Arc­tic op­por­tu­nity

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James Kal­luk spent much of his child­hood inside an igloo in Canada’s far north, close to the Arc­tic Cir­cle. Build­ing that kind of home re­quires tem­per­a­tures low enough to freeze the re­gion’s count­less lakes, a par­tic­u­lar con­sis­tency of snow and a long-bladed knife the Inuit call a pana.

“To­day, there’s not much snow and it’s harder to make an igloo,” said Kal­luk, now in his early 70s.

“You may find a spot here or there that’s good, but the snow is very dif­fi­cult now. It’s dif­fer­ent.”

The loss of snow and ice are caus­ing Canada to heat up much faster than the rest of the world­more than twice the global rate of warm­ing, ac­cord­ing to a na­tional sci­en­tific as­sess­ment pub­lished in April. The far­ther north you go, the more ac­cel­er­ated the warm­ing. The Cana­dian Arc­tic is one of the fastest-warm­ing places, heat­ing up at about three times the global av­er­age. That makes Canada’s north­ern­most Nu­navut ter­ri­tory, a re­gion the size of Mex­ico, a bell­wether for the un­ex­pected ways an al­tered cli­mate trans­form lives and liveli­hoods.

In Baker Lake, Nu­navut, the town of about 2,000 where Kal­luk lives, al­most every­one’s in­come is tied di­rectly or in­di­rectly to a nearby gold mine op­er­ated by Ag­nico Ea­gle Mines. As global warm­ing in­creases ac­cess to the re­gion’s rich nat­u­ral re­sources, he be­lieves the lo­cal econ­omy will change.

“In the years to come, there are go­ing to be more houses, more de­vel­op­ment here,” Kal­luk said.

“More peo­ple will be able to work.”

Such growth may be wel­come in Canada’s fast un­freez­ing north, but there are trade-offs. Kal­luk wor­ries about dust from new roads dis­turb­ing cari­bou that are al­ready un­der siege from warmer tem­per­a­tures, and about wa­ter pol­lu­tion af­fect­ing fish. That environmen­tal tug of war is the cen­tral story of Canada’s re­mote north. Af­ter liv­ing sus­tain­ably for thou­sands of years, the coun­try’s abo­rig­i­nal groups be­came some of the ear­li­est to be hit by cli­mate change. They are also in a po­si­tion to ben­e­fit most from op­por­tu­ni­ties that now beckon.

From the mos­quito-shel­tered com­fort of his Ford Explorer, David Kakuk­tin­niq sur­veys his em­pire through Prada sun­glasses. As pres­i­dent of Sakku In­vest­ment Corp., he over­sees 17 busi­nesses from the town of Rankin In­let that to­gether get roughly half of their rev­enue from Ag­nico. The Toronto-based min­ing gi­ant opened two new mines this year at a cost of $1.23 bil­lion: Amaruq, lo­cated 175 kilo­me­ters north of Baker Lake; and Melia­dine, about 24 kilo­me­ters from Rankin.

Kakuk­tin­niq, 55, has never been busier. Of the 120,000 tonnes of sup­plies bound for the mines this year – enough to fill 6,000 ship­ping con­tain­ers – half will be un­loaded by his crews. One of his joint ven­tures helps pro­vide the 120 mil­lion liters of diesel the mines will use this year.

Founded in 1957 by a now de­funct nickel-and-cop­per mine, Rankin looks like it was built by grab­bing what­ever came off the barge first. Empty oil drums and ship­ping con­tain­ers are scat­tered among homes and busi­nesses. Dogs lie chained be­side bro­ken pal­lets, old boats and snow­mo­biles. The most spec­tac­u­lar view of the pris­tine waters of Hud­son Bay, home to whales and arc­tic char, is be­side the town dump. For an en­tre­pre­neur like Kakuk­tin­niq, it’s pos­si­ble to stand next to the rusty rem­nants of the town’s past and imagine a bright fu­ture in which longer win­dows of ice-free waters open the town to tourism and busi­ness.

