Written by Daniel Tubb on May 17, 2019
David Coon, MLA for Fredericton South and New Brunswick’s Green Party Leader, joins the youth rallying for climate action at the New Brunswick Legislature in Fredericton in April 2019. Photo by Jill Watson.
In the optimistic spirit of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Message from the Future, this is a speculative look back from 2030, which imagines Canada and New Brunswick from 2030, to think about how we met our climate change obligations. It is fiction, but it need not be.
The New Brunswick Green New Deal began to seem possible eleven years ago. It was 2019, and that spring floodwaters ravaged New Brunswick; the Ottawa River washed through the capital; a dike levy broke to waterlog Montréal; and the list of small towns and villages flooded across Ontario and Quebec seemed endless.
It wasn’t just Eastern Canada, though. That long hot summer, drought hit British Columbia and Alberta. The vast wildfires in the BC interior of 2019 started early. The blazes in 2019 made the fires of 2017 and 2018 seem like small dress rehearsals. It was Canada’s Paradise. Vancouver and Calgary were swamped by climate refugees. It was like a war zone, but the bombs were climatic.
What became clear in 2019 was that it wasn’t climate change, it was a climate catastrophe. The catastrophe was undeniable, and yet governments and corporations were in denial.
We were already living it, and they were not doing enough.
With the scars of fire and flood on our minds, Canadians we began to wonder, “Is there nothing we can do?”
Something could be done, people began to realize. They realized the old economics was not only bankrupt, but had caused the problems in the first place. What the economists had missed, was the obvious. Economic growth on a finite planet can lead only to disaster. The arithmetic was simple, even young families crowded into condos with two kids could easily understand. There wasn’t enough space for everyone on the planet to live like people in Canada—we would need 4.7 planets.
It was not just a summer of realization; it was also a summer of climate action. People began to mobilize and to organize. Students held regular Friday climate strikes. The Extinction Rebellion came to North America. Learning from Greta Thunberg, high school kids from New Brunswick crossed the country by train to galvanize support.
In a country shaken by floods and still burning, the long hot summer of 2019 was the summer when students, Indigenous communities, unions, workers, activists, environmentalists, and voters began to see that doing nothing in the face of climate catastrophe was not inevitable, it was suicidal.
There were alternatives.
It was an election year in Canada. The Conservative parties split the vote on the right, and the scandal-riven Liberals fell back on their clichés and tired old tropes of Neoliberal Carbon Capitalism from the 20th century, which was to become as bankrupt as Communism at the fall of the Berlin Wall. The market will save us, the Liberals seemed to cry. But, their carbon tax was far too little, far too late. Their tax shifted the burden of climate change onto the poorest and least able to pay. It was intensely unpopular. This unpopularity was part of the problem.
The Liberal government fell not to the Conservatives, of course. How could they? The Conservatives still denied climate change. Their leaders were strategizing with oil companies in Alberta. In Ontario, the Provincial Conservatives, with the Doug Ford government, committed to do less than previous governments. Instead, the Liberal majority fell to become partners in a Grand Green Coalition for Climate Change.
It was a Green wave that went further and faster than even the floods had.
The Grand Green Coalition swept to power on the promise of a Green New Deal. Over the next ten years, Canada implemented an aggressive plan of climate transformation and decarbonization, of investments in energy and infrastructure and efficiency, of taxing and shutting down carbon emitters, of restarting the economy for millions with new training and creating new green jobs of retrofitting inefficient buildings, and of creating a popular universal basic income which helped win support and transform an economy away from dirty carbon. Together, it was this shift that allowed us to surpass the Paris Climate agreement by 2030 and to begin to decarbonize.
Our Grand Green Coalition in Canada did not do it alone, of course. The coalition was inspirational, and it helped inspire the election of the Green wing of the Democratic Party, which brought a new President to the White House, who mobilized the United States around a Green New Deal. That was when things began to move quickly. Europe, China, and India followed suit.
It was exciting to be alive. We barely made it, of course. It was a hard decade, perhaps the hardest since the Great Depression and World War Two. But we did it. It is 2030, I’m 47, my son is 16, my parents are 81, and although few people thought we would, we are on track to limiting the climate catastrophe to below 2 degrees. The path towards decarbonization and negative carbon emissions is clear.
The year 2019 of fire and flood was an important year not just because Canadians saw the climate catastrophe wash into away their homes and burn their communities, but because it was the summer despair ended and hard work began.
Daniel Tubb is an environmental anthropologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. He is a co-investigator with RAVEN.