Many Yukoners that I know or know of, the kind that migrated here, of course, will tell you that they came here because of the pristine wilderness. Naturally enough, now that they have arrived, they are determined to maintain and defend this special status – pristine.
They are reluctant, some even hostile, to development if it means disturbing or, in their eyes, ruining the Yukon wilderness. They cannot bear to have their after-work playground, the reason for their being here, desecrated.
What is usually not communicated, only mentioned in ambiguous terms in conversation, is the second, equally important reason of their being here in the Yukon: The presence of a highly developed infrastructure.
My fellow citizens most certainly would not live here if there were no transportation link, no hospital, no schools, no snow removal, no Canadian Tire, no Starbucks, no library, no sewage system, no electricity, modern housing, a newspaper and cable, no daycare or, for that matter, no job opportunities.
Yukon’s First Nations take a modified stand on development, citing ancient traditions and heritage rights for their opposition to development. However, they also enjoy, and expect to have, at their disposal, the amenities that come with a modern arrangement.
Both these groups and all the others that were not mentioned feel entitled to a 21st century standard of living, orthodontist and yoga coach included.
Now, the 21st century standard of living is not cheap. For one it is a package deal; you cannot pick and choose from a menu. Snow removal comes with roads, and airline travel comes with an airport. Emergency services come with a communication network, and running water comes with a pump station. Modern standard of living is a complex and complicated fabric.
A second consideration is that we expect our standard of living to be equal to that anywhere else in Canada. This depends on all the material things that have to be manufactured and brought here from thousands of kilometres away.
According to StatsCanada, in 2012 in the Yukon, sales of fuel used for road vehicles alone were 68.8 million litres of gasoline and 60.2 million litres of diesel. That means in 2012, in the Yukon, we sold and burned almost 130 million litres of fuel for road vehicles. Fuel for cars, pick-up trucks, four-wheelers, water trucks, graders, snow plows; private, commercial, and public vehicles like ambulances, police cars, school buses, or fire trucks.
I could take a percentage off for the tourists that drive through the Yukon in the summer – let’s say 10 per cent – which would leave me with over one hundred million litres of gas and diesel: an average consumption of almost 3,000 litres for every man, woman, or child.
Of course many would argue that they do not use or have use of the vehicles listed. But that is not the point. The infrastructure is here, and we all use it one way or other.
It is obvious, just based on this one number, that our standard of living comes with a very large price tag indeed. Living in the Yukon is a very costly proposition, economically and environmentally. And, in the Yukon in particular, this standard of living comes almost entirely at the expense of others.
I believe that this is wrong. I believe that people, wherever they live, have a responsibility to make the best effort to contribute to their own standard of living and the lifestyle they chose. This means they have a responsibility to use, as much as possible, the resources that are within their own sphere of living before relying on the resources of others. To do otherwise used to have a specific moniker: economic colonialism.
Any discussion about development anywhere in the Yukon, be it mineral extraction, local agriculture, logging, hydro-electric generation, housing development, or even industrial production, has to start with the understanding that, to whatever extent it may be reasonable and practicable, it is our duty to consider our contribution, our share, our sacrifice, if you will, in achieving and maintaining the standard of living that we expect.
Saying “no” to any possibility of future development, turning every acre of land, every creek and every lake, every valley and every mountain range into a park, categorically denying exploration of any kind, shouting down even the most guarded conversation regarding any activity in the Yukon, unless it is “no touch,” is about as selfish as it can get.
Yukoners pride themselves as generous and considerate. They see themselves as friendly neighbours and good global citizens. Any talk about any activity in our own backyard that will contribute to maintain or improve our standard of living should begin with an affirmation of these virtues.
Bernd Schmidt lives in Whitehorse.