Societal Impacts

How is climate change affecting society in NL? What changes are we already seeing in our way of life as a result of climate change? What will the changes needed for climate change mitigation and adaptation mean for how we live, work, and play in NL? In this session, our panelists tackled these questions.

Below is a detailed description of this discussion.

Watch the recorded session:

Professor Mark Stoddart 
Sociology Department at Memorial

Josh Smee
CEO of Food First Newfoundland and Labrador

Megan Samms
Mi’kmaq artist and entrepreneur

Dr. Barb Neis
Honorary research professor at the Department of Sociology at Memorial 


  1. The main obstacles to making progress on climate change tend to be more political and social

  2. Climate change is global but will have real, significant impacts at the local level, a social lens is vital for thinking about how this global climate regime translates (or doesn’t) into national or regional or local-municipal level climate action and responses. We also need to think about how scientific climate knowledge and action works between these different scales – from the global to the very local.

  3. We can frame the climate change conversation around responsibility, vulnerability, and adaptive capacity.

    • Responsibility: which countries have historically had, or currently have, the biggest carbon footprints.

    • Vulnerability: who is actually vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change.

    • Adaptive capacity: who has the resources, knowledge, know-how, financial resources, infrastructure, etc. to actually adapt. All three of those things are tied to issues of social power, political capacity, and efficacy of access to resources. Those social dynamics play out at multiple levels from the global (for example, the global north compared to the global south), national, regional and local levels.

  4. Social lens on climate change is vital to ensure that climate solutions do not perpetuate social inequalities or magnify existing inequalities. When we don’t have a strong social lens on how we deal with climate change it becomes very easy for market-oriented solutions or technologically-oriented solutions to amplify our existing social inequalities – whether we’re talking about economic inequality, gender inequality, or in a broader global scale, global north-global south inequalities.

  5. Pursuing climate action that also contributes to more equitable, just, and sustainable societies will also contribute to community well-being. We need to look for the solutions and actions in both climate change mitigation and adaption that also help build community resilience, sustainability, and well-being.
  • Geographic vulnerability: we are highly dependent on food production, goods production, money and supply chains from elsewhere. We also have a large labour force that works in other places, making that income dependent on the climate change impacts of other parts of the world, as well as ours. We are open to environmental change because of our proximity and dependency on the ocean and coasts. We are geographically isolated and spread over large distances, making transportation difficult and critical.

  • Impact our food systems: Our food system is highly vulnerable to the global food system since much of our food is produced elsewhere. Disruptions to transportation due to unstable weather and other unpredictability can have significant impacts on our food supply. In addition, we are already seeing access to traditional food impacted in Labrador.

  • Poverty and inequality: We are not all equally vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The impacts of climate change will be greater for those already struggling with poverty and inequality. For people who already have difficulty accessing good quality food to feed their families, increases in food cost due to climate change will make that even more difficult. The ability to grow your own food is also expensive and requires significant access to land, tools and expertise – this is not available to those already living in poverty. The same can be said for infrastructure damage to property during major storms – damage can happen to any house, but more damage is likely to houses that have been poorly constructed or not well maintained due to poverty, the cost therefore is greater for those who have little control over the infrastructure of the housing in which they live.

  • Diversity in representation and governance: Indigenous Peoples and other vulnerable groups across the board such as people with disabilities, and young precariously employed workers, have not been actively brought into the discussion and brought to the table to have a meaningful, deep, solid conversation in the province around how do we respond to climate change. By having a diverse representation, and restructuring governance to include room for those voices, and behaving responsively versus reactively to the situation can address the economic situation and the climate situation at once. It’s not just about ensuring that there’s an Indigenous presence in the room, but also about creating rooms that are run by Indigenous folks – this needs to be not just a partnership but a devolution of power and responsibility and resources – particularly true in food systems to Indigenous communities.

  • Rural-Urban divide: Rural communities also face inequities since they are heavily reliant on shipping, and often depend on a single industry such as fishing that requires considerable infrastructure that is vulnerable to climate change – extreme weather events can have massive effects and be very costly. It also opens the question of who is going to pay for these damages. Rural areas are also under-resourced and have less adaptive capacity (human and financial resources to plan and implement adaptation).

  • Long-term planning for our economy means long-term planning for our society: The dependency of the province on oil and gas revenues also puts us in a precarious position – if global markets are moving toward a low-carbon economy and we continue to focus on oil and gas, we will lag behind – this will create an economic and social risk. The economic and political choices now could have negative impacts on our society down the road in 5-15 years. We cannot lose sight of the global conversation and what that means for our economies and the social well-being of the people of the province.
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