Healthy people, healthy communities, healthy ecosystems
We cannot build a healthier society or a strong economy while eroding the health and integrity of our natural environment. Our rivers and lakes, forests and topsoil provide the food that makes our bodies, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the spaces in which we rest and reflect. The environment is a critical determinant of human health.
To protect and sustain our environment, we need to refrain from doing certain things, such as dumping toxins into rivers, emitting ruinous amounts of greenhouse gases into the air, or ploughing native prairie.
But what we don’t do is just a start — a small part of our shared project of protecting the environment. The larger part of that project is more active: what we start doing. Building a healthy society and a healthy environment requires just that: building. There is work to do: things to construct, changes to make, a million new tasks and occupations and priorities, jobs for each of us.
We can and should:
- say yes to bold investment in the development of safe, renewable energy systems.
Saskatchewan’s CCF/NDP led the way in rural electrification. We can lead again, building a new and smarter electrical system for Saskatchewan: distributed and dispersed; increasingly powered by renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass; utilizing feed-in tariffs, with community power generation infrastructure owned by local co-operatives; aided by a new mandate for SaskPower; and much less dependence on coal. Saskatchewan has abundant sun, wind and biomass power potential, a strong tradition of co-operatives, ample expertise, and world-class energy crown corporations. We are uniquely positioned to lead a North American energy renaissance.
- say no to the development of nuclear reactors, uranium refineries and the storage of nuclear waste in Saskatchewan. Nuclear power is not, and can never be, “clean” energy.
Recognizing the tension between this stance and our involvement in other steps in the nuclear fuel chain, the large number of people from communities with high levels of unemployment currently working in the uranium industry, and the questionable stability of this resource sector in the context of limited supply and shifting markets, we must pursue other options for economic development, particularly in the North. Revenue derived from the uranium industry should be directed towards sustainable northern economic development, focused on industries that are more economically and ecologically stable, including food production (wild rice, commercial fishing etc.), energy production from biomass and run-of-the-river hydro, tourism, sustainable forestry and more.
We can and should:
- establish an energy efficiency body, distinct from SaskPower, that focuses on cutting our overall energy needs by investing in conservation, subsidizing retrofits for existing buildings, and creating conservation-focused building codes and incentives for high-efficiency new construction.
There are huge opportunities for reducing energy needs through increased energy efficiency – when it comes to doing more with less electricity, we've barely scratched the surface.
- combine energy efficiency with increased safety for low-income households by providing free energy and safety audits (eg. fall risk for seniors, carbon monoxide monitoring, etc.) and grants to fund the repairs and retrofits necessary to save utility and health care dollars.
- introduce a major efficiency and conservation program aimed at industrial energy users; and ensure that these industries, which currently pay a fraction of what the public does, pay a fair price for what they use.
Much of our demand for energy comes from industry, and there's currently little incentive for these emitters to use energy efficiently. A fair price is a good first step in incentivizing conservation and cogeneration in every sector.
We can and should:
- develop a strategic plan, with defined reduction targets for the years 2020, 2030 and 2050, to achieve a significant reduction in the province’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The Lancet, the British Medical Journal and the World Health Organization have all recognized climate change as posing a critical risk to human health this century.
- support a national approach to carbon pricing that is fair to Saskatchewan, and introduce a modest Saskatchewan carbon tax, modeled on that already used in BC, to complement national efforts and make Saskatchewan a leader in climate protection.
- provide private landowners with tax incentives rewarding them for conserving wetlands, woodlands, and grasslands that are managed in ways that sustain natural carbon sinks.
This is a far more affordable and effective way to sequester carbon than the “clean coal” focus on pumping it into holes in the ground.
- invest in public research to develop and promote resiliant farming methods and crops that will be required as the climate changes.
While mitigation of climate change must be the primary goal, we also have to be ready to adapt to those changes that have already happened and will continue to happen.
Protecting and preserving our natural environment
We can and should:
- safeguard our water by enforcing existing regulations and conducting bottom-up watershed-based planning that is supported, not foiled, by legislation and action at the provincial level.
Working together, citizens and governments can create water policies that respect Saskatchewan’s ecological limits and respond to climate risks in ways that allow communities to thrive.
- retain and protect all major remnants of native grassland on Crown land, including community pastures.
Saskatchewan has lost nearly 80 percent of its grasslands: this is our old growth and it cannot be replaced. A renewed commitment to work with local livestock producers, conservation organizations and First Nations can help protect these endangered ecosystems and species at risk.
- work with northern communities, conservation organizations, the forestry industry, and First Nations to improve our stewardship of the forests that cover half of Saskatchewan.
An inclusive approach to forestry stewardship can ensure that we balance the multiple roles these forests play: watersheds for lakes and rivers, historical and spiritual areas, traditional territories, habitats for diverse species, recreational areas, sources of food and game, surroundings for communities, as well as sources of jobs and resources.
- protect our farmland and pastures by providing incentives to farmers who want to produce for local markets, use fewer pesticides, or diversify food production in our province, and to ranchers who want to produce grass-fed animals for local markets, using fewer antibiotics.
- establish a Citizens' Ecological Health Monitoring Agency to monitor the impacts of human activity on the environment, composed of a science policy advisory council and a citizens’ data-gathering and monitoring program.
- conduct regional strategic planning to ensure that the Ministry of the Environment has both the information and the tools to regulate our activity to protect the natural environment.
A test of our stewardship
Our province contains a rich endowment of natural resources, renewable and non-renewable. How we care for and utilize that natural endowment is a true test of our stewardship. We must ensure that the transient wealth created by non-renewable resources builds a durable and sustainable prosperity into the distant future. Resource revenues today must fund the smart infrastructure, renewable energy production, sustainable manufacturing, high-efficiency transport systems and energy conservation we will need tomorrow, and for generations to come.
A greener, healthier Saskatchewan is possible, one that promotes greater well-being and a thriving economy while using fewer resources, one that gives us more time with our families and less time in traffic, one that provides what we need today and preserve and protect the natural systems our children will depend on tomorrow.
What more can we do to promote good environmental policy? Please share your own ideas below, or review, and weigh in on, other ideas that have been shared with us here.