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Conversations on Income Security and Climate Change

What do we need for the transition to a greener, fairer Canada?

The Green Resilience Project is hosting a series of community conversations on how climate change and income security relate to each other, and how they affect people’s day-to-day lives in communities across Canada.

We want to create “brave spaces” for a wide diversity of participants to talk about how they deal with fear and uncertainty. Working with local partners, we aim to gather a wide range of perspectives on how big-picture problems like climate change, unsteady incomes, and structural racism and discrimination affect people’s lives and choices. And we want to figure out how we can work all together to build stronger, healthier, more resilient communities, with the tools and abilities to meet their unique needs in a rapidly changing world.

And then, by listening closely to conversations in every part of Canada, we want to learn how all of those questions intersect.

But we can’t do it without you. Read on to find out how you can help.

How Did We Get Here?

Everyone knows the past few years have been a rough time for Canadian communities. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so many of us—so many of our friends, family, neighbours, and work colleagues—were living deeply vulnerable lives.

Some of us were juggling low pay, uncertain employment, and a complex mix of community services that made it easy to fall through the cracks. Many more of us faced drought, wildfires, flooding, severe storms, and other climate change impacts that are getting more frequent and severe. People working in oil, gas, and coal jobs, in forestry and agriculture, or in other industries affected by the response to climate change, were wondering how a just transition off fossil fuels would affect their incomes and livelihoods.

The pandemic shone a brighter light on the economic, social, and racial inequities that make these issues even tougher, and on the incredible strength, creativity, and persistence with which Canadians responded. It also showed that these are not issues that any of us can deal with on our own. Individually, we cannot solve a pandemic, an unequal economy, a racially divided society, or the climate crisis without collective action.

What Are We Doing About It?

The Green Resilience Project wants to learn how the uncertainties brought on by climate change, income insecurity, inequality, and discrimination overlap in the lives of Canadians. The project grew out of a few simple ideas:

  • That people rarely have time or space to think about climate change or carbon footprints when they’re scrambling for rent or looking for work;
  • That a sudden, local climate disaster devastates incomes and health, as well as the surrounding environment;
  • That the most marginalized communities are often the hardest hit—by economic disruption, climate chaos, or a global pandemic;
  • That it’s very hard to think about moving into low-carbon employment when you don’t know how long you’ll have your current job—and when the path to retraining isn’t clear to you.

These initial ideas pointed to the need for a series of conversations to capture communities’ ideas, experience, and wisdom on four essential concepts and how they interact:

  • Livelihoods: How do we and our families survive, thrive, manage, or get left behind? How do we earn wage income, and how do those wages combine or interact with other kinds of community supports and services?
  • Income Security: What if a fair living wage is an essential first step to income security, but still just the beginning of a longer conversation? How does a real sense of income security give us the confidence to make choices about how we spend our time, plan our futures, and become full participants in society? What will it take to make that happen for everyone?
  • Net-Zero Carbon Emissions:  What impact is climate change having on our communities? How does it affect our lives and our hopes for the future? How will the shift off carbon affect our communities? What can we do to reduce our communities’ carbon footprint, and push our governments and industries to do the same? How do we tap into jobs and other opportunities in a net-zero world?
  • Resilience: How do we adapt when the economy and the climate are changing? Who and what do we depend on to survive and thrive, and who depends on us? What threatens those community resources and networks, and how can we build them up? How does a sense of resilience and security increase the range of choices we can make—about how we earn a living, and how we respond to the climate crisis?

On each of these big, important questions, the purpose of these conversations is to open the door and listen to what communities need to build resilience—not to show up with prepared answers. Each local partner will generate a summary of participants’ main ideas and conclusions, and the Green Resilience team will assemble that material into a final report to policymakers.

Searching for Solutions

An important part of each session will be the opportunity for participants to consider two big-picture policy solutions—a basic income, and a just transition for fossil fuel workers and communities—and discuss how they connect with the issues they face in their day-to-day lives.

What is a Basic Income?

A basic income is a cash transfer from government that is sufficient to meet a person’s basic needs, enabling them to participate fully in society and live with dignity. It’s the missing piece in a patchwork of social programs that is hard to navigate and leaves many people vulnerable.

A basic income acts as an insurance policy for individuals and an economic stabilizer for communities, guaranteeing every Canadian an income above the poverty line and making it easier for people to survive, thrive and participate in their communities during the transition off carbon. It does not replace specific programs like employment insurance, supports for people with disabilities, child and senior care, and affordable housing.

