Vermont should lead on climate change adaptation plans, lawmakers and business people say

Sen. Virginia "Ginny" Lyons, D-Chittenden, made the opening remarks at Wednesday’s news conference at the Ben and Jerry’s corporate headquarters in South Burlington to call for state action on climate change. Behind her is Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger
Sen. Virginia “Ginny” Lyons, D-Chittenden, made the opening remarks at Wednesday’s news conference at the Ben & Jerry’s corporate headquarters in South Burlington to call for state action on climate change. Behind her is Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

SOUTH BURLINGTON — Business leaders and elected officials gathered outside Ben & Jerry’s corporate offices to call for a policy-driven charge to combat climate change, a task they say is vital to preserving the character of Vermont.

At Wednesday’s news conference, business leaders said climate change is altering the landscape of the state and striking at the heart of Vermont’s brand and quality of life.

Sen. Virginia “Ginny” Lyons, D-Chittenden, says the state should set a national example to adapt to what she is calling Vermont’s No. 1 economic peril.

Climate change has and will affect health care costs due to increased occurrences in new diseases such as asthma and Lyme disease, the maple, agricultural and ski industry due to erratic weather patterns, and road damages due to flooding that threatens tourism, Lyons said.

“We will no longer be Vermont,” she said. “Without action, we face a slow, lingering death to our way of life in Vermont.”

Vermont must be the first state to lead a national offense on climate change, setting an example for the rest of the country, said George Twigg, director of public affairs for the Vermont Energy Investment Corp.

Twigg said Vermont has made gains on reducing energy costs, referring to Efficiency Vermont, a nonprofit organization operated by VEIC that is designed to help reduce the energy costs.

The heating and transportation sectors are the two largest contributors to the state’s carbon footprint, he said.

“If Vermont can be a leader in those sectors, the way that we have been in the electricity sector, that can show the way for the rest of the nation,” Twigg said.

The state has some policies in place that were designed to combat climate change, Lyons said. This includes diversifying energy sources by using thermal, wind and solar, divesting from carbon fuels, a net metering policy that compels utilities to credit customers for the renewable power they produce themselves, biomass management, and forestry guidelines, for example.

In 2012, the Legislature passed Act 113, which called for the establishment of a “Genuine Progress Indicator” (GPI). The GPI looks at 25 factors, ranging from personal consumption to air pollution.

The Legislature also established the Clean Energy Development Fund in 2005, Act 74, which is designed to increase the development of environmentally friendly energy.

In May 2011, Gov. Peter Shumlin established a Climate Cabinet. One recent task of this cabinet was to help the Department of Public Service develop a Comprehensive Energy Plan. The plan’s overview states that Vermont’s energy consumption should be 90 percent renewable by 2050.

While the state is making gains on addressing energy consumption, some business leaders from Vermont’s iconic industries, agriculture and maple syrup, said climate change is already forcing them to adapt.

Sen. David Zuckerman, D/P-Chittenden, told how climate change is affecting his farm, Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger
Sen. David Zuckerman, D/P-Chittenden, told how climate change is affecting his farm, Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Sen. David Zuckerman, D/P-Chittenden, owner of Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg, said the recent increase in extreme weather patterns, including drought, flooding and damaging winds, have introduced new pests to kill crops.

For example, spotted wing drosophila, drosophila suzukii, affects small-fruit and tree-fruit crops; swede midge, contarinia nasturtii, is a new pest that affects cold crop families, such as broccoli, Zuckerman said.

In some instances, the only way to adapt is to stop growing, he said. His farm does not grow heirloom tomatoes anymore because late blight threatens their harvest.

“These impacts are real,” he said. “That’s why as policy makers and business leaders, we’re all standing together to say we need to start implementing policies and as individuals we need to start changing our habits so that we can slow this change down and eventually, hopefully, back it off.”

Matt Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association, said the industry is faced with shorter, erratic winter seasons, affecting the hundreds of Vermont families who depend on the product for their livelihoods.

The sugaring season is now three to four days, or 10 percent, shorter on average, Gordon said. In 2012, the warm spell in March cut expected maple sugar production in half.

“We can’t plant a different type of maple tree for next year. We have to rely on the trees we have had for generations,” he said. “Vermont maple syrup, that’s something that can’t be grown anywhere else.”

But new technology in the industry is adapting to the reality of changing weather patters. For example, many sugar producers use tubing to collect sap instead of buckets so they can collect sap throughout the season’s irregular weather conditions.

In 2011, Vermont broke two heat records, 28 rainfall records and 10 snowfall records while experiencing extreme flooding and hurricanes that cost the state millions of dollars, a news release stated.

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  • Annette Smith

    And so they are proposing doing….???

    • krister adams

      Do not think “they”, think “I”.

