Climate activist McKibben urges action, warns lawmakers of threats to Vermont way of life
 

Climate activist McKibben urges action, warns lawmakers of threats to Vermont way of life

Bill McKibben addresse the Vermont House of Representatives on Wednesday. He said Vermont can be a leader in climate change adaptation and prevention. Photo by Audrey Clark

Bill McKibben addresses the Vermont House of Representatives on Wednesday. He said Vermont can be a leader in climate change adaptation and prevention. Photo by Audrey Clark

Climate activist Bill McKibben brought his campaign to address climate change to the Vermont House of Representatives Wednesday, saying that Vermont can lead the nation in adapting to and stopping climate change.

He praised the Legislature while outlining priorities for more change, including thermal efficiency improvements, divestment from fossil fuel investments, and construction of more renewable energy projects.

McKibben later went before a House panel to take questions and discuss ideas about what the state can do. The appearance of the well-known Ripton resident was the result of an unusual invitation to speak to the House chamber under the Golden Dome by House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown.

After listing a series of grim figures on the rate and severity of climate change, he told House members that if we don’t act now we are in for “a planet straight out of science fiction.” McKibben emphasized that there are no silver bullets. “Maybe, however, there is enough silver buckshot.”

McKibben chimed in on the issue of wind power, a topic that is before lawmakers this session. He said a three-year wind moratorium some legislators favor is the wrong thing for Vermont to do because we do not have three years to spare.

“I am glad there are people standing up for our mountains,” he said, but “by far the greatest threat to their integrity, biology, and beauty is climate change.”

He said he hoped one day to see wind towers on the mountain behind his house, though, “We do not need them on every ridge line.”

 Environmental activist Bill McKibben testifies before the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development on Wednesday.


Environmental activist Bill McKibben testified before the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development on Wednesday after speaking to the Vermont House of Representatives. Photo by Audrey Clark

McKibben, who teaches at Middlebury College, praised lawmakers for having “some of the country’s most devoted environmental legislators.” He also praised state government in general for leading the nation on climate change adaptation and prevention, and he singled out the ban on the oil-extraction method of “fracking.”

McKibben cited a number of effects of climate change already felt in the state, mentioning later ice-outs and lilac bloom dates and severe rainstorms. (See related story: At Statehouse, companies, business owners detail impacts of changing climate)

“Even if we do everything right we’re going to go right up to the two-degree red line” after which scientists say the earth as we know it will be dramatically changed, he said. McKibben argued that we must stop climate change and that “stopping it means getting off gas and coal as soon as possible.”

According to McKibben, a priority for the Legislature should be first to focus on thermal efficiency.

“If we get really tight houses then our options will improve,” he said.

Vermont should also ban importation of tar sands oil through any Vermont pipeline and divest from the fossil fuel industry. “Why pay tens of millions of dollars to recover from Irene and pay companies that contribute to it?” he asked.

Other solutions are to increase public transportation, reduce sprawl, and promote local food. He told the General Assembly that he did not think nuclear power was going to be a major part of the solution because of its large capital costs.

McKibben received standing ovations both at the beginning and end of his talk.

Reaction to his unusual address under the Golden Dome displayed some of the divergent views on what actions the state should take. The House Republican Caucus issued a press release after McKibben’s speech, saying, “a decision by the State of Vermont to allow Vermont Yankee to remain open is quick, simple and inexpensive. The caucus encourages Gov. Peter Shumlin and Attorney General William Sorrell to show true climate change leadership and allow a low-carbon electricity generator to remain open.”

Shumlin has been a long-standing opponent of Vermont Yankee and has campaigned for its closure.

Rep. Don Turner, R-Milton, noted in an email that while the GOP caucus shares McKibben’s concerns, the state “must act within practical constraints of affordability to taxpayers and ratepayers. Pursuing every recommendation suggested by Mr. McKibben would be a challenge to the state’s economy due to high, front-end expenditures in energy, transportation, and other infrastructure.”