Basic income pilot projects in Manitoba in the 1970s and Ontario from 2017 to 2019 helped participants improve their physical and mental health, labour market participation, food security, housing stability, financial status, and social relationships. They used health services less often, and a basic income gave many of them a stepping stone to higher-paying, more secure jobs.

A basic income can stimulate the local economy, boost food security, and reduce gender discrimination. It encourages education, entrepreneurship, and innovation, supports farmers, fishers, artists ,and others with precarious or intermittent work, and rewards unpaid (or underpaid) but essential work like family and community care.

What is a Just Transition?

There is absolutely no doubt about the basic message from climate science: Canada and the world are on a tight deadline to cut carbon emissions, and to phase out almost all fossil fuel burning by 2050.

There’s a lot to like about that transition, if we get it right. Millions of new jobs. Better health. Cleaner air and water. Comfortable homes that cost less to heat and cool. More profitable farms with healthier soils. Stronger communities with thriving local economies. And eventually, a chance to control a warming climate that is driving an increase in local emergencies from coast to coast to coast.

But it’s hard to see yourself in the picture of a low-carbon future if your job depends on fossil fuels, or on any other industry with a high carbon footprint. The transition is already beginning, with auto plants in Oakville and Ingersoll, Ontario converting to electric vehicles, steel mills in Sault Ste. Marie and Hamilton moving off coal, and 67% of oil and gas workers saying they want to shift to low-carbon jobs—as long as they can get the training they need to bring their skills and experience to new industries.

Trade unions and climate organizations have been pushing hard for a just transition off fossil fuels that leaves no fossil fuel worker or community behind. But it won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen by accident. It calls for a serious conversation about who’s at risk when we phase out oil, gas, and coal—especially in the 18 Canadian communities that depend on fossil fuels for at least 5% of their employment.

That includes looking at whether a basic income gives fossil fuel workers the space and flexibility to imagine a just transition and think about their place in a world that is phasing out carbon emissions.

What Will Happen in the Community Conversations?

Each community conversation will bring together up to 30 or 40 participants from the widest possible range of backgrounds, including people who are not often consulted (and are rarely if ever listened to) in official consultations. We’ll be looking for people involved with climate change or other environmental issues, trade union members, people living on low incomes, people in cities and rural communities, Indigenous and other racialized Canadians, people with disabilities and other health challenges.

We’re looking for small enough groups that everyone gets a chance to participate, so the makeup of each conversation will reflect the community and its needs. However, across a series of 25 to 35 local sessions, we aim to bring together the widest possible mix of voices on what green resilience means to people living in Canada, and what we can do to get there.

Most of the conversations will be held online. But they’ll be organized by geography and co-hosted with local organizing partners, so that participants can focus the discussion in their own neighbourhoods and communities, where they live. We hope that local focus will also make it easier for participants to follow up on their sessions and decide how (or whether) they want to take action on the issues they’ve discussed.

The local focus of the sessions means that no two conversations will be exactly alike. But most or all of them will cover questions along these lines:

  • What actions have you seen your community take so far on climate change, the energy transition, income security, or a basic income? How did it go?
  • How is your local environment changing (heat, drought, wildfires, flooding, storms, income polarization, economic shifts, people leaving the community)? How is that affecting your family and neighbourhood, and how are you responding? What are the biggest worries and obstacles you see ahead?
  • What would you want to do to reduce your own carbon footprint and make your community healthier and more sustainable?
  • How do you see your community changing in a low-carbon future?
  • How would you choose to spend your time and money if you had the option? How would those decisions make your life and your community better?
  • What do you like most about that future? What worries you?
  • What are the most important assets and strengths in your community? How can those strengths help you respond to the impacts of climate change and get ready for the shift off carbon?
  • What will your family and community need (information? training? income supports? investment? what else?) to get from here to there?
Who’s Behind the Green Resilience Project?

The Green Resilience Project is managed and delivered by Energy Mix Productions, the Basic Income Canada Network,  Coalition Canada: Basic Income – Revenue de base, the Basic Income Canada Youth Network, national experts and local partners. It’s made possible by generous financial support from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Climate Action and Awareness Fund.

How Do I Get Involved?

To learn more about the Green Resilience Project, please continue to explore our website or follow us on Twitter and Instagram. If you’re interested in joining the project as a community partner or recommending a potential community partner, please email project manager Janet Patterfung. For all other queries, please email project assistant Hannah Muhajarine.