Written by Daniel Tubb and Abram Lutes on June 9, 2019
Climate change is scary; it is an emergency. We want to change the narrative, and we want your ideas, your stories, and your hope from the future.
First, a preamble. In October 2018 the IPCC gave us twelve years to make dramatic changes to our way of life before the impacts of climate change become irreversible. Eight months have passed since that announcement, and yet it seems that politics continues as usual, even as floods and forest fires ravage the country. Forest fires in Alberta forced Jason Kenney to cancel his planned announcement celebrating the roll-back of the provincial carbon tax, a pyrrhic victory all around.
At the recent Fridays for Future climate strikes in Fredericton, it was unsettling to hear teenagers worry about the end of life on earth. When we were teenagers, dealing with the end of the life was not on our minds. Now, young people are distinctly aware they are inheriting a climate catastrophe. Mass extinctions, soil erosion, warming temperatures, droughts, destructive wars, icecaps melting—any one of these are apocalyptic on their own, and each is already happening. In the worst-case scenario, carbon emissions continue unabated, nothing changes, and life on earth as we know it is gone. This is a terrifying, paralyzing prospect.
But, moments of crisis can be great moments for social transformation. But to transform the world and stop a climate catastrophe we need a vision for how. It is hard to organize and win when only fighting against something, it is much easier to win by fighting for something.
George Monbiot—author, columnist in The Guardian, and activist—gave a lecture last year about the importance of positive narratives for systemic change. In brief, he argues that to galvanize people to change the world, the narrative needs to change. Such narrative changes, Monbiot argues, locate the problems of the present in an old order of things and offer a solution in the form of a building new, fairer order. For Monbiot, the old narrative is neoliberalism, with its rampant deregulation, inequality, and a culture of selfishness.
It was not so long ago, however, that neoliberalism itself was the new narrative. Before neoliberalism, we had Keynesianism, from the end of WWII until 1971. There was a widespread consensus, and it brought stimulus spending, rising wages, massive public works projects, and societal optimism. As a cyclical capitalist recession came to a head in the 1970s, Keynesianism and the nation-state took the blame and neoliberals argued life would be better left up to the private sector and the market. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “as government expands, liberty contracts.”
This neoliberal narrative allowed its adherents to win political power and to shape the world for their own enrichment. The promise of neoliberalism was greater prosperity through free trade and globalization, a promise that has never materialized. Even in the wealthiest countries, many go hungry or survive on credit rather than wages, while only a few have become incredibly wealthy. Just as bad, however, the desecration of the planet has increased at a destructive rate, often to support the lifestyles of the international mega-rich.
Monbiot says we need new narratives for the twenty-first century. Neoliberalism and climate crisis have deprived us of strong communities and secure livelihoods while lulling us with commodities and entertainment. We see Monbiot’s diagnosis as more or less correct: Globalized neoliberal capitalism, sustained by cheap hydrocarbons and the plundering of the global south, is the cause of our problems. This makes neoliberalism intellectually and morally bankrupt. The centre cannot hold. Already, we see the stirrings of a global revolt against the current neoliberal consensus, from both the left and the right. However, we’re not sure that a new narrative for the future has been written yet. Especially, not here in New Brunswick.
We do not purpose to have any answers, nor do we look to any one ideology to have the answer to the complex questions. However, some narratives are better than others. What we need instead are broad, positive, and progressive alternative narratives for our planet, for our country, and for our province. We need your help.
Thinking local, we invite you to be a part of building a vision for New Brunswick in 2030, or 2050, or later. Rather than looking for big “silver bullets” that can be applied inflexibly in every context, we want you to help write new narratives of a green future adapted to local conditions.
We imagine this new narrative as taking the form of a letter from the future. Channelling the optimistic theme of the video, Message from the Future, by US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, we hope for letters that take a speculative look back from the future to imagine what New Brunswick could accomplish if we change the narrative, fight for it, and win.
These letters are fiction, but they need not stay fiction.
We hope to hear how New Brunswick could change the narrative and apply progressive ideas from the global zeitgeist to local problems. In return, maybe we will add some New Brunswick ideas to the global zeitgeist. We want to push back against the neoliberal vision sold to us by politicians, corporations, and their think-tanks, as well as the cynicism that sometimes seems par the course among the public. We want something other than the worst-case scenario for New Brunswick. We believe the narratives we tell about the future matter.
Consider looking back from the future: How did New Brunswick respond to climate breakdown? What were our challenges? How did we overcome them? What were the different solutions? How did New Brunswick transition away from oil and gas?
We hope to edit a series of ‘Letters from the Future’ that incorporates many different visions of a prosperous, progressive, green future.
The weekly series is part of RAVEN, and edited by us: Daniel Tubb and Abram Lutes. Daniel is an environmental anthropologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and a co-investigator with RAVEN. Abram Lutes is an environmental action reporter with the RAVEN project Summer Institute and a member of the NB Media Co-op Board of Directors. As your editors, we will help to select and curate the series, and work with you and with the NB Media Co-op to ready the articles for publication.
Dr. Daniel Tubb, Assistant Professor (Anthropology), University of New Brunswick
Abram Lutes, RAVEN Researcher and Writer