A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘arctic canada

[URBAN NOTE] “Arctic Cities Crumble as Climate Change Thaws Permafrost”

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Wired‘s Alec Luhn reports from Siberia, where global warming is wreaking havoc on cities’ infrastructure. If there is going to be, as some predict, a population boom in the Arctic as global warming continues, there are going to be major infrastructure issues around.

At first, Yury Scherbakov thought the cracks appearing in a wall he had installed in his two-room flat were caused by shoddy workmanship. But then other walls started cracking, and then the floor started to incline. “We sat on the couch and could feel it tilt,” says his wife, Nadezhda, as they carry furniture out of the flat.

Yury wasn’t a poor craftsman, and Nadezhda wasn’t crazy: One corner of their five-story building at 59 Talnakhskaya Street in the northern Russian city of Norilsk was sinking as the permafrost underneath it thawed and the foundation slowly disintegrated. In March 2015, local authorities posted notices in the stairwells that the building was condemned.

Cracking and collapsing structures are a growing problem in cities like Norilsk—a nickel-producing centre of 177,000 people located 180 miles above the Arctic Circle—as climate change thaws the perennially frozen soil and increases precipitation. Valery Tereshkov, deputy head of the emergencies ministry in the Krasnoyarsk region, wrote in an article this year that almost 60 percent of all buildings in Norilsk have been deformed as a result of climate change shrinking the permafrost zone. Local engineers said more than 100 residential buildings, or one-tenth of the housing fund, have been vacated here due to damage from thawing permafrost.

In most cases, these are slow-motion wrecks that can be patched up or prevented by engineering solutions. But if a foundation shifts suddenly it can put lives at risk: cement slabs broke a doctor’s legs when the front steps and overhanging roof of a Norilsk blood bank collapsed in June 2015. Building and maintenance costs will have to be ramped up to keep cities in Russia’s resource-rich north running.

Engineers and geologists are careful to note that “technogenic factors” like sewer and building heat and chemical pollution are also warming the permafrost in places like Norilsk, the most polluted city in Russia. But climate change is deepening the thaw and speeding up the destruction, at the very same time that Russia is establishing new military bases and oil-drilling infrastructure across the Arctic. Greenpeace has warned that permafrost thawing has caused thousands of oil and gas pipeline breaks.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 21, 2016 at 9:30 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

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  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper noting how Tau Ceti’s debris disk is not like our solar system’s.
  • Language Hat talks about writers who want anonymity.
  • Joe. My. God. notes the return of homophobic protesters in France.
  • The Map Room Blog shares hazard maps of various Yukon communities.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that India’s biometric smartcards works, and notes diversity does not reduce economic growth.
  • Peter Rukavina shares some late 1990s photos of cows taken with an early digital camera.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes the recent controversy over Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
  • Window on Eurasia argues Russia might invade Ukraine more openly before January but also suggests that Russia is quite brittle.

[LINK] “How climate change is driving tourism in the Canadian Arctic”

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In NOW Toronto, Nicholas Engelmann reports on how global warming is enabling a new era of mass tourism in the Arctic.

I am geared up: red Mustang float coat, four layers of polyester, waterproof pants, insulated rubber boots and gloves, radio harness and dry bag. I lean carefully through the port entrance, 2 metres above the teal water. Two nautical miles away on the horizon, a meniscus barely rising above the sea forms the low profile of Igloolik.

Cranes lower Zodiacs into the water and expedition staff are hopping in, starting engines, loading gear and readying to bring passengers ashore. A 1980s powerboat is bobbing 50 metres off the portside. Propped over its windshield is a video camera with a microphone in a pop filter, speckled grey, the colour of an Arctic fox in summer. Handling the camera in the chop is a 50-something man in an old fleece jacket and baseball cap.

I am aboard the MV Sea Adventurer, where I work as a guide and lecturer, and we’re tracing the Northwest Passage. One week in and we arrive in the hamlet of Igloolik, one of the most isolated communities in the Canadian Arctic.

It’s late summer, and we are the first passenger vessel of the season. In fact, we’re the first to arrive on these shores since 2011. We navigated Fury and Hecla Strait, which is notorious for being covered ice but was remarkably clear for our voyage.

