In Canada’s North, an incredible wealth of natural resources — and the industrial activity to extract them — are paired with areas of the least-dense human population in our country. For this reason, Blue Dot volunteer Inge-Jean Hansen has begun organizing community groups in her home of Dawson Creek, British Columbia. Inge-Jean is a wildlife biologist who works as an independent researcher and consultant. We asked her to share her perspective on why gaining constitutional recognition for the right to a healthy environment is so important to the North, and to us all.
I think it is a basic human right to have clean air, water and soil; it should be in our constitution so that these things are afforded more protection. As a field biologist I often feel like I am out there documenting what will be soon gone. You might find a very special place and you say so; you say it will be detrimental if it was gone. But that doesn’t always get respected. It feels sometimes, at least in British Columbia, that legislation lacks teeth. That’s why I think the Blue Dot movement is an important campaign, especially here in northern B.C., the current energy epicentre of the province.
You can see industry everywhere up here. Recently I was out with my partner doing work for a potential wind energy facility, and we were stopped along a highway while prepping for work for the day. One after another, a coal truck drove by, then a logging truck, then numerous oil and gas vehicles. It really hit me; I realized, “Wow, absolutely everything is being extracted from here all at once.” I was born and raised here in the north, and I believe we’re starting to see the cumulative impacts of it all.
We have the distinction of having the biggest earthquake in the world caused by hydraulic fracturing, another mega dam on the Peace River may flood some of the best farmland in B.C. along with prime ungulate habitat, rare plant species and so much more, and for a multitude of reasons, our caribou are disappearing. In fact, a 2013 David Suzuki Foundation report summarized some of the cumulative effects and found that 65 per cent of the Peace Region has been affected by industrial development of some sort. You really see it from the air. Those five logging trucks that just went by, when you get up in the air you realize how many more are going by on other highways in different directions at the same time. Granted, a lot is beetle kill and some does need to go. A balance needs to be struck, as a lot of people make their living in these industries. Some of my own work stems from it. But there is a definite lack of balance that you see with that bird’s eye view.
I think the image a lot of people have of the north is that it’s a hinterland; it’s pristine. But it’s not so. From the air you can hardly find a vista where it isn’t cut with a seismic line. I was recently up in the province’s northeast corner, near Fort Nelson, very remote. That Taiga Plains area is chopped up by seismic lines almost every 200 metres. It’s called “3-D seismic”: there’s a line on your X-axis every 200 metres, and on your Y-axis every 200 metres and then there’s the Z-axis going down into the ground, where they see what’s under there. And those grounds, when they’re disturbed, don’t easily come back; you see it for a long time. Anyone who does GIS mapping can download files from the BC Oil and Gas Commission with all the well sites, the compressor stations, the batteries, the seismic lines. As soon as you put it on a map it looks like someone just puked up here in the northeast corner, it’s so gridded by development — and that’s just one industry. It’s more disturbed up here than people realize.
We have experiences here that people in, say, downtown Vancouver would not find acceptable. Where I used to live there was a well site on my neighbour’s land and it was so close that the gas flare rattled my windows at night, like a jet engine in the yard. And that’s legal. Imagine that in the middle of Stanley Park — it would be completely unacceptable.
I think much of this speaks to our lack of numbers, lack of voting population, up here. We’re not heard politically, yet most of the impact from the energy extraction that’s fueling B.C.’s economy is north of 56 degrees latitude. They keep figuring out new ways to access all the resources, and there seems to be insatiable demand. Not just from the south of B.C. but beyond. It is not controlled locally, and the damage goes relatively unseen.
I love the wealth that wilderness brings. I love Canada and B.C.’s north. That’s why I’m working to engage some of our local groups to get on board with the Blue Dot movement. When the right to a healthy environment is a constitutional right, I hope protection of the environment might have more teeth, that it will wield a bigger hammer. Everyone I talk to agrees that this should be a human right; it just makes sense. But we need a unified, connected voice because we’re so dispersed in the north. And we need people in the south to know what’s happening here, and to help us speak up to protect it. I think Blue Dot can bring us together to do just that.