Where is the public will for addressing climate change?

By Zachariah Ralph

A local resident recently asked me this question during a discussion at Sustainable Woodstock’s last Green Drinks event at the Worthy Kitchen. “Where is the public will for these things?” “These things,” being efforts to address global temperature and sea level rise. The question was asked with genuine curiosity and not out of dismay. My response was long winded starting with institutionalized racism and how the same, almost invisible, form of institutionalization also exists for the oil and gas industry in our lives. I reflected further on the question later and came up with a different response. I still certainly believe that our dependence and addiction to oil and gas is part of a system which discourages people from seeking alternative options. But, I also believe the question is more a reflection on the false public perception of climate change campaigns, which is that no one is doing anything about it!

If asked this question again I would say instead, “based on my experience speaking with people about environmental campaigns in several states there are a lot more people than we think that are mindful of their personal impact on the environment, are actively working to reduce their carbon footprint, and who have the will to address climate change but not the knowledge to accomplish their desires.”

Becky Basch, who runs the energy committee in Reading, speaks to Reading residents at Keepers about the Solarize 2016 program.

Becky Basch, who runs the energy committee in Reading, speaks to Reading residents at Keepers about the Solarize 2016 program.

Over the almost two years since working for Sustainable I have connected in one form or another with hundreds if not thousands of people in the Upper Valley and a fair majority either made their homes more energy efficient with weatherization, installed renewable energy like solar, or installed efficient appliances like heat pumps and hot water heat pumps etc. The rest of the people I spoke with were interested in learning more so that they could do this type of work eventually. There are also many people, the silent majority of people, who I haven’t connected with yet who are doing the work on their own, by recycling more, composting, driving less, insulating, etc. There are lots of people doing “the work.”

Even now in the middle of our Solarize 2016 initiative I am learning of all the many diverse ways that Vermonters are stepping up to the plate to address climate change. Solarize 2016 is a campaign which started in March and ends at the end of June, it encompasses 6 towns, Barnard, Bridgewater, Hartland, Pomfret, Reading, and Woodstock, and the goal is to reduce the cost of the solar installation with a tiered pricing structure provided by the selected installer, Catamount Solar, so that it is affordable for more people as more people sign up. We have now held events in every one of these communities including Driving Tours in Pomfret, a Heat Pump information session in Barnard, a Launch event in Bridgewater, an Open House in Reading etc. I spoke with local residents in each community and was able to see firsthand how prevalent and widespread the environmental movement is in the Upper Valley.

Currently we have connected with 80 residents in our area who are interested in going solar through Solarize 2016, many have conducted site visits and 8 have signed contracts so far, we expect many more to sign contracts as we near the end of the campaign. These aren’t huge numbers and less than 1% of residents in town use renewable energy for their electricity. It is easy to think when looking at one part of the environmental movement in our area, solar for example, that no one is doing anything. However, when we look at the movement as a whole almost everyone is doing something on their own. Individuals often times just don’t know what the practical steps are for reducing our carbon footprint or where to start. Education is so important in building a perception of the public will. The more we educate ourselves and each other about what every person needs to be doing right now to protect our future from the harmful effects of climate change, the more we will see this movement grow and prosper.

It’s wonderful that so many people are doing so much, but it is also a reminder that the reason we have to do so much right now is because so little was done in the past to address climate change. Now we’re playing catch up and we’re not doing it fast enough. So we can’t congratulate ourselves yet on a job well done, we must instead continue to be bold, innovative, and open minded in how we approach our future.

Just Do One Thing: Don’t’ Stop Believin’

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