the seductive call of false progress

Last week the Yukon was host to the Canadian Senate committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.

Last week the Yukon was host to the Canadian Senate committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.

They were in town to hear select Yukoners’ views on future energy needs and the impacts of global warming on northern communities.

In turn, Yukoners got to hear some of their thoughts.

They represented, like Canadians in general, a wide variety of viewpoints.

It was particularly interesting that Senator Tommy Banks from Alberta warned Yukoners not to follow the Alberta model of development.

He pointed out that Alberta has done a very poor job of balancing environmental stewardship and development.

All this happened the Friday past.

On Monday, another branch of the federal government was providing a rather good example of how to not balance environmental stewardship and development.

Indian and Northern Affairs announced the results of their latest auction for oil and gas exploration leases in the Beaufort Sea.

Over $1.2 billion was bid, which is a lot of money by some standards.

Unfortunately, it would appear the Beaufort Sea region is following the Alberta model of development.

And by geographic proximity the rest of the Northwest Territories, and if care is not taken the Yukon as well, will end up like Alberta.

This means crashing ecosystems, dysfunctional communities and huge influxes of short-term wealth that is utterly dependent on international commodities markets.

But much worse than having the northern ecosystems ending up like Alberta’s, hard as that may be to imagine, is the threat of human-induced climate change.

The reason for the fossil-fuel interest in the Beaufort Sea area is the future possibility of getting natural gas out along the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline.

It is estimated that this particular pipeline would move about one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

If that gas is combusted in conventional electric gas turbines, it would be by this humble scribes calculations annually responsible for about 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere.

To put that in perspective, the Yukon’s greenhouse gas emissions are about 418,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Even if the Yukon was to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero tomorrow, the Mackenzie Valley pipeline will convey enough natural gas that when it gets combusted the greenhouse gas equivalent of five Yukon’s will be emitted.

And should the Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline proceed, the amount of gas conveyed will be about four times that, with a corresponding increase in associated carbon dioxide emissions.

The North is feeling the impact of human-induced climate change, and northerners should be doing everything in their power to prevent further human related greenhouse gas emissions.

This means recognizing the direct link between fossil-fuel extraction and the release of greenhouse gases when it is combusted.

It doesn’t matter that the fossil fuel is burnt in the south. There is only one planet, and it is from a greenhouse gas perspective, a closed system.

Thus the North develops and exports fossil fuels south and gets climate change in return.

Let us save all that time, effort and environmental degradation and really rethink this obsession with fossil fuel development in the North.

As the senator has warned us, let the North not follow the Alberta model of development.

It is time for a moratorium on these fossil fuel projects.

After all, the current round of leases in the Beaufort only raised a billion dollars.

That is chump change when compared with what is going to have to be spent on dealing with the impacts of climate change.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.