Local governance and adaptions to the climate crisis – A letter from New Brunswick’s future #14

Written by Adje Prado on September 6, 2019

Watershed governance. Map created by Adje Prado

September 6, 2030 (Iroquois Watershed, New Brunswick)

Dear Friends,

Over the years, the very meaning of governance in New Brunswick has changed.

The areas previously known as Local Service Districts (LSDs) were transformed into Watershed Councils. Watersheds became the most local level of government, both better empowered and better informed. People are elected to Councils at the level of the watershed, and each Watershed Council has more local responsibilities, powers and data on how to make decisions. They have the responsibility to manage the local economy, to bring local development, to provision local services, and to support local ecosystem services, all focusing on the geographic area demarcated by the watershed. Each council balances its own economic budget and its water budget to maintain its constructed and its natural assets in their territories. Their long-term plans have helped prevent flooding in lower lying areas of the province, and have helped protect against drought in other areas as the weather becomes more extreme.

Taxes from at-risk areas of the province contribute financially to help re-engineer infrastructure and maintain natural areas upstream. The goal is to balance human needs and environmental needs. All watersheds are monitored using a mix of remote sensing technology and an extensive network of sampling and gauging stations. In New Brunswick, we have developed this expertise in partnership with our research institutions, our resource companies and our local communities, after we have adopted widespread environmental reform that forces innovation in the natural resource sector.

To assist all this local planning, the province has adopted an open-data initiative. The Province’s environmental and social data are collected regularly, stored in a central database, and the data allows different cutting edge algorithms, researchers, and experts to compare and optimize at the most local level. The province has become recognized as a global leader in its approach to the integration data with the aim of social and environmental stewardship.

Today, the ecosystems across the province—the river basins, the wetlands, the highlands, the coasts, and of course the forests—are very different than before the peak of the global climate crisis.

At the local level, we have adapted.

Foresters and land managers have gone to extraordinary lengths to use adaptive silviculture and assisted migration to create a new and more resilient versions of the Acadian Forest. They have drawn on ecological models, climate change simulations and environmental data to make these changes.

On the coasts, the highland and the forests, a high tech renewables sector has blossomed. The renewable industry has diversified its products and developed new technologies to process a more heterogeneous lumber supply. Carbon capture now accounts for a large portion of the forestry activities in the province. Some carbon producers pay to have quick growing species cut and stored deep underground to reduce carbon dioxide levels to pre-industrial norms. Others pay to revitalize the richness and biodiversity of the new Acadian Forest. While advances in technology have facilitated better and more selective harvesting, clearcutting continues in some areas, as a way to simulate natural disturbance, and attempt to mitigate the forest fires that have accompanied the warming climate.

Aquatic ecosystems changed as invasive species displaced native ones. Still, a new balance has been achieved. From the warmed waters of the Bay of Fundy to the headwaters of the Wolastoq in the north, some species could not be preserved. But, ecological functions have become far more central and careful planning and design has become the most important goal. Making money has fallen by the wayside as the overriding and central goal of the fishery and oceans management.

In the face of the food scarcity which resulted from extreme weather in California, Mexico and other food producing regions, the province collaborated with researchers to develop agricultural crops adapted to the new local climatic conditions. The goal was to support more resilience and more local agriculture. New Brunswick now produces much of its own produce and food through permaculture and urban agriculture. Local food banks are nearly self-sustaining, thanks to the vertical farms that they have implemented. This has been possible, because of the low cost of renewable energy following reforms to the province’s energy market. Rather than being a net importer of food, New Brunswick has become self-sufficient.

In an attempt to optimize resources and maintain services during the climate crisis, the province initially dissuaded too much population dispersal. This resulted in some smaller communities being reclaimed by nature, as their populations dwindled. Over time, New Brunswickers realized the problem with this approach, and saw the opportunities from attracting climate refugees and climate immigrants seeking alternatives to sweltering heat and extreme weather events. Communities and businesses across the province lobbied the government to develop integration programs and sustainable housing developments to provide the capacity to attract and accommodate new citizens in order to revitalize aging communities and solve labour shortages. Adapting to a new culture was difficult for some, but the province’s approach, different from what other regions saw as a crisis, allowed migrants find suitable housing and not only learn at least one of the official colonial languages, but also one of the official indigenous languages.

The growth in the population across the province brought a cultural and economic boom turning New Brunswick’s multicultural communities into tourist destinations, and sparking innovation and entrepreneurship across the province. Professions which were once severely understaffed, benefited with the arrival of skilled workers from other parts of Canada, North America, and abroad. Streamlined equivalency exams helped new arrivals enter their professions.

Most importantly, the education curriculum was revised to incorporate systems thinking into all courses. Younger generations began to wonder how it was that earlier generations made a distinction between the natural world and the social world, to distinguish between nature and culture. How could nature have ever been an externality to the economy?

Nature-based learning and outdoor classrooms became the norm as children began to understand their place in the environment.

It is they who are ensuring that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.


Adje Prado

Adje Prado lives in St-Joseph-de-Madawaska, New Brunswick and is a specialist in environment and climate change adaptation.

In the optimistic spirit of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Message from the Future, this letter is a speculative and fictional look back from the future to imagine what New Brunswick could be like if we could meet our climate change obligations. It is fiction, but it need not stay fiction. Each letter offers a vision of what New Brunswick could be like in the future if the province is able to fight climate change and to achieve the IPCC climate goals. Read the other Letters from New Brunswick’s Future here.

This series is sponsored by RAVEN, and edited by Daniel Tubb and Abram Lutes. Daniel is an environmental anthropologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and a co-investigator with RAVEN. Abram Lutes is an environmental action reporter with the RAVEN project Summer Institute and a member of the NB Media Co-op Board of Directors. If you would like to contribute your own letter, read the Call for Letters from New Brunswick’s Future and send a short outline of your idea to Daniel Tubb at dtubb@unb.ca and Abram Lutes at abram.lutes@gmail.com.

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