Turner said the costs would “harm quality of life for all Vermonters” and create a stiff financial burden.

The Vermont Energy Partnership, of which Entergy, the owner of Vermont Yankee, is a member, also issued a press release, saying Vermont Yankee is an “ideal option” for helping power the growing number of electric vehicles, in conjunction with wind and solar energy.

For his part, McKibben minced no words in his talk, painting the climate change as a threat to the state Vermonters know today. “This is an emergency,” McKibben said in his speech. The world today is “not as sweet as the world we were born into. Our iconic Vermont of long winters and glorious falls will be badly, badly stressed. But it’s no use crying about it.”

He ended by saying, “I have confidence that if any political body is up to the challenge, it is this one.”

McKibben testifies to House panel

After his speech to the House, McKibben testified before the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development.

Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal, chair of the committee, opened that meeting by asking, “Our real interest as I see it is we are going to be here in the future. We are a determined people. But our actions … are going to be fundamentally different. … How can Vermont be best positioned in the commerce world to make our living off an inevitability?”

McKibben responded that Vermont should continue to attract innovators, lead the transition to renewable energy, and continue to lead the local food movement. “We have lots and lots of natural advantage to play with.”

Rep. Sam Young, D-Glover, whose district is between two major wind projects in the state, asked McKibben how he viewed the balance between renewable energy and the environmental costs of, for example, mining rare earth metals to build wind towers. McKibben said that unfortunately, we have to do environmental triage. “We’re in a world that’s about to go over the cliff.”

“My guess is that [opposition to wind power] will fade fairly fast.” In fact, McKibben guessed that wind towers in Vermont will one day become a tourist attraction. “That’s what’s happened in a lot of other places.”

Rep. Bob Bouchard, R-Colchester, asked whether McKibben supported nuclear power as a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

McKibben said he’s not opposed to nuclear power, but he thinks Vermont Yankee is “badly run” and that adding more nuclear power plants would be too expensive for Vermont to easily take on.

McKibben said hydro power is also an option, though federal and state regulations can inhibit the building of dams.

“We are using energy in such quantities that we have to do everything we can to catch up with the curve of physics here.” He said we’ll need luck on our side, even if we do everything right. As for changes, he said we have to “figure out how to do them quickly, but as a community.”

Botzow asked what young entrepreneurs are doing that gives McKibben hope. McKibben responded that they have an “almost intuitive, innate sense of connectedness among people that comes from growing up in an Internet age.”

This sense of connectedness makes it easier to get things done that reach beyond one city or state, in his view. In fact, McKibben believes Vermont’s small size is a strength in the Internet age because it’s more nimble and has a stronger sense of community than larger states. “I think it’s the most exciting state in the union.”

Audrey Clark

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30 Comments on "Climate activist McKibben urges action, warns lawmakers of threats to Vermont way of life"

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Stephanie Kaplan
3 years 3 months ago

If McKibben paid any attention to the reality of what happens to the mountains and to wildlife during and after construction of his beloved wind turbines, he could not spew such stupidity. He obviously feels no “connectedness” to nature whatsoever. The only thing he feels connected to is his own ego.

krister adams
3 years 3 months ago

Ms. Kaplan: Calm down. Mr. McKibben pay’s more attention to such issues than most Americans. He astutely observes that our Vermont beauty faces much more of a threat from Climate Change than wind towers. If we don’t incorporate sensible RE, such as wind power, into our energy portfolio, we may just kiss tress, birds and clean lakes goodbye.

3 years 3 months ago

Speaker Shap Smith has given a huge public platform to Bill McKibben to express his point of view for all to hear. Now, will the Speaker provide that same platform to an a qualified individual on the other side of the issue to speak?

