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Sustainability versus reality



Nunavut is Canada’s newest territory,  a significant chunk of land whose southern most boundary is along 60oN. By land mass alone, it is nearly the same as Greenland, and if it were a country, it would rank 15th in the world. And yet, it has a population of only just under 32,000, of which over half of these people are under the age of 25. Inuit comprise 83.6% of the population and has an unemployment rate of 13.6% (September 2013). For most of the year, the land is vast, cold and covered in snow, its northern extremities permanently covered in snow. There is a brief flurry of wildlife activity in July/August, and then it all goes back to deathly quiet except when the wind howls across the snowy plains and through the mountains (Wikipedia).

Despite the harsh conditions, the Inuit have survived there for 4,000 years. They have adapted to the brief summers that come and go, and learned to get around in the long, dark winters.And now the territory wants to grow. It is the last jurisdiction in Canada in which major decisions about its land and resources are made in Ottawa. Which brings us to the Sunday Edition on CBC, September 1, 2013. The podcast is well worth listening to…

However, it is the CBC article that first got my attention. The broadcast of the show entailed listening to 4 people present their point of views. The show started out with the Premier of Nunavut, Eva Aariak, talking about how she would like her Territory to ‘devolve’ and be able to have more say in developments within the Territory, and in particular, the exploitation of mineral resources. At present, all royalties from mining flow back to the Federal Government of Canada. Although not said, this then comes back rationed in the form of subsidies for the people who live in Nunavut. But for the premier, the ability to have a say in resource development was critical as the Territory needed the money to be able to become independent and also it was a critical source of employment for their burgeoning younger generation. It was a passionate but calm analysis of the next step the Territory needed to take to be able to grow itself and became a viable, self-sustaining entity. Ms Aariak was thanked and then dismissed.

If you have read the summary of the interview only on the CBC website, you’d think the radio session ended with Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. Catherine Coumans valiantly attempted to compare the development of Nunavut to African countries with an entirely different political structure, culture. Her most impressive blow was to attempt to imply that the country of Chile has not benefited in the slightest from 40 years of mining and essentially suggest that the citizens of Chile all live in mud huts and drink contaminated water supplies from western mining practices. Ms Coumans could do with a visit to see the only country in South America with probably the highest standard of living in South America!

As an aside, my only wish was for the show to have kept Ms. Aariak around because Ms Coumans kept arguing quite passionately that Nunavut should step back and try to develop something more sustainable. Not once did she offer up what on Earth could be a sustainable existence in such a harsh bit of land without exploiting resources in one way or another – polar bear hunting? Polar bears get hunted. Whale hunting? Whales get hunted. Inuit stone carvings? Stone gets quarried from the ground. Berry hunting in summer and making jams in winter? Solar power is out – dark most of the year. Wind power might stand a chance, but Nunavut would have to be connected to major power grids and that will require an awful lot of infrastructure across vast empty land which is prone to settling as the permafrost thaws in the brief summer. And does wind power provide jobs for the idle youth? In fact, the lack of infrastructure prevents a lot of other opportunities that might have been viable as well. Sweden always impressed me for having the oddest factories making car seats or tables in small communities… but Sweden also has an extensive network of roads and airports to get products out 365 days of the year. And Sweden is a lot smaller.

I could go on, but I think Ms Aariak has already given some thought to what can be done in her Territory to enable people to have jobs and not be reliant on government handouts. And its very hard to find a one stop solution other than resource development. Developing the Territories resources will give her people incomes for centuries to come, and the knock on effects of having resource development projects means as one project dwindles, another starts up. There are a myriad of other things as noted above which can create some jobs, but none of them will create communities in as much as having a steady source of income with which  to eventually develop the ‘sustainable opportunities.’ Nunavut is not an African country overcoming tribal warfare, it has right at its borders, the extensive collective mining experience of Canada and with that comes the know how to not make the mistakes that have been made in the past.

And according to the CBC website, there the story ends. Hello? The Sunday Edition actually went on for another hour with 2 more people speaking up – a representative from the mining industry and a Non-Government Organization (NGO) that works with mining companies to develop communities in the third world. By not mentioning the point of views of these 2 individuals in its summary article, it has done a disservice to a ‘balanced show’ and also not allowed the casual person who does not have an hour or more to listen to the entire show, to hear all sides.

Both admitted its not going to be perfect every time, but the people of the third world, if they so wish, do have the right to develop their resources. And it was also recognised there have been times when countries or communities don’t want to develop their resources. And lately there have been some very expensive retreats by mining companies , for example, Kinross from Fuita del Norte in Ecuador, and Barrick having to slow down and ensure it is indeed formerly following its own environmental plan for developing the massive Pascua-Lama gold mine on the Chilean/Argentinean border).

By and far, the biggest distortion of facts came from MiningWatch Canada… but I’ll save the questioning of that for another article!

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