Op/Ed

Editorial: Learning to focus our climate change priorities

This past Thursday morning, 31 area residents gathered at the Ilsley Library meeting room to discuss what positive steps could be done in Vermont to confront the climate change crisis.
“This is the nation’s top priority,” said one. “Health care, minimum wage, trade issues, immigration… we can deal with those issues any year and every year, but climate change… we can’t afford to delay, we have to act now.”
Heads throughout the room nodded in agreement.
It was a like-minded group that had assembled in response to an editorial invite in this paper the previous Monday. That such a crowd gathered to share their views on the topic for 75-minutes on a weekday morning speaks volumes to the subject’s gravity.
We learned of much going on, and were reminded that Vermont is far ahead of much of the rest of the nation.
Notably, Middlebury Rep. Amy Sheldon and Rep. Robin Scheu noted they consult with the Vermont Climate Caucus, a group of 50-some legislators focused on promoting ways to address the crisis. They’re seeking feedback from Vermonters, specifically each person’s top priority for addressing climate change. (Get back to that in a few paragraphs.)
We heard from Connor Wertz, a Middlebury College student representing the Sunrise Movement, a political organization promoting climate action, and hopefully more students and younger adults can get involved down the road. (I know, 9-10:30 a.m. on a Thursday isn’t conducive to many jobs, so our apologies; we’ll try for a night meeting in the fall.) An exciting aspect of the climate change movement is that it motivates the nation’s youth. It is this era’s cause, like the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It is an issue that requires their involvement if we are to transition the nation’s economy away from its current dependency on fossil fuels. That’s a good thing and weighing the political fortunes of both parties, one would think Republicans night want to be more accepting of climate change causes than they currently are.
While we heard many concerns and a few innovative ideas at the meeting, here’s my take-away in two parts:
1) While most Vermonters agree that climate change is a top priority (that is, we’re smart enough to know it’s not a hoax, and know we have a limited window to take action), we are not all on the same page. For example, when the House proposed a 2 cent tax on gasoline this past session to fund climate action initiatives (like increased funding for weatherization programs), it was defeated. Why? Because the Democratic caucus split with some members wary of the impact on farmers or those who commute longer distances. While the Dems have a sizable majority in the House, they need about 100 solid votes (out of 150) to pass something that controversial, and that means it’s going to require political action with a full-throated effort. It won’t just happened because Dems have a super majority.
2) While legislation will be voted on and passed piecemeal (that is, one bill at a time), as a political force it’s preferable to discuss and champion such legislation as a package. Increased funding for weatherization is a worthy goal, but it doesn’t spark a wave of enthusiastic voters. Similarly, passing legislation to install hundreds more EV charging stations, or providing subsidies for businesses to make them available for employees, is also worthy, but it also fails to excite a crescendo of support. And so on.
But promoting a package of 5-7 legislative priorities in a single session has a strong story line and political power. If Vermont is going to move the needle, that might be the path.
To that end, the Addison Independent will host another meeting on this issue on Thursday, Aug. 1, 9 a.m. at the Ilsley Library Community Room. Bring your own coffee if you want it, but mostly come prepared to share your top priority as a legislative action to address climate change. We’ll put it on the board, hash it out, and narrow the various opinions down to half dozen or so priorities to send to our state representatives and the Vermont Climate Caucus — and then follow it throughout the next session.
Join us, if you can.
Angelo Lynn

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