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ICYMI: recapping the Vibrant Communities webinar on climate change and basic income

Earlier this week, Green Resilience Project Manager Janet Patterfung and steering committee members Mitchell Beer and Jim Mulvale joined basic income activist Scott Santens, moderator Natasha Pei and the Tamarack Institute for a Vibrant Communities webinar on the links between climate change and basic income.

Their discussion focused on the need for strong policy solutions that give people the financial security to navigate the challenges of the climate crisis and allocate the time, energy and resources needed to take action on climate in their communities.

Jim Mulvale, a professor in the faculty of social work at the University of Manitoba, talked about the need for a radical economic shift to a system in which social priorities direct markets instead of vice versa. 

He said that basic income is a necessary but not sufficient component of this restructuring—one that would ensure everyone has what they need to navigate a changing economy while also creating a foundation for exploring additional social policies like improved healthcare, affordable green housing, ecologically focused education and more.

“People are at a point where they’re willing to rethink some of [their] fundamental political and economic assumptions,” he said.

Scott Santens emphasized the importance of basic income’s ability to let people choose how to allocate their resources in the face of an escalating climate crisis. 

He spoke about his own experience being evacuated from New Orleans during Hurricane Ida earlier this year, when he had to spend ten days in a hotel in Houston. It’s much harder to evacuate from disaster, he pointed out, if you don’t have ready access to money for gas or hotels. 

He recalled having to replace the food in his fridge and freezer after losing electricity for an extended period of time. Since grocery stores had also lost power they couldn’t accept debit cards or food vouchers, and so having cash also made a big difference in allowing evacuees to begin rebuilding what they had lost.

“The ability that basic income has to be anything is really important for resilience as far as being able to adapt to the realities of climate change,” he said. 

Janet Patterfung spoke about the need for tools and solutions that allow people who are dealing most directly with the impacts of climate change to take on leadership positions in movement spaces. One lesson we’ve learned during the COVID pandemic, she said, is that we can’t deal with the effects of a crisis without dealing with its root causes. 

She highlighted that in her conversations with Green Resilience Project community partners, one of the frequently identified barriers to taking action on climate is time. People need time, resources and energy to have capacity for climate solutions, and social policies that create that type of resilience can be an important tool for building that foundation.

Mitchell Beer, who is Publisher of the Energy Mix, echoed this sentiment. He pointed out that it’s difficult to prioritize reducing individual emissions when people are already struggling just to get by. The shift to a low-carbon economy can be scary and destabilizing for those reliant on a fossil fuel income, and if we want to make sure no one is left behind in that transition we need robust social policies that address existing financial barriers. 

He also emphasized the need for a paradigm shift to thinking about climate solutions as a fundamental component of building economic resilience, rather than a sacrifice. 

All panelists talked about the need for innovative thinking and frontline leadership on all aspects of responding to the climate crisis, and the potential for a basic income to facilitate this work.

You can learn more about the Vibrant Communities series and access additional webinars about the links between climate and poverty here.