On the way, we passed the Crystal Serenity, which has been making headlines as the first full-sized cruise ship to navigate the Northwest Passage, and thereby ushering in the arrival of a new era of eco-tourism made possible by thinning ice and rising temperatures.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2016 at 8:45 pm

[LINK] “Being a nurse in the North is challenging, but ‘there are salary perks’—big ones”

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Emily Burke of MacLean’s reports on the high wages that nurses in the North can command.

Retaining nurses in any remote community in Canada is a challenge, but it’s particularly true in the Far North. To ensure that the most basic health needs are being met, governments must fly registered nurses up a few weeks at a time, so that there is a rotation of nurses working with the local population. Some of these communities have only a few hundred residents, no road access, and only visiting physicians.

The rotation of RNs is essential to the community, and so they are paid generously. For example, salaries of RNs in Ontario range between $21 and $40 per hour, while in the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk on the coast of the Beaufort Sea in the farthest corner of Northwest Territories, RN jobs can pay in the range of $70 per hour, a percentage of which is a northern allowance provided by the government.

[. . .]

The best way to keep nurses in remote communities is to educate and train the people who already live there. This is precisely the role of Arctic College in Iqaluit, which offers both a two-year diploma for licensed practical nurses, and a four-year bachelor degree for registered nurses. Many of the students enrolled at Arctic College are Inuit, and some of the classes are being taught in Inuktitut. However, Arctic doesn’t graduate a high volume of nurses: in both 2011 and 2012, no nurses graduated at all.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2016 at 8:30 pm

[ISL] “Devon Island: The Last Stop Before Mars”

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At D-Brief, Carl Engelking reports on how experiences on an island in the Canadian Arctic could aid in the colonization of Mars.

Talk of sending humans to Mars hit a fever pitch this week following SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s big announcement Tuesday.

He outlined an ambitious plan to begin sending cargo missions to Mars by 2018, with the first manned missions leaving by 2022 or 2023. Along the way, he hopes to improve the cost of trips by “5 million percent”, and establish a colony of 1 million souls there within 40 to 100 years. Let’s just say people had questions — The Verge’s Loren Grush outlined a few of them.

How will humans survive? What about radiation? How will they get around? What happens to the waste colonists flush down the toilet? We didn’t get a clear answer form Musk, but these are the kinds of questions that NASA scientists have been working to answer for two decades in one of the most remote, empty places on earth: Devon Island.

Devon Island is the largest uninhabited island on the planet, and it’s about as Mars-like as it gets. It’s home to the 14 mile-wide Haughton Crater, which is cold, dry, rocky and extremely isolated. Since 1997, Pascal Lee, planetary scientist at the Mars Institute and the SETI Institute, and director of the Haughton-Mars Project at NASA Ames Research Center, has led missions every summer from a small research station there to prepare people and design technologies for a trip to the Red Planet.

On the island, researchers have tested robots, spacesuits, drills and other tools that would aid future Mars explorers. It’s also a proving ground for would-be Mars colonists. Devon Island is isolated, the environment is brutal and the area is poorly mapped, which makes it the perfect place to get a taste of what might go wrong out there.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 1, 2016 at 5:30 pm

[PHOTO] Three non-Harris works from The Idea of North

One thing I liked about The Idea of North was the inclusion, mostly towards the end, of works which inspired Harris or which were inspired by Harris. His aesthetic lives on.

Rockwell Kent‘s Icebergs, Greenland, also painted in the 1930s, looks at the same Arctic territory Harris explored.

From Icebergs, Greenland, Rockwell Kent #toronto #artgalleryofontario #ago #theideaofnorth #rockwellkent #greenland #iceberg//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

A triptych of works by Nina Bunjevac, The Observer, reflected nicely Harris’ earlier urbanism. Sunny Days, below, looks at City Hall.

From The Observer: Sunny Days, Nina Bunjevac #toronto #ago #artgalleryofontario #theideaofnorth #lawrenharris #ninabunjevac #cityhall

This still from Jennifer Baichwal and Nick De Pencier‘s Ice Forms takes a look at Harris’ Arctic as the landscape enters a melt.

Still from Ice Forms, Jennifer Baichwal and Nick De Pencier #toronto #ago #artgalleryofontario #theideaofnorth #lawrenharris #jenniferbaichwal #nickdepencier #harrisago

[AH] WI the Mid-Canada Development Corridor was realized?

