Global climate negotiations in Glasgow recently ended and the US Congress is negotiating the Build Back Better Act, which currently includes the largest investment in climate action in US history. Meanwhile, the Vermont Climate Council is working to implement Vermont’s first-ever climate action plan by December 1. As a global problem that requires local action, climate solutions are rightly being considered simultaneously at the international, national and state levels.
Just days ago, researchers here in Vermont published an assessment of the impacts of global warming on our state, and it’s not pretty. They discovered that we will experience more extreme weather conditions and severe flooding, shorter winters and slowly disappearing ski seasons, and more diseases transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes. Vermont, like the rest of the world, is already feeling the impacts of the climate crisis.
We also know that time and again those who have contributed the least to the problem suffer first and worst from the effects of fossil fuel-induced climate change. Here in Vermont, this reality manifests itself in a variety of ways, with children and older residents being the most exposed to heat waves, with low-income residents often more likely to live in areas prone to flooding, residents Blacks face significant barriers to accessing the benefits of efficiency and clean energy due to their higher likelihood of renting rather than owning their home – the list goes on.
This moment represents a unique opportunity for Vermont to invest in climate action and strengthen our local economy, while beginning to right historic wrongs. As organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of the people, environment and local economy of Vermont, we are writing to urge the Vermont Climate Council to support several critical actions – steps that have been taken. identified by the board during its year-long process, and are being discussed now.
First, we need to transform our transportation system by joining the regional Transportation & Climate Initiative, and we need to implement it equitably. Transportation creates more climate pollution than any other part of Vermont’s economy – and the high cost of fossil fuels for our cars and trucks creates a huge burden on Vermont families. Unless we help Vermonters switch to electric vehicles, invest in public transportation, and more support cycling, walking, and other clean transportation options, we simply can’t create a transportation system. more affordable and fairer – or control our climate pollution. The Transportation & Climate Initiative program provides a long-term funding source, estimated at $ 20 million per year, for such initiatives. This turnkey program must be included in the Climate Action Plan alongside complementary policies to ensure it is implemented equitably and its revenues benefit Vermont’s most vulnerable.
A second key opportunity identified by the Climate Council is the sanitation of our heating systems. Buildings are Vermont’s second-largest source of climate pollution, and investing significantly more in weather protection efforts while helping Vermonters install efficient electric heating options will provide the simultaneous benefits of making Vermont homes healthier and more efficient. more comfortable while reducing our climate pollution.
Third, the council should support a requirement for Vermont utilities to provide much more locally produced renewable electricity and energy storage, rather than continue to rely heavily on large-scale imported energy. Building new renewable energies is the only way to truly reduce climate pollution in the electricity sector. Plus, renewables in the state make Vermont’s electricity system more resilient and our state more energy independent, while keeping more of our money local. Our current renewable energy standard does not answer these questions and needs to be updated.
Fourth, the Climate Council has identified the importance of adopting an environmental justice policy here in Vermont to ensure that we seek an equitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens in a fair and transparent manner. Vermont is behind schedule in adopting an environmental justice policy. In fact, the majority of US states already have one in the books. Vermont would benefit greatly from engaging in the process of pursuing environmental justice and clearly identifying and proactively addressing environmental injustices.
A fifth area that we strongly support is the implementation of a series of smart growth policies that encourage sustainable development – especially to tackle the housing crisis – in compact community centers. Policies to support this kind of development must be combined with policies to simultaneously protect our natural assets, including intact healthy forests, agricultural soils and wetlands, all of which underpin the climate resilience of our communities.
Collectively, these policies will also require significant government investment to ensure their successful implementation. Will Vermont choose action, investment and fairness, or procrastination and injustice? It depends on us. We must do our part – for our own good, for the global community and for future generations. With each year of delayed action that passes, we place an increasing burden on our children and grandchildren to live with the repercussions of the mess we have made.
It’s time to think globally and act locally to reduce Vermont’s climate impact. If done right, the Council’s climate action plan can help us move forward, as we continue to improve the process and involve more Vermonters. Together, we can move our brave little state forward towards a brighter, more equitable clean energy future.
Ben Edgerly Walsh is director of the climate and energy program for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group; Lauren Hierl is executive director of Vermont Conservation Voters; Peter Sterling is Interim Executive Director of Renewable Energy Vermont; Jordan Giaconia is public policy manager for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.