By David Coon
Yesterday was the UN’s World Environment Day and the theme this year is Time for Nature. While the climate crisis and ecological degradation may feel farther away in people’s minds these days, I know nature has become even more valued by all of us. The need to get out into our parks, for a walk in the woods, or a ride on the trails became quite poignant as we stayed home to hammer the COVID curve flat.
The latest New Brunswick tourism ad taps into our strong connection to nature with its slogan, “The places we love are waiting for us.”
As government formulates policies and launches initiatives to help our economy “build back better”, we need a shift in thinking about our economy – a cultural shift if you will. Economic growth must no longer be pursued in ways that impose terrible costs on people, their communities and the environment that sustains us. Growth at any cost has created punishing inequality, perpetuated low wages, and undermined the integrity of nature and our climate.
The shift I have in mind is one that we can all feel inspired about. Let’s build back better, but let’s build something we can be proud about leaving behind.
We need to think beyond economic growth and blindly growing GDP. We all need to see a way forward we can believe in: where the well-being of all people is at the heart of government decision-making, rather than narrowly focusing on growing the GDP in any and all ways. This means ending our status as a low-wage economy and environmental sacrifice zone, which have enabled the creation of billionaires in our tiny province, but with little trickling down to fund public services. Just look at the large number of hard working New Brunswickers living on minimum wage, or thereabouts. Look at the sad state of our forests and coastal waters, and the decimated populations of the wild things that live there.
The opportunity does not lie with going back to the days of coal-burning industries or mining plutonium from nuclear wastes. Opportunities abound with setting a course for a society fuelled by renewable energy, fed by our farmers using organic practises, and an economy where we produce more of what we need here, making us less dependent on imported goods. We are a resourceful people, with a strong sense of community and a deep connection to nature. We will step up to build a society and economy that anyone would be proud to leave their grandchildren, but this requires vision and a resolve to seize the opportunities before us.
In the coming months, the federal government will be making available significant funds to help build back better and greener, and this needs to be seized upon to ignite the shift to a greener, more equal and more self-reliant New Brunswick.
In New Brunswick, we can now use the carbon tax funds to invest in a deep thermal retrofit program that will put people to work, cut energy costs for individuals and businesses, and reduce our carbon footprint.
We also need to tap into our unused federal infrastructure funding to invest in enabling a public transportation network to be established so people can easily travel to medical appointments, work and to visit their families. The same funding program must be leveraged to invest in the infrastructure necessary to protect our families and communities from the consequences of the climate crisis.
Environmental sustainability and economic justice are not a threat to our well-being – they are central to it. If an economy does not enhance the well-being of its people, and does not allow for our very survival on Earth, then what good is it? So yes, as the UN says, it is “time for nature”.
As we reconnect with nature this summer, it is time for government policy to reconnect with nature and get grounded, get thoughtful, get creative, and get inspired. So let’s get going.