  • Virginia Lyons,

    Vermont cannot “combat” GLOBAL climate change, because Vermont is just a very miniscule part of the problem. Developing nations will use more and more energy and emit more and more CO2, which will more than offset any reductions in CO2 by the US and Europe.

    Vermont must ADAPT to climate change by:

    – moving from flood plains and other vulnerable areas, and

    – increasing the size of drainage ditches and culverts, and

    – building runoff retention basins, and

    – having a building code that requires housing with R-20 basements, R-40 walls, R-60 roofs, very low air infiltration, similar to Passivhaus standards.

    Vermont could really be a leader in this area, as about 70 to 80% of its housing stock is too decrepit for proper upgrading. Such Passivhaus-style housing:

    – uses about 80 to 90% less energy than standard housing,
    – has minimal heating, cooling and electrical requirements.

    NOTE: Plug-in electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are only marginally more effective than high mileage vehicles regarding CO2 emission reduction, but such vehicles have a much greater cost/metric ton of CO2 reduction than high mileage vehicles.

    Building out RE in Vermont, a la Lowell Mountain, will just make matters worse, wasting vast amounts of resources, cause enormous environmental damage, significant social discord and lowering of property values of nearby residents.

    Scarce resources should be used for adapting to changing conditions over which Vermont has NO control.

    • Coleman Dunnar

      As always Willem well presented:
      As a sailor I learned there is nothing I can do about the wind except adjust the sails.
      History is replete with examples of civilizations which vanished for failure to adopt to changing conditions and circumstances. How much longer are we going to allocate our capital for the enrichment of a few in the course of pursuing polices producing non-detectable results on the global scale?
      Adopt and overcome.

      • Coleman,

        I know about wind as well, as I raced various sailboat on Long Island Sound for 3 decades. Wind direction and speed are NEVER constant.

        One would think Democrats would be more society-improvement oriented, but they are just as greedy-grabbing as others. Show some subsidies and it is off to the races.

    • krister adams

      Mr. Post: So because VT is, I agree, “miniscule” we should do no proactive work but instead should be reactive and entirely adaptive?

      • Kristen,

        – Increased energy efficiency
        – High-efficiency housing, lighting and appliances
        – More compact urban areas to enable walking; bicycling and battery-assisted bicycling; tricycling and battery-assisted tricycling
        – Workplaces close to living areas
        – Extensive recycling

        are the most-effective, least-cost, pro-active measures to reduce energy, reduce CO2 and consumption of OTHER resources.

        Placing noise-making, environmentally-destructive, property-value-lowering, 459-ft high wind turbines, with 373-ft diameter rotors, on 2500-ft high ridge lines that produce variable, intermittent energy, i.e., junk energy, at more than 3 times NE grid prices, is definitely NOT the way forward for Vermont.

  • Patricia Crocker

    Few people (including those who do not agree that humans are responsible for climate change) are against making our earth and our own little neck of the woods a cleaner, healthier place to live. I would further argue that it is important that the cause of promoting a clean environment not be discredited by linking it with a theory that many consider junk science. Man-made global warming theory is becoming less popular in the minds of the general public as more facts get out, including the way that data was manipulated to support the agenda, even though the facts were contrary to it.

    Not even major countries are supporting this theory. As a matter of fact recently France, Russia, Japan and Canada told the G8 they would not join a second round of carbon cuts under the Kyoto Protocol at United Nations talks this year and the US reiterated it would remain outside the treaty. In addition, there was the “climate-gate” scandal where the top UN guy Phil Jones was prominently featured in a display of fraud by trying to get people to delete emails showing their efforts to block other scientists from publishing papers in journals. Michael Mann (“the Hockey stick scientist”) was told by Phil Jones to send emails to other climate scientists to delete information being requested in a freedom of information request.

    The other things the climategate emails showed was that between themselves the UN climate scientists were concerned because the Earth HAS NOT been warming as they projected. And Ken Trenbert actually says that it is a tragedy that the earth is not currently warming (He Sooo wants the Earth to be warming).

    Every debate open to the public between global warming alarmists and climate sceptics has been won by the sceptics!

    Scientists supporting human-caused global warming theories now have been reluctant to debate and, in fact, have been told not to debate:

    Do you really want to see the legitimate cause of working for a clean environment go down with the global warming hoax?

    Global warming advocates state that “most scientists support human caused global warming”. However, in the search for truth, we do not take a poll of scientists to determine the truth or falsehood of such questions. The validity of an argument stands on its own merit. In the study of formal logic, there is a fallacy called “Argument from Authority”. In other words, a proposition is put forth simply on the basis of the authority of the person making that argument. This is a formal fallacy of logic and has no place in the science field. Recall that Gallileo was in the minority and went against his colleauges and peers when championing the theory of Copernicanism that placed the Sun at the center of the universe.

