You asked, part 3

20 Apr

Michael’s back was sore when he went to bed last night, and this morning, he almost couldn’t get out of bed.  My leg was asleep, so we were both moaning as we struggled to meet the day.  I guess this is what people don’t like about getting older.  Ha!  Not that a numb leg is a sign of age, just sleeping in a funny position (on a large mound of pillows in an effort stave off pregnancy-induced heartburn).  It turns out Jade has a temperature today, so I feel like I’m surrounded by invalids. 

Jade’s down for her nap, Michael’s relaxing his back on the couch in front of the boob tube, I finally finished the tax returns last night, and I’m actually not sleepy for once, even though I’m still in pajamas.  I was momentarily at a loss for what to do with myself.  Good gracious, time at the computer that doesn’t come in snatches?  This is unheard of!

And so, I am finally getting back to those questions you asked me, way back on, like, April 10th.  Goodness, that’s like the Dark Ages, isn’t it?

Let’s start with the easy ones, shall we?

Michael of Michael’s Meanderings asked, “What’s your favourite thing about your husband?”

Well, it’s certainly not his charming way of publicly fishing for compliments.  But I do admit that this kind of thing shows his playful nature, which is something I greatly appreciate.  That sense of fun and not being quite grown up when it comes to play makes him a veritable pied piper; he’s the one that kids flock to at parties, even, as at the last Fritzen family reunion in Germany, when they don’t even have a language in common.  I imagine that if there were more kids on our street, they’d come over to our house and ask him to come out to play.  I like that.

Marian, also known as Michael’s mom, asked, “When are you coming to visit? (hee hee)”

Hmm, why does this question sound familiar?  Oh, right, because we get asked it all the time!  Don’t worry, I know it’s ’cause we’re so lovable and you miss us.  But you didn’t really want me to answer that, did you?

And finally, Malva had a great question that I’ve been itching to get to: “My question is about northern living.  I don’t know where you are on a green scale, but I imagine you’re concerned about climate change.  So:  Do you think living in the Yukon can be sustainable?  And, what actions, if any, have you taken to try and reduce your ecological footprint?  What do you think could be done by someone who lives in the North to reduce their impact?”

That’s an interesting question, Malva, because I hadn’t really spent a lot of time thinking about it from this particular angle.

So, diving right in, what kinds of things have we done, personally, to reduce our ecological footprint?  Well, at our house, we recycle almost everything that can be recycled: paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, compost.  The fact that we usually have just one bag of garbage every two weeks for our household of three plus two pets is probably a pretty good indicator of how successful we are at that.  We used cloth diapers on Jade for as long as possible.  We bought a high-efficiency washer when the old one died.  We are a one-vehicle family and drive a relatively fuel-efficient car.  We have a programmable thermostat that turns the heat down at night in winter.  We weatherproof our house.  We use compact fluorescent bulbs, even in the chandeliers, which seemed unsightly at first, but I don’t even notice anymore.  We turn out the lights when we don’t use them.  I guess it’s not a spectacular contribution, but we do what we can.

What about the Yukon as a region?  People come to live in the Yukon for the lifestyle; they don’t want to see the forests and lakes die.  It’s our backyard and our playground.  And we’ve already seen some of the effects of global warming around here.  It’s definitely a matter of concern.

So what are some of the tangible ways of dealing with it?  Well, there’s the above-mentioned recycling program; the private non-profit society that runs it, Raven Recycling, is truly dedicated to the cause, and collects as much recyclable material as possible, despite the fact that many of these materials actually cost the organization money to collect.  It uses the profitable stuff, like white paper and aluminum cans, to subsidize the money-losers like mixed paper.  That mentality reflects the thinking of the community here, I believe.  I doubt there’s any city with a higher participation rate in recycling (and it’s not even curbside pick-up recycling), not to mention the muncipal composting program. 

The power in Whitehorse is drawn first from two wind turbines, next from the hydro-electric dam, and only when absolutely necessary are the diesel generators fired up, usually when we have a sustained period of -40 weather.

I admit that Whitehorse is a city that is challenging to get around by bus.  Take me as an example.  The bus runs right by my door and practically right to my place of work, yet I drive because in order to get Jade to daycare first, it would take a bus change and about two hours to do.  In my car, I can get her there and me to work in about 25 minutes.  And that includes the time it takes me to go inside with her.  But that takes me to my point that no matter where you live in Whitehorse, you’re unlikely to be more than a 20-minute drive from anywhere you want to go.  That is surely more efficient than the two-hour commute many southern city-dwellers commit every day.

I’ve never lived outside of Whitehorse in my time in the Yukon (the city contains two-thirds of the territory’s population, by the way) but I think I might have an inkling of the lifestyle in “the communities” (where the other third of the population lives) because of the four years we spent in Fort Liard.  The thing with living in a small place like that is, you see your place in the world more clearly.  When our lights were on, we knew the power was coming from the plant across the street (which was burning diesel).  When we used water, we knew that it had been treated at the treatment plant and trucked to our house.  You see where your garbage goes and you see the sewage lagoon and you know your contribution to it.  It’s so much easier, in a big city, to feel sealed off and above all that… crap.

Additionally, a lot of those communities still have a lot of the traditional lifestyle going on.  In Fort Liard, anyway, some of the families subsisted almost entirely on hunted meat.  You may or may not agree with hunting, but the truth is that responsible hunting has a much smaller environmental impact than a meat farm does.