Justin Boland
3 years 3 months ago

Winds towers as tourist attraction. Sounds a lot like the melody to “They will greet us as liberators…”

3 years 3 months ago
Vermont an RE leader? Vermont should reduce emissions from buildings by having a strictly-enforced ZERO-ENERGY BUILDING code for residences and other buildings. Such buildings would have grid-connected PV solar systems on their roofs or nearby. Doing energy efficiency first and renewables later is the most economical way to go; especially important when funds are scarce. Governments providing huge subsidies for renewables BEFORE doing a great deal more in energy efficiency may be politically expedient, but it is costly and unwise; akin to putting the cart BEFORE the horse.  It would be much wiser, and more economical, to shift subsidies away… Read more »
krister adams
3 years 3 months ago

who’s going to pay for all thuis net-zero building stuff?

3 years 3 months ago

Krister,
I paid for my house, which is not zero-energy, but with a PV solar system it would be pretty close.

All it took was a lot of R-40 insulating and sealing at very little additional cost. People are amazed little we use for heating. It helps if one is an energy systems engineer.
http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/46652/reducing-energy-use-houses

Nicole Bourassa
3 years 3 months ago

Hi Stephanie: I believe McKibben is saying that climate change is going to have a whole lot more impact on our mountains and wildlife than turbines. He states: “I am glad there are people standing up for our mountains,” he said, but “by far the greatest threat to their integrity, biology, and beauty is climate change.”

Have you read any of his work? You would know that he uses facts and research to make his claims, not his ego.

Randy Koch
3 years 3 months ago

This argument pretty much misses the point.

Let’s say hypothetically that climate change will in fact have a bigger effect on ridgelines and wildlife than industrial wind. So what? You still have to prove that sacrificing ridgelines and wildlife to industrial wind will somehow prevent climate change. This is exactly where the two sides disagree.

Hysteria doesn’t cut it: it IS arrogant for the Bill McKibbenses and the Paul Burnses to assert the right to destroy.

Nicole Bourassa
3 years 3 months ago

Hi Stephanie. I believe McKibben is saying that climate change is going to have a much greater (devastating) impact on our mountains and wildlife than turbines. He states: “I am glad there are people standing up for our mountains,” he said, but “by far the greatest threat to their integrity, biology, and beauty is climate change.”
Have you read any of his work? You would know then that he uses facts and research to make his claims, not his ego.

3 years 3 months ago

Vermont is a poor state. Reducing CO2 emissions by Vermont should be done at the lowest possible cost per ton. IWTs on ridge lines is a very expensive way to reduce CO2 emissions.

Vermont’s efforts will be totally useless unless China, India, Brazil, etc., stop increasing THEIR CO2.

In 2012, China’s CO2 emission INCREASE was 400 million metric ton, equal to 50 times Vermont’s total.

Stan Shapiro
3 years 3 months ago

Watch ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’. McKibben is analagous to Colonel Nicholson.The reason to have the moratorium is that we simply have no way of calculating the benefit of reducing CO2 emissions vs the cost of destroying mountain habitat.Wind developers are only about the money.They are not about saving our mountains.McKibben is wrong if he thinks this fight will fade away.On the contrary he underestimates how violated people feel by their incursion.The vast majority of effected towns have overwhelmingly voted against thes projects.

