Moving North: stories about the state of nature and our lifestyles
Reconciling a passion for nature with dependence on airplanes and long-distance travel.
According to the UN, the last four years were the hottest ever recorded, and the next two will be crucial if we are to limit the effects of global warming. Canada cannot escape this reality. A recent report by Environment Canada revealed that the country is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world and that the North is particularly affected. To better understand how those living in the northern territories are dealing with this new reality, read the following stories of how Quebecers who have moved north for work or to satisfy their passion are trying to effect real change.
A territory that depends on airplanes
In Québec and other Canadian provinces, many workers in northern hospitals, national parks, schools, and mines commute by air (fly in fly out) due to the size of the territory. This is the case for Julie, a cook who works near the Inuit village of Salluit in the Nord-du-Québec region. For the last few years, she has been taking a plane every two or three weeks to reach her workplace and to return to her home in Abitibi.
Julie works in Nunavik for a few weeks at a time before enjoying several days off at home. She is aware that air travel has an environmental impact and does her part to lessen it. “I don't have a car, and even though I live in a remote region where the service is less efficient, I'm a big supporter of public transportation and carpooling. Generally speaking, in a small town like mine, everything is within walking distance. Like most people of my generation, I know how important it is to buy local,” she says. “In addition to supporting local producers, artisans, and merchants, buying local is a way to reduce the environmental impact of transporting goods.”
Julie's ecological awareness spills over into her citizen involvement, too. She ecovolunteers in animal shelters abroad, which gave her a chance to participate in the largest ever release of baboons back into the wild last year in South Africa.
Northern Canada is particularly vulnerable to climate change
Dany works in Dawson, in the Yukon, and has witnessed the effects of climate change in northern Canada. About three years ago, the accelerated retreat of the glacier in Kluane National Park, in southwestern Yukon, caused the Slims River to change direction. The Slims is a tributary of Kluane Lake that flows into the Yukon River. The Slims is now almost totally dry, and the water level of Lake Kluane is very low.
Global warming has also upset the lives of West Dawson residents, who for the time being can no longer access the city centre. “For three years now, the Yukon River, which used to freeze completely in the Dawson area and allow an ice bridge to be set up to reach the west side of town, no longer freezes in the same way,” explains Dany.
According to Dany, permafrost thawing is also creating problems for the government, particularly in terms of maintaining the Dempster Highway, the only road in Canada that leads to the Arctic Ocean. “The permafrost under the road is thawing, causing crevices, and sometimes there are sinkholes caused by the unstable ground.”
Just like in the Yukon, the permafrost is thawing rapidly in northern Québec, putting infrastructure on the banks of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence at risk. Climate change is also causing some species to disappear and leading to insect migrations that are potentially harmful to animals, plants, and agriculture.
Moving toward a more responsible use of resources
The size of our territory and the presence of renewable natural resources in the North mean we need to think about how to use those resources responsibly. At the same time, Canada's vulnerability to climate change calls for us to take responsibility as individuals and communities to reduce our environmental footprint and limit climate change.
There are many ways to achieve this, including public and active transportation, zero waste objectives, ecovolunteering (like Julie does), buying local, eating seasonal foods, and so on. We just have to put our minds to it, be kind to ourselves, and keep in mind that the ultimate goal is protecting the environment and limiting our impact.