Second Climate Economy Summit Offers Plan of Action

Last year, the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) launched the Vermont Climate Change Economy Initiative. Organizers believe that making a deliberate, planned effort to guide economic activity in the state toward climate change mitigation and adaptation can “build national reputation, create jobs, and attract youth and entrepreneurism.”

At a daylong summit attended by more than 400 business and community leaders, science and policy experts, and other citizens from around the state, VCRD gathered dozens of ideas and a clear sense of direction about how to proceed, and appointed a Vermont Climate Change Economy Council to draft a comprehensive plan. This group held three public forums around the state in the past year to further explore possible approaches.

Numerous strategies, involving partnerships, public policy and investment, have been considered. Some involve business incubation and technology development; others look at ways to put a higher price on carbon emissions. Economic spheres from agriculture and energy to tourism and transportation are getting special attention.

On February 22 this year, a second summit will be held to receive and review the Council’s recommendations. Once again, VCRD is drawing on its unique ability to bring together movers, shakers and regular citizens from multiple sectors and across political divides to discuss a unified and comprehensive strategy.

It is very encouraging to see that so much thought, outreach, and dialogue are being focused on these questions. Due to climate change as well as other environmental and global economic challenges, the industrialized world is entering a transition to what many observers are calling a “postcarbon” economy and society. So much that we take for granted in the modern age was made possible by cheap, potent sources of energy like coal and oil, on which we now see that we can no longer depend indefinitely.

There have been few, if any, major transitions in human history that were navigated so deliberately. Usually cultural change is prompted by wars, famines, demographic shifts, new inventions and other accidental events. Now we are applying foresight and attempting to work collaboratively to design a new economy and culture for the planet’s changing conditions. The Climate Change Economy Initiative is not another conventional strategy for economic development—it is a bold effort to redefine economic development.

In this new postcarbon age, the economy needs to be more “green,” more fair and inclusive, more holistically responsive to the natural environment and human communities. As many activists around the country are putting it, we need to pursue a “just transition”—a systemic shift rooted in social and economic justice.

In other words, a green economy should not be a green light for those with advantages of wealth or influence to unheedingly exploit new opportunities for profit. There are some tangled and tricky issues to work through. For example, in our (laudable) enthusiasm to develop and promote renewable energy sources, we have sometimes allowed old ways of doing business to override community concerns about human health or the natural landscape.

Ideally, the Climate Change Economy Initiative provides a forum where all voices are heard and all stakeholders have their concerns taken seriously. Still, our accustomed industrial-age patterns can be hard to shake off, and it will take a sincere, patient effort to move forward together into the new economy of a postcarbon age. The more voices at the table, the better. Join this conversation! See VCRD’s website, vtrural.org, for information about the initiative and about registering for the summit.

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