How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Monday, July 18, 2016

Whitehorse, Yukon - A Start to Healing?

16th and 17th July 2016

Canada's Yukon Territory is one of the most sparsely populated regions on Earth. The land area, which stretches across 482,443 square kilometers, supports a human population of 37,566 (2015). The capital and most-populous city, Whitehorse, is tiny by city standards, with a population of 23,276 people (2015). The city's namesake, the Whitehorse rapids, once graced the Yukon river at this location, but the construction of the Whitehorse Rapids Generating Facility in 1958 forever erased them from the river's landscape.

Given the small human population of the territory, one might expect that environmental impacts would be minimal here, and they do appear to be so. In spite of gold prospecting, copper mining, timber harvesting, etc., the ecology of the Yukon territory now thrives and continues to function much as it has since the end of the last ice age.

One might say that it's easy for Yukon to maintain environmental sustainably, with such a large resource base and such a small human population, and this is true to an extent. A too-large human population on Earth is at the heart of all environmental woes, but here we are, and this is the baseline we must contend with. Yukon is actively taking steps to heal the wounds of the past. Because of this, the area is one of few places on Earth where one can see that the current baseline is actually an improvement over recent previous ones. Yukon stands as an example that it is possible to work towards healing the planet, rather than continuing to harm it.

The vast majority of Yukon's electrical power comes from renewable sources, including wind and hydroelectric, with only backup generation being provided by conventional fossil fuel combustion. Renewable energy, particularly hydroelectric, does not come without an environmental footprint. The damming of the Yukon River, and subsequent loss of Whitehorse's namesake also annihilated salmon spawning activities. These impacts were grave, but efforts are now being made to improve the impacted baseline. Fish weirs, ladders and screens have been installed to facilitate salmon migration, and the fish are returning, slowly. The measures taken are not perfect. The rapids will never return, but healing is taking place.

From a town planning perspective, Whitehorse also represents an environmental best case scenario. The town is compact and walkable. Businesses are, for the most part, small and locally owned. Many resources that supply the population are sourced locally. For example, I was able to have fresh, locally grown salad greens at a restaurant for the first time in a couple thousand miles. Free plastic bags are also no longer available in stores. If you want a bag, you have to pay for it. Everything has a cost, and it is about time we start paying it.

On April 1, 2005, the Kwanlin Dun First Nation signed the "Final and Self-Governance Agreement with the Canadian government." The agreement gave back land areas to the original inhabitants of this space, in addition to providing some compensation. The Kwanlin Dun have now been able to reclaim their place on the Yukon River, which they call Chu Ninkwan. Their former way of life, just like the Whitehorse rapids, is probably gone forever, but they are now at last free to determine their own destiny on their own land.

The Kwanlin Dun people believe that "all creatures have a conscious spirit, and when hunters show great respect and humility to these creatures, the animal spirits offer themselves in harvest." The universal truth of this belief has been ignored by Western cultures for centuries, with predictable results. We have taken from the Earth whatever we can get, without respect or humility. Consequently, the animal spirits and all other natural spirits have gone away. The Earth and her history move on in a perpetual state of flux. We cannot unwind history and undo the things that were done, but we can take steps to foster an environmental of healing, rather than an environment of harm. And then, by showing respect and humility, perhaps the spirits of the Earth, like the salmon, will return.

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