1. 2 mins (article), 15 minutes (paper) Biomass and Climate Change (Feb. 26, 2017)

As I write it is -25 Celsius outside and the woodstove is crackling merrily away. I have been burning wood for the last 41 years. This article and report flag a big problem with biomass, there is policy ambiguity when it comes to biomass and whether it is carbon neutral (as long touted). The biomass industry has flourished because it was deemed to be carbon neutral and the emissions are accounted for differently. In the NWT the government, business and individuals have made significant investments in converting buildings to biomass and designing biomass into new buildings, because it saved money and was a carbon neutral alternative to diesel. A significant amount of time and money has gone into building a biomass industry in the NWT. There will be consternation. Policy clarity is needed, the sooner the better. I love wood heat at -25 Celsius, but is it the right thing to do?

2. 11 mins Why is First Nation Drinking Water Still a Problem? (Feb. 22, 2017)

This article is an excellent summary of the main problems facing first Nations in trying to address their drinking water challenges: the technology problem, the money problem, and the rules problem. The technology problem can be addressed if there’s a change in mindset from risk aversion to innovation. Other parts of the world have faced this and we can address it also. There is however, a significant capacity gap and so we need a concerted effort to filling that gap through training at the highest professional level, rather than just a quick fix training program. Indigenous institutions need to be created to address this issue. We need to think long term in terms of institution building.

The money problem requires two things: creativity, and a governance shift. Creative financial arrangements, in particular partnerships with the private sector, might be the only long-term solution (even though they can be controversial). Protections would have to be in place. Also, First Nations need to have institutions that can manage this money, rather than having it be allocated by federal systems that clearly aren’t getting it right. This is a critical element of First Nation institution building.

On the rules problem, that’s a bit more difficult. It involves filling the “regulatory gap” that exists on First Nation reserves (in many areas, not just those related to the environment). It is assumed that the best thing to do is create a federal law, or just adopt a provincial law, but it’s more complicated than that. As the Expert Panel on First Nations Safe Drinking Water recommended in 2006, indigenous legal systems are a preferred approach. First Nations have their own legal histories, and the long-term solution to most problems plaguing indigenous communities is for their governance and legal structure to be in place and recognized. Long-term health of indigenous communities cannot be created until they make their own decisions, based on their own laws, and manage their own systems. This system, the same one that created the Indian Act, reserves, residential schools and a failing land claim process has created the drinking water problem…it will not be the solution that fixes it in the long-term.

3. 2 mins Wasting Food (Feb. 26, 2017)

This article is a 2-minute read, unless you go to the links in the article, which will give you the detail of something we are all likely a party to at some point or other – wasting food. As the Food and Agriculture Organization states, “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.” Just in terms of water use and climate change impacts from forest clearing and animal husbandry, alone, the cost to the planet and to our own health is huge and not sustainable. This article brings to attention a big issue we may be blithely blind to in our lives. As I sit here reflecting as I write, in my world we waste food by 1) making too much and 2) in my case having eyes that are bigger than my stomach, taking more than I can eat. The ways to ease our burden on the planet are there in our daily lives: eat sensibly, don’t waste, and lead by example. Earth, and your overworked stomachs, will both benefit and thank you.

4. 1 min Plastic Roads? (Feb. 26, 2017)

This short video and article shows there are game changing technological improvements in the works that will help deal with the mountains of discarded plastic choking the planet. The folks in the Netherlands are a creative, innovative people. It is easy to visualize this technology at use in high traffic urban areas. When I think of the extreme cost of road building in the north, this technology may have merit, if it can stand the cold and snow plows. The concept is a good one. Let us see if it proves out.

5. 3 mins Review of Laws Related to Indigenous Peoples (Feb. 22, 2017)

This brief article outlines a welcome announcement (although one asks why it has taken over a year to make this announcement when the approach is going to be a ministerial committee) on the promised review of all federal laws and policies that relate to indigenous peoples. This is going to be no simple matter, but it’s a good thing it’s getting going. The worry of course, is that it’s going to take a number of years and that no changes will occur to improve or eliminate laws and policies that are clearly important in their negative effect on indigenous peoples until everything has been reviewed. Two thoughts: it might make sense to triage the scope of the review to be able to address immediate changes, and then ones that might take much more time to address. Three questions: where is the Minister of the Environment on this, will this be a collaborative process with Indigenous governments, and what are the timelines for reporting back: before or after the next election in 969 days?

Second, building new laws and policies to replace or amend the ones that have been reviewed should be a collaborative process. Co-drafting laws and policies with indigenous peoples, as has been done in the Northwest Territories, is an existing model that is extremely effective. It’s based on a nation-to-nation approach and builds reconciliation because it is a collaborative approach to building laws that affect indigenous people. Sitting at the same table with Indigenous people in the drafting process means the law becomes something that we all see as our own because we created it together.