The Green New Deal in Canada: transformation to better stewardship and a restoration economy

by  Josef Kuhn  & Ray Travers 

Climate change, unhealthy ecological and economic systems, and human conflict require a fresh approach to business and government in the twenty-first century. A rapidly growing number of Canadians and like-minded people in many countries around the world are working to create an innovative approach to our decision making. The movement recognizes that millions of people are, or will be, adversely affected by the rapidly developing changes to our life support systems, and that many ‘well off’ people will resist responsible change. The market-driven government and business policies of the twentieth century have proven to be inadequate to meet the needs of the majority of people and Nature in today’s fast changing world. Young people and future generations are especially threatened, as Greta Thunberg and many other young people are saying to us all.

The fresh approach to environmental protection and social justice is referred to in Canada as “The Pact for a Green New Deal”. It was launched here in May 2019 with a vision of rapid, inclusive and far-reaching transition to a nature-based way of life. It includes a rethinking of what is truly needed for the well-being of Canadians, especially future generations, and is being designed to ensure that these needs will be met. Seeking better environmental and natural resource stewardship and better distribution of economic benefits, Indigenous Peoples, non-government organizations, corporations, small business enterprises, communities, families and individuals are in the process of establishing cleaner, less polluting, better living practices.

This adaptive thinking is not new. The need to be living within the limits and opportunities of the natural world was understood by many cultures before the industrial revolution, especially those that successfully adapted to living in harsh environments. In Canada, Indigenous Peoples, calling on their traditional cultures, are significant contributors in developing a shared vision for a Green New Deal (GND). The way forward in re-establishing this adaptive, nature-based thinking requires temporarily suspending judgmental thinking, exploring the alternatives and ensuring that future judgments and actions are both informed and ethical.

Healthy, interconnected ecological and economic systems have not been recognized as a critical concern in the industrial economy. A new way of making decisions is needed at local, regional, national and international levels. The GND will require vision, bio-physical and socio-economic systems thinking, prudence and fairness. Decision makers will not only require knowledge of nature and climate change, they must act decisively and justly in changing the way things are done. They must consider the outcomes of their actions and choose appropriate means to achieving their objectives. A paradigm shift is envisioned.

Better stewardship and a restoration economy, also referred to as a well-being economy, do not undermine the resource base and biological health upon which our future prosperity depends. They maintain a positive relationship between the capacity of ecosystems to self-renew and the levels of use, while allowing for uncertainties, especially those associated with climate change.  Stewardship and a restoration economy will keep our land and waters in good health, preventing overuse and employing mitigation and reclamation measures where needed. The industrial agriculture, forestry and other natural resource exploitation of the past have not achieved this.

Nature is a model as well as the context for a healthier human economy and enhanced well-being. In contrast to the industrial economy, which exhausts ecosystems and people, the restorative economy works within the cycles of nature. The industrial economy is based on a linear take-make-waste-pollute philosophy. It promotes exponential growth, a dangerous logical absurdity that should make us think of cancer as we assess economic growth scenarios. Inter-dependencies will be recognized and observed in a nature-guided restorative economy, but not in an industrial economy.

In any economy energy and matter are not consumed, consistent with the laws of physics. What an economy does alter is the form and quality of matter and the capacity of energy to do work. In the GND traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), science and management partnerships, involving Indigenous Peoples and other communities and nations, will provide the knowledge needed for good stewardship decisions. The focus will be on cooperation, shared benefit and stability rather than on competition, profit and growth.   

The green restoration economy will include complex biological recycling which runs on sunshine, soil and water. The linear, simplified, industrial production that takes from nature, runs on fossil fuels and pollutes air and water will end. True assessment of environmental impacts and sustainability of existing and proposed projects will be required.  

The transformation to a Green New Deal will require a substantial readjustment of social values, especially regarding human impacts on the life provided by the Creator and Mother Earth.  Maintaining half of the earth’s aquatic and land surfaces in predominantly natural bio-physical systems, while healthy socio-economic systems development is pursued as a priority on the other half, will be a major consideration in the policy and implementation planning processes.

Albert Einstein wrote: “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them.” Until now, healthy, creative thinking has only been at the periphery of the dominant economy in North America. But, with strong support from our youth, it is happening as the GND emerges. Progressive forest and fisheries managers, ranchers, farmers and mining companies are making changes. The intent of the Green New Deal in Canada is to encourage and expand this improving stewardship and movement to a restorative economy. The GND is mounting a challenge to business as usual (BAU). This need has been well recognized internationally for over a decade.

Now is the time for governments, businesses and individuals to act, to create GND institutions and programs that are honest, creative, effective and sustainable everywhere on our beautiful planet. Success will be accomplished when a robust international restoration economy runs on clean renewable energy (solar, wind, tide etc.), respects the biological and social diversity the Creator has provided, and is adapted to local conditions. Solutions are in our human nature. Mother Earth will guide us.

3 comments

  1. Thanks Bev. There are four interconnected principles that have proven successful to get beyond the impasse in the conflict resolution processes – equity (fairness), efficiency, stability and wisdom. None of them are easy and require perseverance, effective communication skills, knowledge and a commitment to excellence. It is much like solving a jig-saw puzzle, which begins with a number of disconnected pieces and, through patience and hard work, patterns and a solution emerge. The thought process is (1) lay the groundwork (2) see the opportunity and (3) move forward. Paradigm pioneers are providing case studies that explain how they did the “impossible”. As the late Ray Anderson, former CEO of Interface, said “Waste is anything, we did not get right the first time.” Mission zero environmental impact by 2020 was his corporate goal. The last time I checked Interface was well on the way to achieving their goal. This is all about living well, at nature’s pace, on our beautiful blue green earth. Wisdom is usually only in hindsight where what was intended actually occurs.

  2. Naomi Klein has just published a book on the GND (On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal). Perhaps an Elder would like to write a review for the website?

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