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Sustainable housing and investment in renewable energy for a better future in arctic communities

January 31, 2019


Alden Rose

Access to safe and sustainable housing is an issue that affects many people around the world, but Indigenous people in Arctic Canada and in Greenland face distinct challenges. The lack of affordable housing can perpetuate inequalities, as well as disparities in health outcomes. In Arctic Canada, people may earn less than those living farther south but living costs in the north may be twice as high. One of the main contributors to the high cost of living is heat and electricity – the high cost of living is largely from a need for more energy and the expense of getting the energy to relatively remote places. The governments are responsible for choosing energy systems that suit the needs of communities, but unfortunately many systems are outdated, inefficient, and expensive, which directly impacts the wellbeing of those who rely on them.

Fossil fuels are more expensive than renewables, and reliance on these systems means that energy prices are subject to the unstable fluctuations in oil prices. This creates a system that leaves individuals reliant on government subsidies, especially as energy costs increase. In Nunavut, all of the communities are reliant on burning diesel for electricity. Where possible, Canada should fund hydroelectric power plants. In all proposed plans for both Nunavut and Northwest Territories, replacing the generators with solar and wind were economically superior alternatives that could be combined with biomass incineration as a waste management solution to create a stable source of electricity and heat.Renewable energy systems that are less expensive are a way to reduce costs for the government and for citizens, and the leftover funding could be spent toward improving health outcomes for Inuit peoples. This would be a win-win for people living in the Arctic.

In terms of policy, by optimizing community planning, energy production, and housing, the governments of Canada and Greenland could see immediate financial benefits that would allow for more spending in areas that are integral to the health and sustainability of the predominantly Inuit communities in the Arctic. For example, planning appropriately and using efficient home design has the potential to help with many of the social problems that Inuit people in Canada and Greenland are faced with. Less expensive and cleaner energy that can be used to heat efficient modern houses has the potential to decrease the economic burden associated with housing and so that social programs can be funded proportional to the demonstrated need. For Greenland, many energy goals have been met, but social challenges remain and professionals are needed in towns outside of Nuuk. By addressing all aspects of how people live in the Arctic, governments have a chance to improve quality of life for Arctic communities and lessen their impact on the environment.

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