Muskrat Falls Hydro and the Displacement of Suffering

Muskrat Falls Hydro and the Displacement of Suffering
By Izzy Morin, undergraduate student in Dalhousie University College of Sustainability and Contemporary Studies Program at the University of King's College.           

Last week I attended a talk at Saint Mary’s University about the proposed Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development and the Maritime Link between Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia titled “Everyday Ethics: It’s Not Easy Being Green”. The speaker, Dr. Deborah Steinstra spoke about the displacement of benefits and suffering that this project represented.

Steinstra suggested that in order for us to understand the implications of the proposed developments properly, the idea of intersectionality must be employed as part of a data-gathering method. The consideration of intersectionality is a method of gathering and evaluating data that is based in the belief that categories which are generally attributed to an individual’s social standing (race, gender, economic status, geographic location, etc.) are actually overlapping categories which create a web of individuals who should be considered as complex, contradictory beings and not as atomized social demographics. The consideration of intersectionality in the face of this particular development, says Steinstra, would enable developers, researchers, and the public to better understand the under-represented minorities who would be affected.

The cursory tour of existing knowledge about who would be benefiting or suffering from the proposed development included those who would receive the electricity generated, those whose lands the developments would be on or affect, and those who would lose or gain employment opportunities. The focus of this talk was the aboriginal communities whose lands would be affected by the development. Steinstra explained that among the 3 aboriginal communities, the proposed project was controversial. Important members of these communities are divided on whether or not the development should go through.

Steinstra proposed to enter these communities and to conduct her own study, which would aim at gaining a better understanding of those whose voices were not being heard: that is, the members of those same communities who, for many intersecting reasons, have been underrepresented in the discussion to date.

While this is no doubt well-needed, the question of exploring the intersectionality of these communities also underlines the true extent of the underrepresented parties. The question of people who are suffering in areas outside of Canada was not mentioned at all until the question period. An example of those carrying a hefty portion of suffering are the people being affected by unsustainable and socially unjust practices such as coal-mining in South America from which Nova Scotia buys some of its coal.

While the idea of intersectionality, and the representation of minorities with quiet voices, is an ideal one, in order to have a clean (and green) conscience, the question of the proposed development’s taking pressure off unsustainable practices outside of Canada must also be considered. Otherwise, the suffering and benefits might continue to be displaced. For a practice which is supposed to counter the out-of-sight-out-of-mind practices currently underway in Nova Scotian electricity development, the range of considerations should be broadened in order to stand up to close scrutiny.