendations based on the careful evaluation of the potential social and ecological effects of such projects.

In this case, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board has not been provided with sufficient information on the ecological implications, and virtually none on the social.

Therefore, the advisery board would be negligent in approving the road at this point. 

Also, the Peel River land use plan has not yet been completed.

If the road is approved before these guidelines are in place, the entire process of evaluation that should apply to such a project will have been bypassed.

While I am not opposed to careful development of industry in the Yukon, I feel that a project of this magnitude in such a previously untouched and immensely valuable area should not be undertaken before a careful evaluation of the costs, both ecological and economical.

Certainly it should not be considered before the Peel River advisory board has made its recommendations.

Please consider the long term consequences of this decision.

If the winter road goes in, it can never be taken back. Progress will roll ahead over the mountains, and something of infinite value will be lost forever.

It is still within our reach, indeed it is nothing more than prudent, to show restraint, and, for the moment at least, to keep our land as it is.

Leif Austad


Time to act on climate

December 8 is the International Day of Climate Action.

People around the world are preparing for the largest planetary day of action yet to stop climate chaos.

Yukoners can join this worldwide event by taking time on Saturday to consider how to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

This can range from carpooling with neighbours to insulating a home to purchasing locally grown food.

While these actions by a single person might not amount to much, when combined with a lot of people doing similar activities the greenhouse gas reductions begin to add up.

As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

For more information on what Yukoners can do to reduce their carbon footprint contact the Yukon Conservation Society at 668-5678.

Lewis Rifkind, energy co-ordinator

Yukon Conservation Society