Environment featured

Kevin Payne: On climate change Nova Scotia is all talk and little action

Hurricane Dorian’ aftermath Photo NS Power/ Twitter

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Now that the public consultations on a section of the province’s Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth have come to a close, we can shift our attention away from our narrow window of contribution. 

With all respect to the Clean Foundation and all the wonderful engagement work done in and by the community – I say narrow in that the government only wants our input on potential goals, which will no doubt be watered down and further distilled to “inform” a politically advantageous plan. 

Let’s take a step back and consider some of the elements of the Sustainable Development Goals Act on which the government doesn’t want our input.

Emission targets

Let’s start with an easy one. The Act sets out a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. According to the latest data, consistent with years of scholarship on the topic, critical measures of global heating are already reaching, and exceeding, their tipping points (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), UN sounds alarm on ‘irreversible’ climate impacts, but offers hope (CBC). If the Liberal government truly believes that “climate change is recognized as a global emergency requiring urgent action” (section 4.c. of the Act), surely they would act with more urgency and aim for net-zero (and indeed negative) GHG emissions as soon as it is possible to achieve. With something as urgent as mitigating the effects of climate change, a 30-year timeline is not merely much too slow – it is nothing short of catastrophic.


The Act claims as a guiding principle the concept of “Netukulimk”. As per the definition provided in the Act, “Netukulimk” means, as defined by the Mi’kmaq, “the use of the natural bounty provided by the Creator for the self-support and well-being of the individual and the community by achieving adequate standards of community nutrition and economic well-being without jeopardizing the integrity, diversity or productivity of the environment”. 

As I understand the definition of Netukulimk given, and as described by elders, allowing businesses and corporate interests to control any land or its natural bounty for any reason other than the “self-support and well-being of the individual and the community” runs counter to the principles of this Act and should be prohibited. 

See also: Sadie Beaton on Bill 213 at Law Amendments: Centre the wisdom and authority of Mi’kmaw laws

To be clear, this applies to most businesses and all sectors. The government asks us how they can encourage change, but their questions reveal their fundamental errors in appealing to the concept of „Netukulimk“. 

They cannot simply “encourage” businesses and sectors to make more environmentally friendly decisions; businesses must be prohibited from unnecessary GHG emissions, unsustainable practices, destruction and commodification of natural resources, excessive land use, etc., if the Act is to be in any way congruent with the concept of „Netukulimk“. 

A prime example of where the government could begin to make a real and positive effort would be to make the simple decision to reverse the planned sale of Owls Head Provincial Park, an ecologically important area on the province’s Eastern Shore, to a developer who intends to turn the area into a golf resort. This plan clearly flies in the face of the principle of Netukulimk.

“Sustainable prosperity”

Throughout the Act, and throughout the questions posed for public consultation, we see one topic referenced over and over again: the economy. All of the government’s noble words belie the question of fundamental concern for our representatives: how can we ensure we make climate action profitable? 

The rest of us know that environmental protection decisions do not have to be economically advantageous in order to be the right decision to make; simply, profitability does in no way guarantee that a course of action is morally right. 

This aside, there are plenty of other ways to have a healthy economy (monetary and non-monetary). Why are we needlessly limiting environmental decisions to ones that are also profitable, that play into the myth of infinite growth? 

De-growth does not need to mean struggle or austerity. A form of de-growth can involve replacing our vast amount of cheap commodities with items that don’t need to be replaced or upgraded annually. Taking steps to abolish planned obsolescence, for example, will immediately reduce our extractive needs in a manner that still meets the material needs of communities. 

A long-term vision means understanding that reversing climate change is the only way forward, and (something that no doubt should appeal to our economy-focused leaders) the only way to ensure any economy persists into the future. Given this, it is clear that all sustainable policies and practices lead to a healthier economy in the long run, just as all unsustainable policies and practices lead to catastrophic economic loss in the same time frame.

Our provincial government, and indeed our federal government, like to suggest to us that we, as Canadians, are just one small fish in the sea of the global economy. 

Accordingly, since we have little to no control over what the rest of the world does around us, we must be careful not to act too quickly, lest we be steamrolled within a competitive global market; in other words, that we cannot be global leaders. 

I believe this line to be a familiar and comfortable cop-out. It’s easy to believe the status quo cannot change; after all, it must be the status quo for a reason, one might think. 

We could do so much better

However, this is little more than a refusal to recognize that the decisions we make could be made otherwise. Here in Nova Scotia, there is so much we can do to not only reach necessary climate goals, but to exceed them in a manner that actually raises our standard of living, despite what detractors of aggressive climate action may claim. 

We can produce our own food and our own material goods to meet the needs of our neighbours. We can choose to move on from systems of energy production and transmission from the 1920’s and produce our own local and sustainable energy by building resilient community electrical grids that allow for the sharing of energy amongst our neighbours. Our province is rich in resources and human potential. We have the knowledge required to make use of our natural resources in a way that leaves enough behind for nature’s regeneration, and for the use of future generations. We need to listen to, and learn from, knowledge keepers, not just recite the term “Netukulimk” and move on. A positive future for our climate must come from cooperation, not competition. 

If we don’t want the outcome of all this community engagement to go to waste and end up with some vague, insufficient, neo-liberal, electable, incremental reform, we need to continue to keep an eye on this process and insist on real, actionable and transformative outcomes. As well we need to hold our elected officials to account at all levels of government and send them the message that we will not accept anything short of immediate, radical, systemic change. 

Occasional public consultations that ask leading questions on things that have already been decided behind closed doors is woefully insufficient, and shows us just how little our current governments are committed to the values they pretend to hold.

See also: Code red for humanity: IPCC report calls for emergency-level action on climate change and biodiversity loss

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One Comment

  1. I have been Advocating for Universal Dental and eye care since I could vote!

    The are more healthy reasons to have universal dental and eye as both of these are key to healthy living. Those falling through the cracks cost the government more to fix horrible resulting illnesses as a result in a lack of continuous care and preventative care.

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