The world’s Arc­tic and sub­Arc­tic land and waters gen­er­ate $174 bil­lion in an­nual eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by the Cana­dian Sen­ate in June. Canada con­trols 25 per cent of this cir­cum­po­lar ge­og­ra­phy but ac­counts for less than two per cent of its econ­omy. Rich in nat­u­ral re­sources that have long been stranded by cli­mate, the far north may soon ben­e­fit from in­creased coastal ac­cess. This will cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties-and po­ten­tially, headaches.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re­cent of­fer to buy Green­land from Den­mark is in­dica­tive of the height­ened in­ter­est in the Arc­tic from the world’s su­per­pow­ers.

For Cana­dian pol­i­cy­mak­ers, this un­der­scores a need to re­in­force na­tional claims and in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture. The gov­ern­ment un­veiled a $2 bil­lion plan in 2017 to in­vest in the north, but there’s been only mod­est spend­ing so far.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, in a close fight for re-elec­tion on Oct. 21, re­cently put for­ward a new north­ern pol­icy ini­tia­tive around sovereignt­y and in­vest­ment.

The op­por­tu­ni­ties, espe­cially around trade, are sig­nif­i­cant. As melt­ing ice opens up coastal ar­eas, Cana­dian ports are likely to be­come gate­ways link­ing Asia and Europe through the North­west Pas­sage, by­pass­ing the Panama and Suez canals. The Rus­sia-con­trolled North­ern Sea Route will be a ma­jor ri­val.

The Port of Prince Ru­pert on the Pa­cific coast is al­ready po­si­tion­ing it­self to take ad­van­tage of the new routes, which it claims can shave nine days off a ship­ment to Rot­ter­dam. Global warm­ing will even­tu­ally add four to eight weeks to the un­frozen ship­ping sea­son in Churchill, Man., a deep-wa­ter port on Hud­son Bay.

“We’re def­i­nitely look­ing at a fu­ture with less sea ice in the Cana­dian Arc­tic and more ship­ping ac­tiv­ity,” said Chris Derk­sen, a cli­mate sci­en­tist with En­vi­ron­ment Canada who tracks the speed of warm­ing. On the cur­rent tra­jec­tory, the Arc­tic will warm an ad­di­tional five to six de­grees Cel­sius by the end of the cen­tury, mean­ing it likely will be clear of ice in sum­mer. If the Paris Agree­ment on cli­mate is met-a long­shot goal, un­der cur­rent trends-Derk­sen’s re­search sug­gests sea ice loss will con­tinue un­til 2050 or 2060.

The melt­ing ice will mean in­creased ac­cess to off­shore oil and gas re­serves, fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing any ef­fort to limit global green­house-gas emissions. Tap­ping in­land re­sources may be trick­ier.

Min­ing is the largest pri­vate sec­tor em­ployer in Canada’s Arc­tic, gen­er­at­ing up to a quar­ter of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct across the three north­ern ter­ri­to­ries and ac­count­ing for one in six jobs. Min­ers do busi­ness here across an area big­ger than In­dia, de­spite limited roads, power or telecommun­ications in­fra­struc­ture.

Min­ing en­gi­neers will need to con­tend with cli­mate-trig­gered “thermokars­t,” a process in which thaw­ing per­mafrost makes soil slump, cre­at­ing new lakes and forc­ing oth­ers to drain. It’s not in­sur­mount­able, but it will drive up costs. Thaw­ing is ex­pected to add to the feed­back loops that are ac­cel­er­at­ing Arc­tic warm­ing. As sea ice turns to wa­ter, for ex­am­ple, less heat is re­flected back into the at­mos­phere, speed­ing up the thaw. The thaw­ing per­mafrost, in turn, re­leases more car­bon that traps more heat in the at­mos­phere.

