Vermont’s Growing Climate for Change

by Michael J. Caduto and Anne Macksoud

From day one, climate change has been a preeminent concern for Sustainable Woodstock, with a focus on how this human-induced global phenomenon impacts our environment, economy and community. Our own website reminds us that “Sustainable Woodstock began informally in 2007 when a group of people affiliated with Woodstock’s Unitarian Church met to explore what they could do about climate change.”

Woodstock’s concerns, and its leadership role in addressing climate change, date back to George Perkins Marsh, whom many consider to be America’s first conservationist in the Western tradition, following millennia of Earth stewardship traditions practiced by Vermont’s Abenaki nation and other indigenous peoples. In fact, Marsh’s 1847 lecture to the Agricultural Society of Rutland may be the earliest direct reference to human-induced climate change:

“It is certain that climate itself has in many instances been gradually changed and ameliorated or deteriorated by human action. The draining of swamps and the clearing of forests perceptibly effect the evaporation from the earth, and of course the mean quantity of moisture suspended in the air… Within narrow limits too, domestic fires and artificial structures create and diffuse increased warmth, to an extent that may effect vegetation. The mean temperature of London is a degree or two higher than that of the surrounding country.”

With these early observations, Marsh touches on water vapor’s role as a greenhouse gas. He also observes an urban phenomenon now known as a “heat island,” in which the artificial surfaces in urban environments—such as concrete, asphalt and steel— absorb and radiate heat more readily than the leaves and other surfaces found in natural environments, raising the average temperature in cities and towns by 2-5°F above that of the surrounding countryside.

Fast-forward more than 170 years after Marsh’s prescient speech about climate change, to consider the ongoing initiative from 350Vermont called the Climate Solutions Resolution. 350Vermont is an offshoot of the global organization 350.org, which was founded by Bill McKibben of Middlebury College—another Vermont-based pioneer of climate change awareness and environmental stewardship. This resolution—which is being considered as Articles 10 and 11 in a floor vote at Woodstock’s Town Meeting on Saturday, March 2, 2019—proposes the following major actions:

  1. HALT any new or expanded fossil fuel infrastructure, like pipelines;
  2. Firmly COMMIT to at least 90% renewable energy for all people in Vermont, and;
  3. Ensure that the TRANSITION to renewable energy is fair and equitable for all, with no harm to marginalized groups or rural communities.

How is Vermont faring with its ongoing efforts to reduce carbon emissions? In 2005, Vermont lawmakers set the most ambitious goals of any New England state for reducing greenhouse gas emissions generated by the state’s by power plants, vehicles, homes and businesses. Using 1990 levels as the baseline, the State vowed to reduce emissions 25 percent by 2012, and 50 percent by 2028. For some years thereafter, Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased. Then our emissions began again to grow.

A report released by Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation in June of 2018, reveals that the state’s carbon emissions actually increased by 16 percent from 1990 to 2015. The primary culprits are vehicular exhaust, industrial emissions and increased energy use by drafty homes with inefficient heating systems. Vermont has since re-set its goals to source 90 percent of its power from renewable energy sources by 2050. It is also partnering with eight other states to reduce transportation emissions throughout the Northeast.

Sustainable Woodstock—in partnership with the Town of Woodstock and many of our local and regional partners—is working hard to promote climate change awareness. We are also addressing the critical issues of increasing our reliance on renewable energy, reducing home energy consumption and partnering with regional organizations to increase the options that residents of the Upper Valley region have for car-pooling and mass transit. (Details of these initiatives will be described in a forthcoming, two-part article in the Vermont Standard.)

One could conjecture that George Perkins Marsh would be pleased to see that we are addressing the root causes of climate change, albeit dismayed that it has taken us so bloody long to do something about it. The Climate Solutions Resolution is a critical opportunity to honor Marsh’s legacy by taking a step to hold the line on climate change for future generations.

 

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