    Global warming advocates tell us to do a number of things to reduce our carbon footprint. Did anyone ask the critical question what will be the resulting change in the global mean surface temperature of the Earth? What will be the effect if all people followed their instructions? I can tell you the answer with certainty, the effect on the Earth’s temperature will be ZERO. Let me say that again,the effect on the Earth’s temperature will be ZERO. We should not be told to do something or pay money for things that have no scientific basis and resemble more of a religious act of doing penance to the GIA. As I said before, our energies should be directed towards action that truly has a positive effect. I believe that the money and energy currently being directed at reducing CO2 would be best spent fighting legitimate environmental and human concerns.

  • Matt Fisken

    It’s a known fact that radio frequency energy can change the weather. Since the Telecom act of 1996, the build out of wireless telecommunications has sky rocketed with hundreds of thousands of towers scattered around the country. Since then, we’ve experienced the warmest years on record. Throw in a little HAARP, some dual-pole radar, more powerful digital TV and radio antennas and presto! You’ve got nearly instant weather modification.

    Not to mention all the physical disruption taking place at upper elevations to install these facilities. Most facilities are not as bad as Lowell Mt, but having the tops of our mountains shorn and accessed by all-season roads is a another reason we’re seeing all this flooding, but you’ll never hear a peep from the media. No radio or TV station would ever consider that their infrastructure might be having a DIRECT impact on the temperature, the amount of rainfall, or the astonishing speed with which all that water ends up in our river valleys and lakes.

  • James Maroney

    Agriculture is the second largest industrial contributor to global, greenhouse gases (GHGs), ahead of the entire transportation sector and behind only heat generation. The raising of plants and animals for food and fiber is, of course, an essential, human activity. But because agriculture significantly impacts Vermont’s land, air and water, agriculture’s use of natural resources deserves our highest scrutiny.

    Conventional, i.e., chemical and energy intensive agriculture was introduced after WWII with the goal of increasing farm yields and lowering costs. From that narrow perspective, the paradigm has succeeded. But while American farm yields have increased three fold and costs fallen in proportion, the paradigm is not benign and its many collateral consequences are almost all infelicitous.

    The U.S. food system contributes about 20% of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions. If one were to include the manufacture and use of pesticides and fertilizers, fuel and oil for tractors, equipment, trucking and shipping, electricity for lighting, cooling, and heating, and emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other green house gases, the impact from agriculture rises to between 25 and 30 percent of the U.S.’s collective carbon footprint. Supporting conventional agriculture perpetuates these disturbing numbers.

    The major contributor of GHGs is nitrous oxide (N2O) from agriculture, which accounts for 84% of global N2O emissions. All agriculture depends upon the presence of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the soil, which, when insufficient, must be replenished. The formation and release of N20 is largely a consequence of the application of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer to cropland. Typically, crops absorb only 50% of applied nitrogen fertilizer, a significant portion of which volatizes in the form of N2O. It is estimated that nitrogen fertilizer accounts for one-third of the GHGs produced by agriculture.

    • James,

      The CO2 equivalent of the agriculture-industrial complex is just the tip of the iceberg.

      What about people actually EATING, DRINKING the foods and liquids produced by the “complex”.

      What about the poor-quality food fed to animals whose meat we eat?

      What about approx. 20% of the US GDP going into healthcare-industrial complex and STILL having epidemic diabetics and obesity?

      Vermont should become the “Community Garden State”. It would be much better for Vermonters than being the Maple Syrup State, the Ski Resort State, the Water Park State.

    • krister adams

      Good thing we only have 200 or so productive farms left in VT, huh?

  • Greg Lapworth

    Good grief! Most of the above comments make sense and are based on facts. I didn’t know Vermont still had people who thought for themselves. Makes one feel “all is not lost”.
    But the article says sugaring production is down? Thought it was a “banner” year?! Wind and solar have made a big difference? Huh, 1/2 of one per cent of electric comes from solar. Had to shut down many wind powered generators due to grid overload. Seems like there might be a lot of BS not on farms.

    • krister adams

      Way to be helpful!

  • Frank Seawright

    From: Science 2 August 2013:
    Vol. 341 no. 6145 pp. 486-492
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1237123

    Terrestrial ecosystems have encountered substantial warming over the past century, with temperatures increasing about twice as rapidly over land as over the oceans. Here, we review the likelihood of continued changes in terrestrial climate, including analyses of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project global climate model ensemble. Inertia toward continued emissions creates potential 21st-century global warming that is comparable in magnitude to that of the largest global changes in the past 65 million years but is orders of magnitude more rapid. The rate of warming implies a velocity of climate change and required range shifts of up to several kilometers per year, raising the prospect of daunting challenges for ecosystems, especially in the context of extensive land use and degradation, changes in frequency and severity of extreme events, and interactions with other stresses.

