An online workshop in New Brunswick’s Tantramar region earlier this month focused in on the connections between climate resilience and poverty—and how a basic income can make all the difference for a community trying to cope with a wide array of climate impacts.
The session hosted by the Sackville-based Aster Group Environmental Services Co-op was one of nearly three dozen supported by the Green Resilience Project, a series of local discussions on the links between income security, climate resilience, and the just transition off fossil fuels. [Energy Mix Productions is one of the lead partners behind the project, with funding from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Climate Action and Awareness Fund.]
In an interview with Sackville’s community radio station, CHMA-FM, session facilitator Margaret Tusz-King pointed to the links between climate action, income security, and anti-poverty work. “The effects of climate change are going to face all of us, right? We know if we have wetter springs and falls and drier summers, you know what we’re dealing with: a lot of risks around ice and floods and storms and things like that,” she said.
“When you have enough money, you can manage. You can buy the air conditioner. You can pay more for power. You can pay more for food. You can buy food from further away when the local crops fail due to drought.”
But “when you don’t have enough money already, that’s the tipping point,” Tusz-King continued. “Everything’s harder when you don’t have enough money, and quite frankly, things are hard already for a huge proportion of people in our region.”
Tusz-King said the online discussion pointed to Tantramar’s “network of social capital” as a major advantage for the region, a stretch of southeastern New Brunswick surrounded by the Bay of Fundy and Northumberland Straight.
“People know each other,” she said. “We live in a very caring community, where individuals are known for who they are. We don’t often get lost in a crowd around here. We have an ability to mobilize a lot of people, and with the pandemic we demonstrated that we have really, really good people in our community who care.”
As the catalyst for the now-closed Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), the pandemic also made a powerful case for income security.
“When people started getting $2,000 a month, the usage at the food bank decreased,” Tusz-King said. “It showed how little we need in basic income to make the difference, for people to be economically independent and autonomous. It doesn’t take that much.”
The discussion in Tantramar also drew a direct line between income security and local climate impacts—from flooding brought on by sea level rise, to an increase in ice storms, to disrupted local harvests due to inconsistent rainfall patterns, to mounting mental health concerns that could have multigenerational impacts. A major concern is that flooding will take out a rail line and a segment of the Trans-Canada Highway that run through the area.
“Much of the region is below sea level, but has historically been protected from flooding by a system of dikes built by the Acadian population in the seventeenth century,” Green Resilience explains, in its summary of the radio segment.
So “we very happily built a lot of infrastructure and put a lot of homes inside the dikes at sea level,” Tusz-King told CHMA. “When the tides are high, when we have a big storm and the dikes are overtopped, which is what’s being predicted, we have a lot of our people and infrastructure and communities at risk.”
Session participant Saly Davis, a recent arrival to Tantramar, said she and her partner Clinton can see those impacts on their own property.
“When I first moved here, I remember our first windstorm,” she said. “I asked the neighbours if this was normal. They laughed and said, ‘it became normal, but it wasn’t always like this’.” The rail line runs along the bottom of the property, “and when we look at the river, sometimes it looks like it’s going to swallow the train tracks whole,” Davis told CHMA.
“We have children. We want them to have a planet that’s not a dump to live in, but we have also seen the effects of climate change and we’re worried.”
Davis, whose We Can Fight Like Cats podcast traces the experience of people of colour and immigrants in New Brunswick, said she’s concerned that poor economic conditions in the province will lead to racist scapegoating.
“We’re all stressed by the environmental factors, but immigrants and people of colour have an additional stress,” she said. “We are discriminated against for being people of colour. So we can’t even focus on the problem of surviving climate change if we’re having the problem of just general survival from a population that is deprived of basic human decency and basic human rights.”