A green map to a sustainable future
By GEORGE CROMBIE | November 04,2007
In 2005, Gov. James Douglas laid the foundation for the climate change discussion by signing an executive order to create the Governor's Commission on Climate Change. Last week, the commission, headed up by Ernest Pomerleau, approved its final report after more than a year's worth of work reviewing recommendations from a 31-member advisory panel, known as the plenary group. The folks who worked through hundreds of ideas and suggestions came from all sectors of Vermont life: education, government, nonprofit organizations, environmental groups, business and transportation.
Douglas knew that all Vermonters would need to be involved in charting our future in living sustainable lifestyles while stimulating economic growth and safeguarding the Vermont culture.
The good news is that Vermont is already leading the way on climate change action. Vermont prides itself and is recognized throughout our nation for its respect for the environment. Vermont is all about education, a strong work ethic, green business, forestry, agriculture, hunting and fishing, skiing, smart growth and our ability to shape environmental policy in a bold and effective manner on the national level.
So much so, Forbes magazine just rated the Green Mountain State No. 1 in its story "America's Greenest States," noting how, per capita, Vermonters are the top spenders on energy efficiency and have the second-lowest carbon footprint and toxic waste output in the nation.
And yet there is much more to be done. The Commission on Climate Change made that clear in its landmark report. While the commission recognized the good work of Efficiency Vermont, which will be spending more than $30 million a year on energy-efficient projects, the highest per capita of any state, it also singled out the need to protect and enhance the sustainability of our forests and farmlands – our "green bank."
This green bank may be our greatest gift to Vermonters and the country – not only as a powerful carbon sequestration but in maintaining our forests and agricultural lands and demonstrating to the rest of the nation how to practice a sustainable lifestyle.Vermont's forests store carbon, helping offset our carbon dioxide emissions. That benefit could bring in perhaps as much as $1 billion for Vermont in a carbon-trading market, according to University of Vermont Professor William Keeton. Our forests, farms and working landscape offer a tremendous opportunity to sequester carbon while providing a renewable local source of high-value wood products and clean, renewable energy.
Imagine the financial dividends paid by our green bank to be re-invested in Vermont's forests, parks and farmlands, sustaining our wildlife habitats and growing the next generation of biomass energy sources.
One of the challenges in the future will be to keep these values and resources sustainable. Without a healthy economy to keep Vermonters gainfully employed in green enterprises, our forests, agriculture business and recreational footprint are at risk.
In a green economy, fuels would be grown and manufactured locally from biomass, coupled with thoughtful planning, selling green credits, consuming locally produced products, green building codes, continuing education on environmental matters, using renewable resources, developing environmental technology, improving green businesses, using local products, reducing waste and improving recycling.
By creating a green economy, local resources are re-invested within the state, thus creating a multiplier effect on the local economy. If our forest and agriculture operations can provide biomass fuel, that is less money going out of state. We not only reduce carbon, but make our green banks (forest and agriculture) sustainable by producing revenue.
The Commission on Climate Change knew it needed a strategy to turn these laudable ideas into action and that's why the commission is calling for a signature partnership between the state and higher education, led by the University of Vermont.
Picture, if you will, a wheel, with the Agency of Natural Resources' new Center for Climate Change and Waste Reduction and UVM at the center hub, functioning as the coordinators for the different "spokes" of climate change action: carbon sequestration and trading, environmental education, Efficiency Vermont, biomass research, transportation, environmental technology, renewable energy – and other opportunities that will undoubtedly present themselves as the green economy continues to develop.
This creative partnership will allow Vermont to be engaged in science, engineering, social, political, business and economic analysis in creating and developing a green economy. For example:
Climate Change research could be coordinated within the university system.
Rules and regulations that were needed to create the green economy could be expedited by ANR.
Creating a comprehensive biomass plan for Vermont would have a central clearinghouse for research and assisting entrepreneurs.
The governor and president of the university would have the ability to bring the resources of the state together.
There would be a coordinated effort to obtain federal grants.
UVM would have the ability to bring other colleges together; likewise ANR would have the ability to bring other state agencies to the table in developing this new green economy.
UVM and ANR are in the best position to bring objective viewpoints forward on environmental issues. Their primary missions are environmental education, research, community involvement and protection of the environment.
Environmental education could filter down from the university to the local level. There would be a tremendous opportunity to develop and provide climate change education to all Vermonters.
The faculty of Vermont's higher education institutions and ANR would form a formidable environmental brain trust.
Undergraduate and graduate students could work between the university and ANR on cross-cutting programs.
The development of environmental technology could be fueled by this partnership.
ANR and UVM would have the ability to create partnerships of all Vermonters in solving climate change challenges.
UVM could create a carbon-trading exchange.
Businesses, farmers, foresters, builders, community leaders, educators and the community at large would have a clearinghouse for carbon reduction thoughts and ideas.
Business and commerce would have a platform to test new ideas and technology to create a green economy.
Vermont could become the leader in developing a carbon reduction economy.
Our ability to manage our environment and our carbon footprint in the future will not be a reliance on any one institution or report, but the ability to create a sustainable and highly adaptable foundation that has the energy to form partnerships of diverse groups and knowledge in creating a pathway to a green economy and reducing Vermont's carbon footprint.
George Crombie is the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources. To see the complete reports of the Governor's Commission on Climate Change and of the plenary group, visit the ANR Web site: http://www.anr.state.vt.us/air/Planning/htm/ClimateChange.htm.