The turn of the new year always shines bright with new opportunities. It’s a chance to reflect on where we’ve been and look ahead to where we need to go. When it comes to climate action from this past year, I’m inspired by a young woman from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, and by the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead for Vermont to buckle down and get back on track to cut damaging emissions and thwart the worst of climate catastrophe.
Let’s start with Greta. You have to admire a young student who strikes for days outside the Swedish Parliament during any weather, armed only with a placard and information about the harm climate change is causing to the planet and an invitation for others to join in this cause. She is not unlike the character in “the Emperor has no Clothes” who spoke the truth and stated what was right before everyone’s eyes. No one can dispute that what she is saying is true. From crazy weather to droughts, famines and wildfires, the impact of climate on our lives and our pocketbooks is undeniable. We can choose to ignore it at our peril or take steps to act on it and hand a better world to future generations.
Here in Vermont, taking care of each other and our earth is part of what we do. When we see a package that needs to be delivered, we drop it off. When a neighbor or friend is sick and needs some warm soup, we bring it. When the road is littered, we collectively spend a day each year to clean it up. We know that when all of us pitch in, the task is easier. We make light work, and new friends in the process.
Greta calls on us to bring this same generous spirit to avoiding climate disaster. It has been so troubling to watch as our climate-damaging emissions have increased in recent years instead of turning back the way they need to. The good news is that Vermont’s Legislature is poised to put Vermont back on track, with clear requirements to cut carbon emissions, set a path forward and ensure benefits for all Vermonters. Doing so would allow Vermont to join nearby states, including Massachusetts, Maine, New York and Connecticut, to make sure none of us do this alone and that we all benefit.
Among legislation that will be considered — and hopefully passed — early in the session is a Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act. It turns our goals to reduce harmful climate pollution into clear commitments. It then sets a path forward to make sure it happens in a way that benefits everyone.
Right now, nearly 80 cents of every dollar Vermonters spend on fossil fuels leaves the state. That’s over $1.5 billion dollars every year draining out of the Vermont economy. Using renewable energy instead keeps two to three times the energy dollars in Vermont. Our reliance on fossil fuels wrecks our air, our climate and our future. We can do better. We can expand programs that get more electric vehicles on the road. We can maximize energy efficiency. And we can use far more clean, renewable power. Doubling down on each of these goes a long way towards cutting pollution and keeping more money in Vermonters’ pocketbooks. We can’t stop now.
As Greta reminds us, these actions don’t happen on their own. A Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act will guide state action, encourage investments, and modernize our facilities. Families driving electric vehicles, or who don’t need to drive, will pay less to fuel their cars and have more money available for other needs. Weatherizing our old housing stock makes our homes safer and more comfortable. Using more renewable electricity gets us ready to keep lights on and businesses successful for the next decade and beyond.
Putting in place sound policies now will allow Vermont to stand shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors in making sure we hand a livable region to our children. It provides them, and us, the benefits of cleaner air and water and helps avoid the worst of the climate catastrophes to come. It also builds a stronger and more resilient economy that no longer needs to rely on importing expensive sources of pollution.
This decade can have a fresh start. Vermont has a lot of experience with policies and actions that bring about change and set a new course. When it comes to climate, let’s make this year the one where climate comes first.
Sandra Levine is a senior attorney with Conservation Law Foundation in Montpelier.