In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Caribou not on the menu

Posted 6/2/2008 by Grant Mitchell

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The Senate Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee is in the North studying the effects on climate change on the North. And there are profound and undeniable effects, outlined to us our first evening here by three MLA’s in the legislature of the NWT:

• The Bluenose Caribou has experienced a dramatic and sudden drop in its numbers. So severe is the problem that all hunting of this species has been forbidden. So, there is no Caribou on the menu of the hotel restaurant we ate in tonight. Far worse is the fact that the many Northerners who adapt to the high cost of living in this region by hunting Caribou will no longer be able to do so. What has happened is that there is now previously unheard of rain in the winter which freezes and impedes the Caribou’s ability to forage for lichen under the snow, now ice.

• The permafrost is definitely melting. This has many ramifications. Notably, highways and buildings are beginning to be undermined and there is much discussion of what engineering techniques, all immensely expensive, might be used to build stable roads and buildings. One thought is that cooling pipes might be run under roads to keep the permafrost frozen, much like a long skating rink. This is being done in some buildings but it is enormously expensive.

• The polar bear is being affected too. One of the problems is that with so much open water the seals which polar bears eat do not have to swim under the ice and therefore do not have to rise at breaks in the ice to breathe, where the bears wait for them. Bears are appearing disoriented and out of their natural grounds.

• Once the permafrost starts to melt it releases heavy metals, such as mercury, raising issues about the quality of water and affecting the fish which are critical to the commercial fisheries in the North.

 And what is this Conservative government doing about climate change after over two years in government? Nothing but spinning their message to make it appear as though they are doing something and that they care about this issue.

 There are many other issues confronting the north. Smaller settlements, and there are many of them, are burdened by extremely expensive heating costs, as much as $1,000 per month for some families in the winter. They are too far from hydro electric power and so must depend upon diesel fuel for their heating needs. Their power can cost as much as $3.00 per kw hour.

 There are also remarkable positives about this region. There is vibrant economic activity most recently stimulated by the diamond mining here. It is a ruggedly beautiful landscape. Today when we arrived it was beautifully sunny and clear and green. It is now 10:00 PM and the sun is still shining.

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