Lori Lee Oates (@drlorileeoates)
Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador
In 2019, I had the opportunity to participate in public scholarship collaborations with political scientists, geographers, and community activists on the climate crisis. This led to lecturing to graduate students on the climate emergency and writing guest essays on the topic for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). The criticism from climate change deniers was swift and fierce but not unexpected. It was usually some variation of “What does a humanities scholar or historian know about climate change?” or “These are issues best left to business schools and engineering departments.” The response forced me to grapple with the question: what is the role of global and imperial history in providing commentary on the climate crisis?
The question hits particularly close to home for me; Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, where I teach in the Master of Philosophy (Humanities) program, is located in one of Canada’s petro provinces. The economy has always been heavily dependent on natural resource sectors and very much dependent on oil since 1997. The one economic golden age the province experienced was fostered by high oil prices. The province has also had a troubled imperial history as it went from being the home of the lost Indigenous people known as the Beothuk, to becoming European fishing grounds, used by imperial powers for its vast natural resources, then to a British colony, to Commonwealth dominion, back to commission of government, all before joining Canada as its tenth province in 1949.
The legacy of imperialism on Newfoundland’s resource-dependent economy was explored back in the mid ‘90s by Valerie Summers in Regime Change in a Resource Economy: The Politics of Underdevelopment in Newfoundland since 1825 (1994). In the intervening decades, Newfoundland and Labrador’s approach to economic development continues to be rooted in imperial ways of thinking, which arguably prevent its development as the global economy has moved away from localized natural resources sectors, and towards globalized service sectors. Political economists have effectively documented the phenomenon known as “the resource curse”. Overdependence on natural resources, or a single resource, are problems that afflict many former colonies, that have historically been used as a source for the extraction for their resources. This overdependence, then, is an imperial legacy.Continue reading “Addressing the Contemporary Climate Crisis by Decolonizing Environmental History”