Sally Shaw
3 years 3 months ago
I agree with most of Bill McKibben’s views, but his stance on nuclear is out of line with his carbon concerns. Nuclear is a carbon and capital intensive industry from cradle to grave. Mining, milling, enrichment, fuel rod fabrication, construction (costs in the $billions per reactor), transportation, decommissioning, dry cast fabrication and long-term and temporary storage, diesel and grid back-up power are all coal and oil-powered processes. Uranium mining leaves 98% of the mined material behind in huge radioactive slag heaps that contaminate the indigenous communities where the mines are located. Enrichment accounts for 90% of the CFCs emitted in… Read more »
3 years 3 months ago
Sally, The NREL-envisioned IWT build-out aims to achieve 20% wind energy by 2052, and assuming a 20-year life, almost all of the existing 52,000 MW of IWTs would need to be replaced during 2012 – 2032, if economically/technically viable, plus the new IWTs built during 2012 – 2032 would need to be replaced during 2032 – 2052, etc. Assuming a life of 20 years, onshore capacity factor of 0.30 and offshore of 0.38, energy production growth at 0.9%/yr (electric vehicles), a spreadsheet-based analysis shows, it would take about 425,000 MW of IWTs, onshore and offshore, to provide about 1,170 TWh… Read more »
John Greenberg
3 years 3 months ago
Willem Post writes: “Unless other developed and developing nations, i.e., China, India, Brazil, etc., handicap themselves in the same manner (which appears unlikely, based on the outcome of COP-18 in Dohu, Qatar, in 2012), the US, with huge trade and budget deficits, would be at an even greater economic disadvantage than at present.” That will come as news to China, whose investment in wind is greater than ours, as well as to the other nations he mentions as well. In fact, wind production is increasing at double digit rates around the world. Statistical worldwide information is available here: http://www.wwindea.org/webimages/Half-year_report_2012.pdf. Here… Read more »
3 years 3 months ago
John, You are looking at wind energy sites that tout capacity, not production. Putting up heavily-subsidized IWTs, MW, is one thing, getting production, MWh, out of them is something else, as GMP and Sheffield is beginning to find out. Concentrate on PRODUCTION, it is sooo much smarter and revealing. It takes more work to get to that data. By now, everyone knows how the NEK grid can’t use the expensive variable, intermittent junk energy from Lowell mountain without a $10.5 million synchronous-condenser, and, according to David Hallquist, that will solve only part of the NEK grid problems. Check the national… Read more »
John Greenberg
3 years 3 months ago

My point had nothing whatever to do with either production or capacity.

I was responding to YOUR argument that building wind turbines would handicap the US economy vis-a-vis the countries you named. I pointed out that these countries are investing in wind just like we are, and in China’s case, far more so.

3 years 3 months ago
We know that Mr. Mckibben is very concerned with greenhouse gases to a point that he wants to put Exxon, other fossil fuel producers and greenhouse emitters out of business. But, when addressing the Legislature, did Mr. McKibbon mention anything about the proposed Springfield, VT bio-mass plant which is expected to burn about 420,000 tons of wood chips each year and at the same time spew out tons of CO2 and other noxious gases? If not, why not? How many acres of Vermont trees will have to be cut each year to feed this monster? How many tons of CO2… Read more »
Charles McKenna
3 years 3 months ago
Bill McKibben did a masterful job of describing the challenges we face in combating climate change. His presentation was backed by science and rational thought. Our greatest environmental challenge today is climate change, caused primarily by carbon dioxide emissions. And although it’s a global issue, corrective action must be taken locally. And Vermont is in the process of doing just that. Vermont pumps approximately 8 million metric tons of green house gas into its atmosphere every year. So to do its part in fighting climate change, Vermont must displace its fossil fueled energy with greater efficiency and carbon free energy… Read more »
3 years 3 months ago

Charles,

Delay is not a rarional option, but putting IWTs on ridge lines is irrational, because there are so many less costly ways to reduce CO2 emissions that should be done first.

Vermont is a poor state. Reducing CO2 emissions by Vermont should be done at the lowest possible cost per ton. IWTs on ridge lines is a very expensive way to reduce CO2 emissions.

Vermont’s efforts will be totally useless unless China, India, Brazil, etc., stop increasing THEIR CO2.

In 2012, China’s CO2 emission INCREASE was 400 million metric ton, equal to 50 times Vermont’s total.

