The Peace River district of Northeastern B.C. holds perhaps some of the greatest potential for sustainable development in Canada, yet the region is squandering capital and natural resources on quintessentially unsustainable development. The source of that policy is a short-sighted socio-political climate that is committed to maximum extraction and immediate profit, regardless of long term ecological and economic devastation. This paradox is plainly apparent through the impending construction of the controversial Site C hydroelectric dam.
Site C would be the third hydro-electric dam on the Peace River and would impact over 55 000 hectares of invaluable wilderness and agricultural land, not to mention that the project comes with an 8.9 billion dollar price tag. The December 2014 provincial decision to go ahead with the construction must be criticized on the basis of economic prudence, First Nations rights, food security, environ-mental sustainability, and more. Nevertheless, B.C. Hydro and the provincial government are unwavering in their pro-Site C propaganda. We are being fed the line that the project is prudent, necessary, and ultimately inevitable.
Energy and economic experts, including former B.C. Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen, have come forward to argue that the Site C dam is an inappropriate use of resources and an unwise choice for British Columbians. Rather than arguing the many demerits of the Site C dam, I wish to present a vision of the Peace River as it could be, free from the threat of flooding. The rich valley offers opportunities for developing agriculture, establishing wind and geothermal power, climate change mitigation, and integrity in our relationship with Treaty 8 First Nations.
Climate change will pose several challenges to agriculture, including drought, pests, and extreme weather events. However, these adverse effects will be felt minimally in the Peace region, relative to the majority of B.C. The Peace Valley offers a unique microclimate and fertile soils ideal for agriculture. Climate change predictions hold unique blessings for the Peace Valley, as more land is expected to become suitable for cultivation and the growing season is expected to lengthen. As agricultural productivity decreases elsewhere in B.C. (and internationally), resulting in widespread food insecurity, the valley’s rare microclimate and class 1 and 2 land will become increasingly valuable. Rising demand will make organic, sustainable food production a more financially lucrative venture. It is predicted that these shifting economic and climatic contexts could allow for a booming vegetable industry in the Peace Valley.
The largest barriers to the develop-ment of a thriving food supply industry in the Peace region are spatial isolation from markets and a lack of irrigation infrastructure. With landholder invest-ment and government prioritization, these obstacles could likely be resolved. Localization of the food supply also has merit as a climate change mitigation strategy. Reducing food miles will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The energy-centred economy of the Peace Region must also begin a transition towards clean, renewable energy in order to mitigate climate change and adapt to shifting market demands. While further investment in hydroelectric power is unwise, continued reliance on the fossil fuel industry is also ethically and economically irresponsible for well-documented reasons. The Peace Region has several geothermal hotspots that have been largely ignored by the provincial government. Geothermal energy is an inexpensive, efficient energy source with a very low carbon footprint. Wind power is a fast-growing industry as well, and the Peace Region has abundant opportunities for developing cost-effective wind energy sites.
Climate change will result in increased pressure on boreal ecosystems, which are already degraded by massive industrial development. The Peace River Valley, still relatively intact and healthy, plays a crucial role in supporting the region’s biodiversity and providing ecosystem connectivity. Biodiversity and ecosystem connectivity increase an ecosystem’s resilience to climate change. A key component of climate change mitigation is conserving and enhancing natural carbon sinks. “The Peace Dividend: Assessing the Economic Value of Ecosystems in B.C.’s Peace River Watershed” has estimated the annual value of carbon storage in the Peace River Watershed at $6.7 billion. The land to be destroyed by the Site C dam alone holds approximately 2.5 million tonnes of carbon. Rejection of the Site C dam, reforestation, and nature conservation are all linked in maintaining the capacity of the Peace region to remove and store atmospheric carbon.
Treaty 8 First Nations, who have fought against the project for decades, are challenging the province’s legal right to move forward with the project. The current construction of Site C work camps in the Peace Valley, before a settlement with First Nations has been reached in court, is evidence of the continuation of a long, problematic history of colonial resource development protocol in B.C. While the government may enter into “negotiations” with First Nations, they view the outcome as predetermined.
Listen to the ecologists, agriculturists, energy experts, and economists.
Stand in solidarity with the indigenous inhabitants of the land. Flooding is
an outdated choice for the beautiful Peace Valley. We cannot justify raising more cement dinosaurs in the age of sustainable eco-innovation. An un-flooded Peace Valley has the potential to bring material, ecological, and cultural prosperity to British Columbians.