On December 14, 2021, Honourable Mary Jane McCallum spoke to fellow Canadian senators about the need to carefully consider the impacts of hydroelectricity in the context of calling for a climate emergency. Speaking on behalf of Wa Ni Ska Tan: Alliance of Hydro-Impacted Communities in Manitoba, she warned that hydroelectric development cannot be simply accepted as a solution to climate change:
“We welcome the opportunity to speak to this motion and offer insights into emerging urgencies and new threats, such as climate change, while also warning of the dangers posed by blindly accepting large-scale hydroelectric projects as a route towards the future reliance on renewable energy. Though the climate crisis offers a very real danger to all peoples of the world, promoted solutions must be founded in principles of justice and avoid the sacrifice of communities for the benefit of others.”
The speech made specific reference to the experiences of those in Northern Manitoba that have been affected by the Churchill River Diversion (CRD) and its hydroelectric infrastructure.
“The CRD has directly impacted more than 8,000 kilometres of shoreline. This is a conservative estimate based on available data sets from publications of shorelines around South Indian Lake, but the true numbers are difficult to calculate due to the inaccessible nature of supposedly public information. . . . Both the Manitoba government and public have to rely on the information provided by Manitoba Hydro, because they fund the vast majority of scientific studies on their projects and utilize strategies of divide and conquer when signing agreements with communities.” [Read more here about the experiences of these communities and the current campaign underway.]
“The hydroelectric energy produced by these megadams has long enjoyed an undeserved reputation as “clean” and “renewable” energy. In the move towards addressing climate change through electrification, “greenwashing” of hyd0power poses an emerging threat of ideological proportions.
Ongoing dysfunctional and deep-rooted colonial structures, including jurisdictional gaps, also strain existing power imbalances in the region. This ecological footprint has resulted in impacts that have yet to receive due environmental consideration. Entire islands have been swallowed up. Historic and commercial fisheries have been decimated. Thousands of people and entire communities have been flooded, displaced and dispossessed.”
In response to the historic and ongoing injustices, the speech also emphasized the need for real solutions that do not perpetuate colonial issues:
“Renewable energy projects are desperately needed in the face of the climate crisis, but they must not be undertaken in a way that repeats the mistakes of the past. The hydro dams in Manitoba were developed in a colonial manner that did not prioritize collaboration with Indigenous Peoples or minimize environmental harm. Future energy projects should focus on renewable energies such as wind and solar that can be built closer to urban centres such as Winnipeg — reducing the amount of necessary infrastructure and fuel. These energies will also be less susceptible to future changes in our climate, unlike the susceptibility of hydroelectricity to a drought, such as we are currently experiencing in Manitoba.
Northern Canada is also predicted to experience greater warming than the global average, signalling another reason to focus efforts on resilient solutions. We call upon governments and industry to seize the opportunity to develop innovative solutions to our energy needs and in a manner that does not contribute to additional environmental, socio-economic, and cultural degradation.”
Read more here about the campaign to stop the ongoing destruction of lands and waters in Northern Manitoba.