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Ways of Seeing: Paper company wants pipeline … but I don’t

I was tired after teaching my third class last Tuesday, and I felt like going home and resting. But instead of heading for the comforts of home, I went to the middle school, along with hundreds of other people. Most of us were there because we oppose the pipeline that would carry fracked gas through Addison County on route to International Paper in Ticonderoga, N.Y.
I have been to a lot of these kinds of hearings, and they all share some things in common. Generally there is a panel of three to five men in suits, sitting behind a long table. Please don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against men in suits — I love it when my husband gets into one for attending a wedding. But in these cases, the men in suits seem to represent business as usual, the status quo, and I can never escape the conclusion that their decision has already been made.
In addition to the men in suits behind the table, there is a stenographer capturing every statement for the public record. Then we have the vocal group of people passionately calling for protection of air, or water, or forests, or farmland. At the middle school, many of the folks who spoke against the pipeline asked the panel to recognize that Vermont needs renewable energy, that our climate is in serious trouble, and that since we have a moratorium on fracking in our state, it would be hypocritical to extend this fuel line into our community.
I have participated in panels like this about a range of environmental issues, from the logging of old growth redwood forests in my home state of California, to the labeling of genetically altered foods. The people who come to speak out are usually there because they feel compelled to witness against a harmful action. The motivation for the opposition? It’s usually profit.
Soon after I moved to Addison County, in 2000, I learned that International Paper was hoping to replace some of their diesel fuel with fuel made from shredded tires. A small group of us, including pediatricians, scientists, farmers and concerned parents began a campaign to stop what we perceived to be a threat to the health of people on both sides of Lake Champlain. As our actions to stop the tire burn gathered steam, International Paper threatened that without license to burn this cheap and dirty fuel, hundreds of jobs were threatened.
Now it’s 13 years later, and IP is at it again. If they don’t get their pipeline, they say, who knows how many jobs will be lost? Many business owners here in Middlebury have also urged approval of the pipeline, saying their savings on fuel will be an economic boon to the community. Why does it always seem to come down to a choice between money (earning it and spending less of it) and a healthy environment?
As I write these words, thousands of people in Colorado have been evacuated from their homes, when massive rainfall caused extreme flooding. As I write these words 500,000 people have been displaced in Japan, due to a typhoon. The city of Jakarta, in Indonesia, has been projected to be half underwater in 2030. Colorado, Japan and Indonesia may be far away places, but we all remember what it felt like during Hurricane Irene, don’t we? So maybe these places aren’t really so far away.
Climate change is real and it threatens all of us. But as one young woman who spoke before the Public Service Board said, Vermont has a long history of leading the way. We were the first state to have civil unions, which became marriage equality. Hopefully we’ll also soon be the first state to have single-payer health care, proving that it can be done. Our little state has a powerful role to play in the direction of our nation.
As a community, I hope we can remember that cheaper doesn’t always mean better. I hope we will make a collective decision to invest in the renewable energy we know we need. I hope we can empathize with people whose communities are threatened by fracking. I hope we can have the courage to protect our future generations. They are the ones who will be inheriting this planet.
Joanna Colwell is the director of Otter Creek Yoga in Middlebury’s Marble Works District. She lives in East Middlebury with her husband, daughter, father-in-law, and two cats. Feedback for this and other columns warmly welcomed: [email protected].

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