Lately I have been feeling a little stressed by the challenges facing our community and society more generally.
It started earlier this year as concerns about the cost of maintaining city infrastructure and services were top of mind during council budget discussions. My anxiety increased as, while we were working on budgeting, my work for the Nelson at its Best poverty reduction initiative shed more light on local incomes and the extent to which poverty exists in Nelson.
Further adding to my troubled outlook was information gleaned as part of the Hot and Bothered in the Kootenays group considering the likely impacts of climate change on local water supply coupled with reports that temperatures are rising faster than predicted.
Weaving these seemingly disparate issues together into one alarming possibility is a recent research paper entitled “Human and Nature Dynamics: Modelling Inequality and Use of Resources in the Collapse or Sustainability of Societies.” Using NASA modelling tools, a team of mathematicians and social and natural scientists from two American universities found that societies collapse as a result of two converging trends. One trend is for human resource use to exceed sustainable ecological capacity.
The other is that society divides along economic lines such that one group amasses a large enough surplus to control how resources are accessed and used by “the masses.” Occurring together these trends reinforce each other such that efficiencies gained through technological or other advances further entrench the status quo such that business as usual continues regardless of impending catastrophe.
There is little doubt that as a society we have been exceeding ecological thresholds in our use of natural resources. Nor is there much doubt about the extreme inequality that enables today’s financial elite to control everyone else’s access to resources.
There is a growing body of information identifying who these economically powerful people and corporations are, the extent of their wealth and how they came by it, what they spend their money on and how much control over resources and political and economic systems four decades of calculated spending has afforded them.
There are a few bright spots in these dark clouds portending catastrophe. The federal government recently announced new support for low and middle income people, investment in ending homelessness and affordable housing as well as in infrastructure renewal more generally.
In addition, the BC government is talking about a “modest” increase to the minimum wage that is slightly higher than inflation so that “all British Columbians share in the province’s economic success.” As BC’s minimum wage is currently the lowest in Canada and leaves full time minimum wage earners well below the poverty line this initiative may not be adequate but is nevertheless a step in the right direction.
News is also improving on the environmental front as climate change denial seems finally to be losing steam and meaningful attention to energy alternatives and climate targets belatedly gaining momentum. Climate change litigation is also garnering interest in Canada with potential to change how companies operate while also redistributing some of the wealth surplused by those who have for too long controlled our energy economy.
Closer to home is a forum considering climate change impacts on regional water supplies taking place in Nelson on April 23. The forum invites the public to contribute to the discussion, take part in workshops and learn how they can help protect our critical water resources. Visit hotandbotheredinthekoots.org for more on this important initiative.
Considering the issues described here from the perspective of actions with potential to change outcomes is definitely heartening. Nevertheless it is unlikely that current responses represent sufficient momentum to turn the tides on entrenched environmental mismanagement and income inequality in time. Far more and stronger action is needed right now.
These are times that call for courage, creativity and commitment to change.
Nelson city councillor Valerie Warmington shares this space weekly with her council colleagues.