We’re all grappling with a lot right now. From the heartbreaking impacts of the pandemic and our broken health care system, to the impacts of systemic racism, and the death of the incomparable Ruth Bader Ginsburg and its ramifications for the Supreme Court ... I could go on. But another intensifying crisis -- the climate crisis -- is the one keeping me up at night.
Without dramatic and quick action, our children will face unfathomable hardships. If we think 2020 is a tough year, if we don’t take transformative climate action soon, just wait.
Unfortunately, unlike with the COVID-19 crisis, Gov. Phil Scott is failing to listen to accepted science and respond to the climate crisis with the urgency it demands. He has failed to put forward any noteworthy climate policy proposals during his time in office. Last week, he vetoed the first meaningful climate legislation to reach his desk, the Global Warming Solutions Act. His weak rationale for vetoing the bill was roundly rejected by the vast majority of lawmakers, who voted to override the veto, and fortunately the Global Warming Solutions Act is now law.
But it’s upsetting that Vermont has fallen so far behind under Gov. Scott. Previously, Vermont was a national leader on climate change. We had the highest number of clean energy jobs per capita, and our green economy was our fastest-growing jobs sector. In the past four years, we’ve lost hundreds of clean energy jobs (before the pandemic even hit). Vermont has the highest per capita climate pollution in our region. And neighboring states and other innovators are putting in place policies and programs that support job-creating climate entrepreneurship, leaving us behind.
Further, we have no plan from Gov. Scott on how to prepare for and respond to a changing climate. When he came into office, he disbanded the Climate Cabinet that had been meeting regularly to look at how state government could address this crisis. He eliminated the state’s lead climate policy analyst. Instead, he created a climate commission who worked hard for a year developing recommendations, but then he failed to implement most of those recommendations.
Recently, the governor has been saying that his climate priority is electric vehicles, so it was surprising and disappointing to see him propose cutting funding for the electric vehicle incentive program that was created just last year, claiming we can’t afford to address COVID-19 and climate change at the same time.
Encouragingly, the Vermont Legislature has recognized the urgency and opportunity in acting on climate change, and voted to override the governor’s veto and enact the Global Warming Solutions Act. They also voted to restore funding to the electric vehicle incentive program. The overwhelming majority of Vermont lawmakers understand that we have to get serious and move forward with creating a more just, resilient, green economy.
I keep thinking back to a post from Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, “Climate delayers aren’t much better than climate deniers. With either one if they get their way, we’re toast.”
If you truly believe in climate science -- and we’ve seen the importance and success that comes with following the science in our state’s response to COVID-19 -- you can’t do what the governor has done so far on climate change, which is virtually nothing. Vermonters need and deserve better from their leaders than platitudes, vetoes of climate bills, and hands thrown up, saying it’s too hard to address climate change right now. The stakes are just too high.
Instead, we can start by thanking the Vermont Legislature for overturning the governor’s veto and enacting the Global Warming Solutions Act. This bill creates accountability, so the state government can no longer stand idly by. Importantly, the bill creates an expert panel charged with developing a strategic plan to cut our climate pollution while making our communities more resilient, creating jobs, and helping rural and marginalized Vermonters access clean energy, transportation, heating, and housing.
Further, we must all demand that all of Vermont’s government leaders step up on climate change at the scale and pace we need. Anything less is an abdication of our responsibility to our children and grandchildren -- not to mention a huge missed economic opportunity.
Lauren Hierl is executive director of Vermont Conservation Voters.