August 30, 2030 (the Nashwaak River Valley, NB)
I sit in my garden on a weekday morning listening to the pileated woodpeckers who love living in the Nashwaak Valley as much as I do, and remember the time in my life when I couldn’t have a morning on a weekday off.
In contrast to this gorgeous and worry-free morning, I recall the times in my life when I would spend my days wondering where my next contract would come from, what I would be doing in a year, if I had enough to live on, or if I would have to file for bankruptcy on my student loans.
For all my life, all I’d ever known were “Hard times in the Maritimes.”
Sometimes, change, when it finally comes, it comes fast. In 2019, we had a Federal Election. People took all their hopes and their fears around climate change, the economy, and our social system to the polls and voted for a Green New Deal.
Nobody had all the answers; but we had to try. There were no other options.
What a lot of people didn’t understand initially, was that the climate crisis couldn’t be solved just by adding more solar panels and creating technology to suck carbon out of the air. We had created global system that damaged the planet and people. We had to heal both, together, if we were going to have a shot at survival.
On the people side, we put in place a Guaranteed Annual Income. The idea had been tried in the 1970s in the little community called Dauphin, Manitoba. It was called Mincome, or Minimum Income. The project was shelved after a change in government, but the idea persisted. The way Mincome worked was that people in need received a yearly income from the government without having to apply for services or meet eligibility requirements or wait weeks for payments. Mincome gave up on policing the poor. The new federal Guaranteed Annual Income did the same.
In 2019, we decided that $17,000 a year would be a new Guaranteed Annual Income. It wasn’t much money, but it was a big jump from social assistance, which in 2019 was just $6,400 for a single person. If you earned over $25,000 a year, then you would lose $0.50 on the dollar of the subsidy. The result was to get everyone in the lowest income brackets up to an income of between $17,000 and $34,500.
The people who had been administering social assistance, unemployment insurance, and disability pensions, were given the choice to re-train in social service jobs or the clean energy sector or to do the minimal administrative work for the new payment system.
The concept of a Guaranteed Annual Income was at first daunting, even for people who thought it was a good idea.
You see, we had been raised to think neoliberal capitalism was the only real option and we could hardly even imagine alternatives. The nay-sayers told us we could never afford it. It was too much money. But we found that when we cut out the administrative overhead in the civil service, and stopped subsidizing the oil and gas industry, we were able to make a go of the idea.
The results were positive.
There were some people who didn’t want to work much, and there were those who were unable to work. But overall, people with low incomes worked just as much, but were able to stay in one place longer, were healthier, had better mental health for themselves and their children, were able to plan and to dream and to enact their futures, and could be more selective on the kinds (and salaries) of jobs that they took on.
Kids knew that they could go to summer day camp, and not have to worry about being chosen from a low-income waitlist. Parents knew that they could buy good food and pay their bills on time. Seniors were able to get repairs done on their homes and could hire more help when they needed it.
Unexpected things happened too. Divorce and separations increased, as people were able to move away on from abusive and unhappy homes. In the middle classes, we saw more people stay at home longer when their kids were young. Some people used the money they saved on daycare, to start saving for their kid’s education, or to pay off mortgage and debt faster. University enrollments increased, as more young people and mid-career professionals took short-term apprenticeships, started small businesses and tried new things. People could afford to take two months to try out an idea or learn a new skill, and still manage to pay their rent and eat.
For me, I still work a lot. I’ve had many contracts, but I’ve been able to be more selective about the work I take. I can pick and choose the ones with better wages, with more learning, and with better opportunities to develop my career. I now no longer worry that a month in between a contract will deplete my savings. Every year, my networks increase, my earnings go up, and now I don’t need the Guaranteed Annual Income anymore.
The Guarantee, helped me to plan and get into a position where I could save enough to buy a bit of land and start a community and a permaculture education center. Then and now, we teach people how to grow food and build strong social systems and heal the land and reverse the effects of climate change.
I don’t know where I would be now, if I had not had access to the Guaranteed Annual Income. I am thankful for it. My life today is better, and the future looks stronger It was all because we channeled our fear, anxiety, and hope into real and workable solutions.
Amy Floyd lives in Taymouth, on the bonnie banks of the Nashwaak River.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and Abram Lutes at email@example.com