Hundred-year-old technology might not seem to be an answer to anyone’s problems, especially in dealing with modern-day issues. For people looking to solve the problem of expensive food and the effects of climate change on Canada’s most remote northern communities, however, airships might be the answer.
On May 17, 2017, participants gathered at the RBC Convention Centre to participate in a presentation entitled “Ice Roads and Cargo Airships: State of the Technology and Opportunities for the North” which traced a problem that has long plagued the north: expensive supplies that often keep people buying junk food like chips and chocolate rather than choosing healthy options.
Imagine spending almost $17 for a four-litre jug of milk or $1.75 for a single apple or orange. Is it any wonder that people frequently choose to buy unhealthy food rather than the more expensive options?
Food in the north has always been expensive, but climate change is only exacerbating the problem as the 22,000 kilometres of ice roads that have helped to reduce transportation costs are melting sooner and losing a day of viability every year.
Judy Klassen, interim leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, spoke of her firsthand experience in trying to encourage healthy eating in her remote First Nations community, where “climate change is not an abstract idea.”
Not only is the northern diet dangerous, being low in perishable foods like fresh fruit and high in sugar and fat, but it is also very difficult to maintain. With fuel lasting only until September some years, communities can be left for long periods of time without any new supplies or any nearby towns that could fill in the gaps.
Despite the challenges, Klassen sees a great deal of resilience and hard work in the remote communities and warns of the dangers of neglect. “Our northerners deserve our attention,” she says, but “there are no viable economical options out there,” at least until now.
Dr. Barry Prentice led the second part of the event with a focus on airships as a possible solution to the economic and climatic struggles of the north.
Like wind turbines and electric cars, airships are based on an old technology, with the first airships flying in 1927.
Ninety years later, engineers are working hard at developing new prototypes and testing airships while also contemplating options for landing pads.
With many goods currently costing two and a half to three times as much as their equivalent in other parts of the country, using the relatively inexpensive option of airships instead of more expensive planes or trucks could save a great deal of money and also help to relieve the current housing crisis by making building supplies cheaper and easier to transport.
If the present airship experiment works, the applications could extend far beyond food and building supplies to anything that currently suffers from a lack of infrastructure, including mining camps in remote areas. The technology is still developing, but as Dr. Prentice noted, “This is not rocket science; it’s just balloon science.”
With all of the ecological and fuel supply issues facing the north, it might be time to return to an innovation of the past.