Letter to the editor: Every action is important in fighting climate crisis

I would like to comment on the letter published in your June 29th edition that asks the pertinent question about why Vermonters are being burdened with efforts to fight climate change when the “red” states are doing nothing about it. 

I get the frustration inherent in this question. It is difficult to keep fighting for something worthwhile when others are not only ignoring the problem but are making it worse. One example is Vermont’s Green Up Day. Every year, so many of us are in the roadside ditches pulling out other people’s trash when that trash starts to re-accumulate the very next week. Why do people volunteer for such arduous and seemingly ineffective projects? When it comes to climate change, I suggest that there are several very good reasons to fight it when others do not.

Climate change is one of the biggest problems that we face. It will destroy (and has been incrementally destroying) ecosystems, wildlife, agriculture, water sources, air quality, economies, political stabilities, and our homes and lives. I think we can agree that we all care about and want to protect these things for ourselves and for future generations. 

This destruction alone is justification for us to do all that we can to fight the problem. The fact that others are not engaged should not stop us. Say you have a neighbor who doesn’t even try to eradicate the spreading poison parsnip in his fields. That will not stop you from tackling your own poison parsnip problem. Also, you are probably more inclined to encourage your neighbor to join you because his inaction harms you and the land. 

Another reason lies in the way we are taught to think about the consequences of our actions and inactions. Ask the question, “what if everyone behaves like I do?” Collective action can produce good or bad outcomes. And as individuals, we strive to achieve the good that we can and want others to do that also. We should not be dissuaded from doing the good that we can because others do not.

Regarding climate change, adopting a practice of self-responsibility requires that individuals, as well as towns, states, and entire countries, make the sacrifices to achieve good outcomes and avoid the bad. Another reason: the fact that others are not doing what they can to avert climate catastrophe should not be a reason for us in Vermont to give up trying. When even some of us work to combat climate change, it will still cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow down the disastrous effects of climate change. The longer we have to tackle the problem, the more time we have to find solutions. If what we do here in Vermont (and in the many other states with similar efforts) resulted in fewer devastating hurricanes or fewer drought seasons, it would be a goal worth pursuing. 

Finally, I’d like to quote Jonathan Franzen who writes about climate change (New Yorker, September 8, 2019). “In fact, [fighting climate change] would be worth pursuing even if it had no effect at all. To fail to conserve a finite resource when conservation measures are available, to needlessly add carbon to the atmosphere when we know very well what carbon is doing to it, is simply wrong. Although the actions of one individual have zero effect on the climate, this doesn’t mean that they’re meaningless. Each of us has an ethical choice to make.”

Doing what we can to fight climate change benefits the planet and all those who inhabit it, including me and you.

Maggie Eaton

New Haven

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