Craig Scott, executive director of Ecology North, says the upcoming territorial and federal elections may be the first in Canadian history to be decided by climate issues.
“It’s a time of division right now, when you look at the Alberta election you look at places in the states and around the world where fear and hate seems to be the dominant narrative in politics,” he said.
“That narrative needs to change to one of hope, looking toward the younger generation to envision a future they can thrive in.”
“We’re at a crossroads for our planet right now,” he continued.
Scott made his remarks during an April 23 panel discussion on climate change at Northern United Place. Ecology North and the NWT Chapter of the Council of Canadians organized the event to mark Earth Week.
Kimberly Fairman, executive director of the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research, spoke about how Northern communities are already feeling the effects of climate change.
“In the NWT and in the circumpolar North, we are already seeing the impacts of climate change through changing food systems, water system impacts and biodiversity shifts,” she said.
These changes were documented through a joint project with K’alemi Dene School in Ndilo, where researchers worked with elders and youth in the community to identify and document climate-related health impacts, said Fairman.
“Some of the changes they were seeing in their surroundings include an increase in ice melting due to warmer temperatures and permafrost thawing, which may contribute to diverse health and socio-cultural impacts such as winter travel safety,” she said.
Researchers worked with high school students to form adaptive strategies and solutions for these problems and Fairman stressed the importance of including youth in planning for future changes.
The growing concern around climate change is not new, said David Bob, president of the Northern Territories Federation of Labour (NFTL).
“It has been in the media for a few decades,” said Bob.
“Are we ready to take steps which will lead to greater change for future generations?”
Canada now has a target to sell 10 per cent of zero-emission vehicles by 2025 and 100 per cent zero-emission vehicles by 2040, he noted.
“It is time we began to look toward expansion, rather than limiting focus on preserving what exists in our federal and territorial governments,” he said.
Canada Post has the largest public fleet of vehicles in the country, said Bob, and switching them to electric power would produce a significant reduction in carbon emissions.
“With the influx of electric cars, we’ll need charging stations for these vehicles,” he said. “Our provincial and territorial governments can help ease this transition by providing charging stations outside government offices.”
Much of the evening’s discussion was focused on the future, and improving the world the next generation will inherit.
Ella Kokelj, a student at Sir John Franklin High School and member of Ecology North, said having a relationship with the land is important.
“I love being outside,” said Kokelj. “The land has always been somewhere where I feel content, somewhere I feel free and most myself.”
But that place is in jeopardy unless those who care for it speak up, she said.
“I worry that no one in coming generations will feel connected enough to the land to care about its future,” said Kokelj.
“How can anyone care deeply and profoundly about something that doesn’t even influence their lives?”
She said land-based education is important to help children establish a connection to nature.
“That’s what we need,” said Kokelj.
“A connection that is established that makes people care and take responsibility for the natural world.”