The role of UBI in the fight against climate change

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Essay by Miranda Reid

A universal basic income has been proven through numerous studies and trials to be incredibly beneficial to the well-being of both communities and individuals. Mental health improvements, food security, and protection for those faced with technological unemployment are some of the impacts most frequently mentioned. However, this idea could also prove to be a driving force for solutions to environmental concerns. Many of the benefits of implementing a universal income could lead to it becoming a key player in the fight against climate change. 

One of the biggest hurdles faced when creating solutions to climate change, is the ignorance of the public. Many North Americans still have doubts that the crisis even exists, and even those who take climate change as fact, may not know how to pursue a solution. By educating people on environmental concerns, we empower the public to take action. In a survey taken by participants of an Ontario trial, 32.5% of responders reported having used the money to further their education or upgrade their skills (Basic Income Canada Network, 2019). With this increase in education, we may start to see a decrease in climate change denial, and those who are motivated to take action will be more empowered to do so. Furthermore, this pursuit of knowledge will give more people the skills to create the solutions and technologies needed to solve our present environmental issues. By allowing people the financial stability to pursue higher education, we create a society that is better equipped to take on the challenge of combating climate change. 

In addition to a more educated public, a universal basic income can also create a more engaged community. In the same Ontario survey, 25.18% of people reported having spent more time volunteering (BICN 2019). While increased volunteering may not seem to be directly related to fighting against climate change, this effect can have a huge impact on the health of the local ecosystems through community conservation efforts such as beach cleanups, and local environmental advocacy groups. Additionally, a higher income may also lead to increased environmental stewardship. An analytical framework for environmental stewardship points to financial stability as one of the requirements for an individual to have the capacity to be an active participant in fighting for the environment (Bennett, N.J., Whitty, T.S., Finkbeiner, E., et. al., 2018). When people are no longer concerned about keeping a roof over their head or putting food on the table, their time and energy can be used to become an advocate for the planet. 

While education and community involvement will increase the amount of supporters in the fight against climate change, a rise in innovation is ultimately what will create solutions. There is no denying that the amount of money in sectors like renewable energy is climbing rapidly. According to research released by Imperial College London, the return on investment after both five and ten years is significantly higher for renewable energies than for fossil fuels (International Energy Agency & Centre for Climate Finance and Investment, 2020). If people are allowed the opportunity to take risks and become entrepreneurs, many will use this chance to reap the benefits of this growing industry. However, innovation and creativity are often stifled by financial burdens. If our society’s greatest minds are trapped in a cycle of poverty, we may never see the potential of what they could create. By implementing a universal basic income, people are given the chance to branch out of their everyday jobs and dive into a world of invention. With this, we will begin to see new technologies that give us the chance to move towards a more sustainable future.

Climate change is an incredibly complex issue, and the solution will require widespread collaboration and innovation. Implementing a universal basic income might be the missing puzzle piece in the fight against this crisis. We are at a key turning point in history, with the power to give ourselves a fighting chance, but if a portion of the population is left out of the conversation because of monetary limitations, we are not able to truly realize our potential as a society. By ensuring financial security for all, we are empowering the people to rise up against climate change. 

Basic Income Canada Network. (2019). Signposts to Success: Report of a BICN Survey of Ontario Basic Income Recipients. Retrieved from https://basicincomecanada.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/BICN-Signposts-to-Success.pdf

Bennett, N.J., Whitty, T.S., Finkbeiner, E. et al. Environmental Stewardship: A Conceptual Review and Analytical Framework. Environmental Management 61, 597–614 (2018).

https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-017-0993-2

International Energy Agency and Centre for Climate Finance & Investment. (2020). Energy Investing: Expire Risk and Return in the Capital Markets. Retrieved from https://www.imperial.ac.uk/business-school/faculty-research/research-centres/centre-climate-finance-investment/research/energy-investing-exploring-risk-and-return-the-capital-markets/

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