Walter Dodd
3 years 3 months ago
Yesterday I listened to Bill McKibben’s address to the Vermont House of Representatives. This morning I read this article The article was accurate and well written with a single glaring omission. The article never even mentioned the following quite from Bill McKibben’s speech: “We have to make sure the steps we take will actually help-the carbon numbers, say, for industrial biomass don’t look very promising. But there are literally dozens of other things we could be doing.” To many of us in North Springfield this may be the most significant sentence of the speech. That is because an industrial biomass… Read more »
Josh Fitzhugh
3 years 3 months ago

I am constantly amazed, as I read posts and comments like these, how Anne and VT Digger have created a vehicle for such robust debate amongst people of strong minds and opinions. If debate leads to truth, and the truth “can set us free,” then surely Vermont with VT Digger’s help will be one of the freest states in the union!!

Chuck Kletecka
3 years 3 months ago
Opponents of large wind projects never mention what the value of that low carbon power might be in the future. On the national and global scale (where the action is) the only practical tool for reducing CO2 emissions is a serious carbon tax. Can you imagine the demand for, and value of, the power these projects will be producing 10 or 20 years from now if we get our act together? Certainly that’s the future I’m banking on. A moratorium of even a few years further delays building the capacity we are going to need for the long haul. We… Read more »
3 years 3 months ago
Chuck, There are many things done wrong due to “carbon addiction”. One must not forget, cars, etc., contain a lot of plastic made from carbon. The Boeing-787 is about 50% carbon fiber. It is not just energy production. IWTs on ridge lines in New England are not economically viable, because wind speeds are not high enough, and the QUALITY of the wind is poor (compared to flat sites, such as the Great Plains and offshore), meaning the wind comes from various directions and speeds at the rotor, which means the rotor cannot be as efficient as stated in Vendor brochures,… Read more »
Charles McKenna
3 years 3 months ago

Walter,
I’m in agreement with you re Bill McKibben’s statement on biofuels and yours on burning wood. Right on!

Kevin Jones
3 years 3 months ago
I strongly agree with Bill that we need to act now to confront the challenge of climate change. I agree with both Bill and legislative leaders that we should move forward to improve the thermal efficiency of Vermont’s buildings. I could not agree more with the comment attributed to Bill that” we have to make sure that the steps we will take will actually help…” Unfortunately there is a big disconnect between Bill McKibben’s identification of the problems and his solutions under Vermont law. I am not sure if he has ever read the state statute implementing the Vermont SPEED… Read more »
S Costello
3 years 3 months ago
Does anyone take into consideration that the big yellow object in the sky plays a part in climate change? I think that there is a lot of hysteria and hypocrisy when we discuss the human impact on global climate. I do believe in being environmental aware when it comes to our actions. Has anyone noticed the white unmarked planes flying in the sky spewing “contrails”? Really, please look up on a clear blue morning. Watch these planes and what is happening after they fly over. They MAKE clouds. Let’s forget the fact that this DOES change our weather. Let’s think… Read more »
3 years 3 months ago
Kevin, Offering 27 c/kWh for 25 years to out of staters with LLCs who put up 2.2 MW of PV solar panels at a cost of about $10 million is a travesty. Payment to out of staters = 2200 x 8760 x 0.14 = $5,203,440 per YEAR. This is money that goes out of state. And then this expensive energy is rolled into the rate schedules of Vermont households and businesses. All this under the SPEED program. Who dreams up such stupidities? I just cannot believe Montpelier folks could act so much against the economic interests of Vermonters. In addition… Read more »
3 years 3 months ago

Kevin,

Correction.

The above equation should be 2200 x 8760 x 0.14 x 0.27 = $728,482/yr for 25 years

In addition, the out of staters also get 30% of the $10 million as a subsidy gift from the federal government, plus a subsidy gift from the state of Vermont, and they can write of the entire investment in about 5 years, which saves them state and federal taxes.

Craig Davids
3 years 3 months ago

This is encouraging. Thanks for your hard work Bill McKibben.

http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/renewables-now-cheaper-than-coal-and-gas-in-australia-62268

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