To add to the lifestyle argument, it’s amazing the number of organic-produce farms there are in the Yukon.  In the summertime, you can get all your vegetables locally and organically grown, a bit of dairy, and in the fall you can get organic meat to stock the freezer with, too.

I’m not saying we don’t contribute to climate change issues.  We have people driving around in big empty trucks and SUVs, we have people who litter, and people who live in larger-than-absolutely-necessary homes (guilty there).  Probably 90% of what we buy is trucked up from the south, which is certainly energy-intensive.  We have longer and harsher winters that mean running our furnaces for longer.  But I think that if we had to be self-sustaining, we’d do a heck of a better job than Toronto at supplying our own food and not ravaging the land as we went about it.  There are only 30,000 of us up here in a land about half the size of Ontario; just by sheer numbers, that’s more sustainable than any place south of 60.

Well, well, I know I got a bit carried away there, but I just got so wrapped up in the topic.  Thanks for the great question, Malva, and if you have any rebuttals or more questions, please comment away.  I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject, but, well, I think we do what we can.

Whew!  That concludes this very long post, but now I feel like I’ve filled a debt of some kind.  There’s nothing like feeling productive while sitting on your butt.

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5 Responses to “You asked, part 3”

  1. MommyTime April 20, 2008 at 4:59 pm #

    I love this post, and I have to admit that there are moments when living in a place like the Yukon sounds incredibly appealing to me. (You just made it so, by the way.) I lament our bigger-than-necessary house and our too-much-stuff often. Mostly, that stuff is toys, and although by comparison to many people with several kids, we don’t have that much, I know we could winnow. We recycle, clean with green cleaners, drive fuel-efficient cars, but I know we could do so much more if we lived in a smaller community. It’s impossible to drive less when you live in a place with no sidewalks, no buses, and a car culture. It sounds to me like you couldn’t be happier living somewhere else. But could you? Would your careers ever take you elsewhere? What then? Just curious…

  2. Malva April 21, 2008 at 4:43 am #

    Thank you so much for the thorough answer!

    You see, I almost moved to the Yukon 10 years ago but ended up in NW BC instead, which was great as I met my spouse there. I took him away from his hometown and we’re now in Ottawa. We’d like to move to a smaller town and probably will in the not so far future but increasingly, I keep wondering how could I maintain my really low impact life in a not so urban area?

    I poked around the net and couldn’t find much about sustainable living or the impact of peak oil in the Yukon.

    The area that seems the most problematic is transportation. We sold our only car, if we can’t walk or bike someplace we probably don’t need to go, I have been able to talk my way out of flying anywhere. We also buy almost everything second hand and locally so things don’t have to be manufactured and trucked over just for me, and there is no packaging. Food is as local as possible.

    But you’ve given me hope, I knew that some people gardened but having several organic vegetable farms is great. I hadn’t thought of the angle: “people who move here for the lifestyle do what they can to preserve it”. That’s very important.

    Climate change and peak oil are happening much faster than anyone ever expected, it can be overwhelming at times. I’m feeling overwhelmed trying to articulate my thoughts now and I’m the one who brought the topic up!

  3. fawnahareo April 22, 2008 at 8:20 pm #

    Malva,

    I forgot to mention that while Michael and I are very much about muscle-powered pastimes (canoeing, kicksledding, snowshoeing) there is definitely a large contingent of Yukoners who like their big “toys”: skidoos, boats, RVs, 4-wheelers. So, not to throw a damper on your hope, but I’m trying to be balanced, and I admit that’s a strike against us…

    I would think that the very easiest place to live a low impact life would be BC. Milder climates mean less heating fuel and more locally-grown produce available. And being the “tree hugger” province that it is, there is no doubt a lot of organic farming there.

    You can bike all over Whitehorse — some folks even do it in winter — but getting in and out of the territory would certainly be a challenge if you don’t fly or drive. I mean, you *can* bike, but it takes an awful long time to get anywhere!

    MommyTime,

    Michael would tell you that he’d be happier living someplace smaller, but not bigger. For my part, I really enjoyed living in Fort Liard (population 600), but I can’t imagine going back to that at this point, especially with all the cultural stuff going on here, and with my musical world expanding as it is. I wouldn’t be unhappy in a bigger city as long as I could get out of it once in a while, but Michael would never go there! I do love the sense of community here; I find that in bigger cities, it’s actually easier to be isolated, despite being surrounded by people. Ironic, isn’t it?

    Career-wise, Michael is very much rooted in the north because of the clients he serves. That’s not to say he couldn’t take his skills elsewhere, but he’s developed such strong relationships with the people here. As for me, I’m not really “set” in a career. I work, but it’s not my dream job and I’m still figuring out what I really want to be when I grow up. 😉 So it seems that Whitehorse is a great place for us to be for now. What might come down the road? Who knows…?

  4. kara April 24, 2008 at 8:20 pm #

    hehehe I guess I am a bad one because I love love love my quad! Sad though because I had to leave it back in Nunavut and now need to buy a new one!

    Are there really places to buy locally grown veggies?? My husband has vetoed me from starting a garden this year since we have so much else to do with the house and such. sigh….

  5. fawnahareo April 25, 2008 at 3:20 pm #

    In Whitehorse there are places to buy them (notably the Fireweed Market in summertime) but I don’t know about Faro. You might try to contact someone at Yukon Food (http://yukonfood.com/) to see if they know the answer to that one.

    As far as vetoing, I say harumph. If you have a little bit of hobby time, who can stop you from planting a strip of lettuce seed? 😉 Lettuce is my favourite thing to grow because it’s so prolific and oh-so-satisfying to eat!

    Good luck!

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