Foster: It’s time for “carpe greenum”

Editor’s note: Charlotte resident Rebecca Foster is a member of the town’s energy committee and writes this column, Carpe Greenum, for The Citizen, a weekly newspaper for Charlotte and Hinesburg. The views expressed are her own.

The Latin expression “carpe diem” exhorts us to live in the present rather than dwell on the past or fantasize about the future. Coined by Horace in the year 23 BC, for some people the phrase takes on existential significance: We cannot know if there will even be a future and thus the only purpose of life is to live in the present. Carpe diem has been used by everyone from bohemian dropouts to high-rolling speculators to justify their desires du jour rather than worry about the future. In tattooing circles, carpe diem is extremely popular, demonstrating that impetuous decisions can — oops !— have lasting consequences.

“Carpe greenum,” an update of the aphorism, means living green in the present to secure a green future. At least that is what it means to me, and an exhaustive Google search that took .19 seconds proves definitively and for all time that carpe greenum is an original expression. You heard it here first. The future may be a hazy green, but if there is to be a future at all, we are creating it in the present, and at the rate we are going, climate change is a major component of that future haze. Unless, of course, we carpe greenum.

Commuting by bamboo bike, for example, is the quintessential individual act of carpe greenum: zero waste, zero emission, and endless endorphins. A global carpe greenum would be for everyone to use zero-greenhouse-gas-emitting energy.


This monthly column will explore ways individuals and communities — large and small — may carpe greenum. Commuting by bamboo bike, for example, is the quintessential individual act of carpe greenum: zero waste, zero emission, and endless endorphins. A global carpe greenum would be for everyone to use zero-greenhouse-gas-emitting energy.

The annual mid-July SolarFest in Tinmouth, billed as “the Northeast’s premier sustainable living and arts festival,” lays out many ways to get to a zero-emission future, including powering the festival itself entirely on renewable energy. This year, dozens of exhibitors described various iterations of solar power, for instance, how to heat with an outdoor wood furnace, or how to recover heat from wastewater. Workshops running back-to-back taught festival-goers how to size an off-grid solar system, weatherize a house, or transform their soil through composting, while kids got to build electronics with play dough. It was a dizzying array of opportunities to learn, with a backdrop of live music and good food.

The workshop titled “False Solutions to the Climate Crisis” presented at the outdoor climate camp set up by 350Vermont, caught my eye. A false solution is one that appears to get us to a post-fossil fuel world, when in fact its ecological or social problems outweigh its benefits. Such is the case, presenter Sara Mehalick said, of the pipeline carrying fracked gas from Alberta, Canada, that Vermont Gas Systems wishes to extend through Chittenden and Addison counties and then under the lake to International Paper (IP) in Ticonderoga, N.Y.

The project strikes me as a carpe diem of the regrettable tattoo variety.

The science is starting to leak out to the public that the methane from natural gas released at drilling wells and from leaks along the pipeline routes negates any advantage of the relatively cleaner burn of natural gas. Some say it makes natural gas worse than coal. We know we need to cut back on greenhouse gases, and yet we keep building infrastructure that locks us into decades of more fossil fuel use.

Consequences be damned. Carpe diem!

The price of natural gas is reportedly unsustainably low at the moment, meaning anyone who converts to natural gas will be subject to price volatility in the future. But a multinational corporation can hook you up and earn profits for itself in the present. Carpe diem!

What would it look like to carpe greenum this situation? 1) The $66.6 million that the Canadian company (that calls itself Vermont Gas Systems) has already taken from ratepayers and earmarked for this pipeline project, which will serve at most 3,000 households, could be used instead to weatherize all of the 14,000 households in Addison County. Weatherizing would create 800 Vermont jobs. (The pipeline promises Vermont only 20 jobs.) 2) Vermont could extend its ban against hydrofracking to include the increased use and transport of fracked gas so that Vermont is not a party to the suffering in other communities of the ecological devastation that comes with fracking.

More jobs, more permanent warmth in the winter, no methane leaks accelerating global warming, no danger of explosions from high volume transmission lines, and no complicit support of fracking — that is living green to secure a green future. On top of which it disentangles Vermont from the $70 million deal between the Canadian and New York corporations to channel fully 70 percent of the fuel directly to IP. Instead of using Vermont as a transmission line, perhaps IP could research and develop a cellulosic biofuel from their waste products to power their operation — that would be a real carpe greenum!

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  • Narrowing the gap between the rhetoric and the reality is key. We can no longer be satisfied with green stories. The reality must be green when viewed across the full life cycle.

    We need to change our ways and values.

    1. Using less is essential.Energy conservation trumps the addition of renewables to the energy matrix.
    3. Reducing population is key.
    4. We need to differentiate between addition and substitution (i.e. substitution requires ‘carbon icing’
    5. Having a plan is essential.
    6. Using only our fair share and supporting global redistribution of wealth is critical too.

    At the end of the day we must take a hard look at the market economy (i.e. the global capital gain economy) and make significant changes so that social and ecological costs are much more fully accounted for.

    And we must support the growth of concurrent alternative local economies that take care of the people and nature. No small task. Perhaps it is an impossible one.

    An atmospheric carbon storage fee based on per capita consumption might be a very good place to start in leveling the playing field. Anything less is likely more greenwash than green.

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