I’ve been wrestling with a sentence that typifies the mission of our times, and have come to this: “We need to end the fundamental threat that climate change presents to our ability to provide for our children.”
We can accomplish this by engaging two of the most wonderful features of common humanity: Our creativity and our neighborliness ―— our care for one another. These Vermont attributes seem like a strong foundation for our collective commitment for mutuality in decision-making and action, and hence to our democracy. Creativity, plus neighborliness, plus democracy, equals power.
Some say we are too small to make a difference: Any carbon reductions we make as individuals, towns, or the State of Vermont are meaningless. There are two answers to that: First, game theory — If we act and others don’t, we are sacrificing in vain. If everyone thinks that way, everyone loses. But in democracy, we all have a responsibility to do our part, and in doing so, we have the ability to build buy-in and partnership from others on the local, state, national and international scale; and collectively, our actions will make a difference. Taking action to combat climate change is not in a zero-sum game.
The second answer is that carbon reduction is not just a penalty or a sacrifice — it’s an opportunity for economic reinvention in the face of a global pattern of change that is already occurring. It’s a path to prosperity, to clean air and water, to healthier lives.
The economy is the interface between humanity and the environment.
Entrepreneurs in the economy are paid to provide services and creatively solve problems. The fundamental challenge of climate change is not going to go away; it is a massive fulcrum for the economy of the future.
Mumbai; Silicon Valley; and Cambridge, Massachusetts, are not just looking to lead in microchips and digital development; they are looking to capture market share in the clean-energy, smart-grid, green-building, transportation revolution. Let’s capture some of that market share here in Vermont.
Answering climate change doesn’t undermine the economy; it renews it. According to some of the leading investors in the global economy, creativity in answering climate change is the greatest economic opportunity in history.
Clean energy development in Vermont produces 19,000 jobs today.
We are already in a process of reinvention.
Casella Waste Systems has a business vision where there is no waste, and innovates to make money on what we now throw away. They don’t plan to grow as a trash hauler, but as an inventor.
Beta Technologies at the Burlington airport is competing with Boeing and international corporations to build the first electric plane and fly it across the country. Meanwhile, LED Dynamics is trying to create the most efficient light in the world, and Northern Reliability, Dynastar, VELCO and our utilities are innovating with a smarter grid, storage, efficiency and resilience in our energy systems, right here and now.
The climate economy is the economy of the future, and it’s the innovation edge today. Businesses are building solutions. Cities and towns are ahead of the states, which are ahead of the federal government.
In a community process recently, we heard a school leader describe the growing epidemic of anxiety disorders in children. Kids are being overwhelmed by talk of catastrophe, social media blitzing, and apocalyptic images in movies, TV, books and video games. Later, I was at a party where adults were talking in an ironic way about the end of the world as we know it in 20 years because of climate change disruptions and environmental collapse — with children listening.
This needs to end. We need to be the adults in the room. We need to recognize the challenge ahead, but show our kids that we are building the answers to climate change, right here and right now, and that we will do what it takes to advance a sustainable clean-energy future. We need to act in confidence and take the personal leadership that democracy requires of us. We need to build and drive a narrative of success.
We need to act together at a transformational level — in communities, in our legislature, and in the executive branch — to build platforms of action at the scale required by this challenge. We need to get over politics, hesitation and weakness. We need to take courage and put creativity, neighborliness and democracy into gear in collective action, today, for the common good and for generations to come. And we will win the day for our children…there is no other choice.
Paul Costello is the executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development.