A couple of weeks ago, Tristan Hopper’s National Post article “The grandiose — but failed — 1960s plan by an Ontario war hero to settle a ‘second Canada’ below the Arctic” caught my attention.

It all comes down to Richard Rohmer, a Canadian war veteran perhaps more notable to many as an author of pulp fiction (really bad technothrillers, mainly). As Hopper notes, he had an ambitious plan for the settlement of the Canadian Shield.

If things had gone Richard Rohmer’s way in the 1960s, the Canada of 2016 could have been home to as many as 70 million people.

Canada would have had a GDP rivalling that of the United Kingdom and new highways, new railways and new metropolises, all built in the sparsely populated boreal forest region that Rohmer came to call “Mid-Canada.” He would even help to spawn an entirely new type of citizen: The hearty, winter-loving “Mid-Canadian.”

Rohmer — a lawyer and decorated RCAF Wing Commander — was leading a charge to build a “second Canada” on top of the old one.

“It was a very simple concept; the country needed long range policies and plans for the future orderly development of this vast land that we have,” said Rohmer, 92, speaking by phone from his home in Collingwood, Ont.

[. . .]

In its heyday, Rohmer’s Mid-Canada plan attracted the attention of a who’s who of powerful Canadians: Captains of indus/try, bank CEOs, labour leaders, scientists and Aboriginal leaders and the patronage of former Prime Minister Lester Pearson and the Governor General.

“Canada’s future is inseparably linked with the development of Mid-Canada,” read a preliminary report. More zealous boosters even claimed that a Canada without the moxie to develop its boreal forest might as well meekly surrender to U.S. annexation.

The scope, as the above map indicates, was very ambitious.

There would be diagonal trans-continental railroad connecting Labrador ports to the Yukon. A highway to the Arctic. New growth centres; Flin Flon, Whitehorse, Labrador City, Thunder Bay and High Level were all pegged as settlements that could reach Calgary-esque levels of size and influence by the year 2000.

Strangely, Waterways, the precursor to Fort McMurray, was left off the list. It remains one of the few Mid-Canada cities that achieved any semblance of the growth envisioned by Rohmer.

Final infrastructure cost for a full-blown 1970s incursion into Mid-Canada? Four to five billion dollars, about $35 billion in 2016 dollars.

Governor General Roland Michener, a friend of Rohmer, arranged a meeting with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The idea was that Rohmer would show up, present the report, screen some slides and get the ball rolling on a Ministry of Mid-Canada or the like.

Instead, he met the disinterested eyes of the Prime Minister, who couldn’t seem to escape Rideau Hall fast enough.

“The message was ‘don’t even bother,’ but in any event we did our best,” he said.

Rohmer has long chalked up the failure to partisan considerations. The airman reeked of Tory blue, and whatever Trudeau planned to do with Canada in the 1970s, settling the North was not on the list.

I would argue that political differences were less important than the immense cost of this project. Could there have been any constituency for this sort of massive spending? To this, I would add the question of politics, not least with the First Nations. How would the indigenous peoples of the North, the last peoples not to be overwhelmed by European and Euro-Canadian settlers in their homelands, respond to this?

A September 2014 article in The Walrus, “If We Build It, They Will Stay” argued straightforwardly for this plan to be implemented now.

If the federal government had bought into Richard Rohmer’s vision from the start, the mid-Canada corridor would look very different today, beginning with infrastructure. Fifty years ago, it was still a government responsibility and, to a degree, priority. Now, it seems, there isn’t a government at any level that has the money for it. Infrastructure is incredibly expensive, and without a commercial imperative, a difficult sell.

But it’s not just infrastructure that governments have abandoned; they’ve abandoned leadership, as well. The government of Stephen Harper is a facilitator. It doesn’t spend money on northern infrastructure; its interest in policy tends to be narrow and ideological (gutting environmental law to pave the way for resource extraction, for example); and its record on Aboriginal concerns got off to an unfortunate start when it reneged on the Kelowna Accord, a Liberal initiative that had allocated $5 billion to First Nations education, housing, health services, and economic development (things haven’t improved much in the years since).