Arc­tic veg­e­ta­tion is shift­ing in re­sponse to that am­pli­fied warm­ing. Page Burt, a 73-yearold bi­ol­o­gist in Rankin, mon­i­tors changes to bloom­ing times and the re­place­ment of the tun­dra’s low heath with taller shrubs that cari­bou dis­like. Even with the higher wages pro­vided by min­ing, cari­bou re­main the pri­mary food source for Inuit in the re­gion, which means warm­ing could in­crease food scarcity. The trend has been par­tic­u­larly dev­as­tat­ing on Baf­fin Is­land, where the main herd has all but dis­ap­peared.

Min­ing is an al­most in­evitable em­ployer in Rankin. Among Burt’s many jobs – her house is part of a ho­tel she runs – is con­sult­ing for min­ers, in­clud­ing Ag­nico, on environmen­tal im­pacts. Her hus­band, John Hickes, 75, has his own con­nec­tions to the mines, hav­ing served as chief ne­go­tia­tor be­tween the Inuit and Ag­nico. Hickes, who was born in an igloo, also op­er­ates a dog-sled tourism busi­ness.

Among the most dan­ger­ous cli­mate-re­lated changes he’s no­ticed is un­pre­dictable ice thick­ness, which makes hunt­ing more dan­ger­ous. “Twenty years ago, you could ask an Inuk if a lake was suit­able to cross by foot. Right now, that Inuk will tell you, ‘I don’t know,’” Hickes said.

The all-weather road to Ag­nico’s Amaruq min­ing camp bi­sects an ex­panse of tun­dra that in late July is a mul­ti­col­ored ta­pes­try of lichen, moss and wild­flow­ers. Speed is capped at 50 kilo­me­ters an hour to con­trol dust and keep the gi­gan­tic trucks from flat­ten­ing wildlife. On route to the camp, 22-year-old Kayt­lyn Amit­nak de­scribes the an­i­mals who live here: sand cranes and foxes, wolver­ine and muskox, ea­gles, hares and le­gions of ground squir­rels called sik­sik. Twice a year, as many as 250,000 cari­bou mi­grate across the mine’s routes from Baker Lake and Rankin In­let. The herd has closed the roads for more than 50 days so far this year.

Amit­nak works as a hu­man re­sources agent for the mine. Un­til now, she’s man­aged to split her “two weeks on/two weeks off” ro­ta­tion be­tween the camp and her par­ents’ home in Baker Lake, which she shares with her two-year-old daugh­ter and other fam­ily mem­bers. Hous­ing is des­per­ately short and pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive through­out the north, prompt­ing Ag­nico to fly some twothirds of the min­ing work­ers on char­ter flights from else­where in Canada. Amit­nak re­cently de­cided to join the long-haul com­muters, leav­ing her daugh­ter with fam­ily so she can rent a home in Ottawa.

Liv­ing far away won’t be easy, she said, but it will pro­vide her daugh­ter with oth­er­wise unat­tain­able lux­u­ries. She pulls up a photo of the lit­tle girl on her phone, dressed in tra­di­tional Inuit cloth­ing and try­ing to bore a fish­ing hole in the ice with a chisel-or “tuuq”-so big she can barely hold it. Amit­nak re­cently bought her a tram­po­line with her mine wages and is look­ing for­ward to an up­com­ing heavy metal con­cert in Toronto.

“It’s al­most like liv­ing in two worlds,” she said.

Back in Rankin In­let, David Kakuk­tin­niq threads his car through stacks of ship­ping con­tain­ers fresh off the barge. Pulling into an area filled with heavy equip­ment, he stops in front of a line of shiny yel­low trac­tors. Un­til three years ago, Kakuk­tin­niq’s crews used these to haul sleds of fuel, but he parked them when the ice be­came too un­pre­dictable.

“It’s just too risky,” he said.

It’s not the only change he’s no­ticed as the re­gion thaws. Houses in town that were built with steel piles sock­eted into per­mafrost are start­ing to tilt as the ground shifts be­neath them.

“It’s changed, but it’s OK,” said Kakuk­tin­niq. “We’ll cre­ate a busi­ness that fixes houses on piles.”


James Kal­luk sits for a pho­to­graph at his home in Baker Lake, Nu­navut, on July 29.

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