Photo from Max Pixel

By Sarina Clay-Smith

The Northwest Territories (NWT) elicit images of wild beauty, of open snowy landscapes during the day, and of wondrous light shows at night. The tundra can be a difficult place to thrive for both plants and animals, requiring a special resiliency making it all the more captivating. According to the Government of the Northwest Territories, this unique landscape is under threat. The NWT is warming four to five times faster than the global average thus putting the NWT on the forefront of the effects of climate change in Canada and the devastating impact that globally awaits us.

Warming of the NWT is resulting in the loss of permafrost, ground that has remained frozen for more than two years, as well as the changing seasons such as shorter and warmer winters along with longer and drier summers. The CBC estimated that the loss of permafrost causes about $51M every year in the NWT due to infrastructure damage caused by erosion, flooding, and structural building damage. This warming leads to further changes in the sea ice expanse and coastal erosion, having impacts on the water quality that so many people rely on. Flooding, forest fires, variable ice road seasons and drought are just some of the many issues the NWT faces with limited resources. The communities in the NWT are being impacted socially, economically, and culturally because of their rapidly changing environment.

One group tackling this enormous issue is Ecology North, a non-profit organization located in Yellowknife. Started as a response to arsenic pollution in 1971, they have expanded to working on projects focused on climate change, waste reduction, water quality and food sovereignty. They engage and educate the public, committing to the well-being of not just the environment, but the community as well.

Ecology North is specifically addressing climate change in a number of ways. They have launched a twitter robot (@ykclimatewatch), tweeting everyday if the temperature is warmer than the average date from 1971-2000. The idea behind this project is to generate conversations about what a few degrees of temperature change really means, and for the community to understand the difference between weather and climate.

Much of Ecology North’s work regarding climate change is seen in the resources they have created addressing the changes occurring in many people’s backyards. This gives great insight into the real environmental changes the communities in the north faces and what needs to be done. Reports created includes analyzing the impacts of climate change and the shortfalls of the current mitigation practices, possibility of a carbon tax, and the changes required for the NWT to change to a low carbon economy quickly.

Permafrost of the Peel Plateau, is an insightful and informative video Ecology North has created. The video highlights how the North West Territories are being impacted, how climate change was just a word 30 years ago, and today, they are seeing real changes in the landscape, the water, the people, and the animals. This area is potentially the fastest changing area in North America, as the permafrost is changing.

Until we understand how the environment is changing and to what magnitude, we cannot fully comprehend how we must change. Much of Ecology North’s work towards climate change is encapsulating the great shifts occurring throughout the NWT, and what steps are necessary to improve the environmental health and the health of the northern communities. This makes them an integral player in the fight against climate change, and a strong voice for the inevitable changes we need to make as a society to continue to thrive.