Canada was founded on bold action (David Thompson’s exploration of the West, Alexander Mackenzie’s push north) and big ideas (Confederation). But we have lost the appetite for both. The last big idea in nation-building was Clifford Sifton’s immigration policy under Wilfrid Laurier’s government a century ago, when a cheery, somewhat misleading campaign lured one million foreign settlers to the Prairies. Occasionally, we are pushed toward something larger (Expo 67, various Olympics), but for the most part we have come to settle for the “Peace, Order, and good Government” described in the British North America Act of 1867.

Good government, however, has become synonymous with good management. Courage isn’t prized, and we’ve paid a price for our caution. When it comes to infrastructure investment, planning, and urban development—activities that shaped the country at its founding—our caution has worked against us.

We are in need of a bold national vision, and the thoughtful development of the mid-Canada corridor certainly qualifies. Rohmer envisioned sustainable development, and if anything that’s even more desirable now than it was five decades ago. It would bring us prosperity. It would force us to be environmentally responsible. It would hasten the long-overdue respectful inclusion of First Peoples in Canadian society. It might even help us realize that elusive dream: meaningful national unity.

I am much less convinced of this. Scott Gilmore in MacLean’s noted that, by most metrics, the Canadian North is terribly underdeveloped and that Canadians by and large are fine with this. At Vice, meanwhile, James Wilt’s article “Why Scott Gilmore’s Latest Claims About the North Are Bullshit” makes the point via a series of interviews that much of what Gilmore would term development (large-scale resource exploitation, particularly) would be unwelcome among the people who actually live there.

Roger Epp, Director of UAlberta North, political science professor and author of We Are All Treaty People: Prairie Essays

VICE: What’s wrong with how Gilmore approaches the North?
Epp: First, Gilmore’s North is a slippery one. Sometimes it is strictly the territorial north, when he is counting people; and then, when he is counting ports, it slips down to Churchill. The question of where North begins is the subject of endless debate. Is Fort McMurray north? Labrador? Prince George? Sudbury? Chicoutimi? Or only those places where Indigenous peoples predominate?

Second, the “North” is judged entirely in terms of whether it is the site of effective sovereignty and economic development, especially of its “mineral wealth.” Those are not necessarily the only criteria that Northerners would apply, though the assumption is that their perspectives are irrelevant. What matters is whether the North is genuinely “ours,” meaning Southern Canadians’. As if it is up to people in Toronto and Ottawa to decide if “we” are a northern nation. People live there, and have been living there a long time.

Is this a symptom of Gilmore simply not being able to conceptualize that distinct cultural interpretations of lands/waters, economies, and societies exist? Or what’s going on here?
Especially outside the territorial capitals, and in parts of the provincial norths as well, there is a complex relationship between what we might call traditional and wage economies. The latter presumably is a mark of “development.” But it is not one or the other for people. Traditional land-based, water-based skills still compensate for the ridiculous price of food, for example, and the relationship between those skills and real self-determination and also the character traits required to live it out should not be discounted.

I was in the community of Deline on Great Bear Lake in late August, just before the effective date and the celebration of a self-government agreement that was almost two decades in the making. While Deline is not without its challenges, those negotiations were an incredible test of community leadership and cohesion, as well as a grounding in traditional stories and spirituality. Deline was rightly celebrated. Where was Gilmore?

For Rohmer’s Mid-Canada Development Corridor to take off, or anything like it, at the very least we would need a national government willing both to engage in massively costly projects like this and to ignore the complaints of the people who actually lived there that these projects were hurting their lifestyles and communities. (In addition to First Nations, the Canadian government might well find itself in conflict with provincial government with their own plans for their portions of the Canadian Shield.) This is not impossible, but it would require some fairly significant tweaks.

Would there even be any guarantee that this plan would work? Hopper’s article notes that we could well end up creating a sub-Arctic urban dystopia, with mined-out resource cities in environmental wastes. Northern Canada could look much more like post-Soviet Siberia that we Canadians would like to imagine. What would happen if funding to these vast projects was interrupted, as they were in the Soviet Union in the 1990s?

What do you think about this possibility? Was the Mid-Canada Development Corridor realizable?


Written by Randy McDonald

September 20, 2016 at 11:59 pm