    Things are happening very fast and we need to be clear about what helps and what hurts. Digging off our ridgelines for questionable wind turbine installations will exacerbate erosion from the predicted increased frequency of heavy downpours.

    • Frank,

      Please read my above comment.

      Vermont can do NOTHING regarding GLOBAL warming. Vermont’s ONLY approach should be ADAPTATION.

      That in itself would reduce CO2 at a much lower cost than the subsidized build-outs of wind turbines on ridge lines and solar parks in meadows and on roofs.

      It is not just the world population increase that is doing it to the world, it is the GWP/capita and the increased energy consumption per capita.

      In 1800, the Gross World Product, GWP, was $175.24 billion; population 1.0 billion. 
      In 2012, the GWP was $71,830 billion, 407 times greater; population 7.0 billion.

      GWP/capita in 2012 = 407/7 = 58 times greater than in 1800. 

      In 1800, world per capita energy consumption was 20 GJ.
      In 2010, 80 GJ

      With 4 times the energy use per capita, 58 times the GWP/capita is achieved, i.e., energy/capita is used about 14.5 times* more effectively than in 1800.

      GWP multiplier from 1800 to 2010 = 4 x 7 x 14.5 = 407; an indication of environmental impact. 

      * steam engines were 3% efficient, modern CCGTs are 60% efficient; Dutch wind mills were 2-4% efficient, modern wind turbines are at about half of the theoretical maximum of Betz’s Law of 59%; wood/peat OPEN fireplaces of 1800 had negative efficiency. Lay people usually do not get that point, as they know little about the efficiency of engineered systems.

      Because of the present effective use of energy, much more goods and services can be produced for consumption and more damage is done to the environment that debilitates the fauna and flora.

      It is a fantasy to think RE build-outs by mostly developed nations will reverse this situation, because underdeveloped nations continue to increase their use of fossil fuels, i.e., GW is a given for as long as fossil fuels are available.
      EIA World Energy Projections 2013

  • Vanessa Mills

    Patricia writes: “I believe that the money and energy currently being directed at reducing CO2 would be best spent fighting legitimate environmental and human concerns.”
    I gotta agree there, with that particular statement. I might add that best-spent fights against legitimate environmental and human concerns
    would consequentially reduce man-made atmospheric co2 emissions. (Think current global agronomics and a complete overhaul- – meaning, a total shift toward local control and local distribution and local security with regards to energy/food/water.) THAT’S where we will see true differences made, if we indeed shift. If we are willing and proactive. I beleive we are able. But the shift happens when the numbers/masses are willing. Where there is a will, there is a way.

    I don’t think, though, that’s what Lyons is truly promoting if she’s still on the Big Wind bandwagon. Small-scale is Vermont’s strength. Keep it. Protect it. Make it our key to our solutions!

  • John Greenberg

    Vanessa Mills agrees with Patricia Crocker that “the money and energy currently being directed at reducing CO2 would be best spent fighting legitimate environmental and human concerns.”

    Since both Mills and Crocker oppose the development of wind turbines in Vermont, I’d ask that they address this question: what energy sources SHOULD we be using in Vermont, and what “legitimate” environment and human concerns” do wind turbines raise that these sources don’t?

    • John Greenberg

      Vanessa Mills:

      Thank you for the stirring response, with which I very largely agree, but unfortunately it doesn’t answer my question. Small steps or large, we all continue to use energy. Every source of energy, however wisely used, entails, in your words “legitimate environmental and human concerns.”

      Even if you’re carpooling, you’re still driving and using energy. Where will it come from? What form(s) of energy are you recommending for those local farmers to use to grow food? Your recommendations are excellent — I follow most of them in my own life – but they do not eliminate the need for energy and therefore do not remove the problem that spurred my inquiry.

      So my question(s) remain(s). If we’re ruling out wind turbines, what sources of energy would YOU recommend that we use, and what environmental and human concerns does each of them raise, whether or not you include CO2 reduction as a legitimate concern? Why are the energy sources you’re choosing superior to wind turbines in your estimation?

      • Vanessa/John,

        Placing noise-making, health-damaging, environmentally-destructive, property-value-lowering, 459-ft high wind turbines, with 373-ft diameter rotors, on 2500-ft high ridge lines that produce variable, intermittent energy, i.e., junk energy, at about 15 c/kWh (heavily-subsidized), about 3 times NE grid prices, is definitely NOT the way forward for Vermont.

        I would use as much STEADY, CLEAN, CO2-free, Hydro Quebec energy as possible at about 6 c/kWh. The environmental damage has already been done!!. About 6000 MW of iHQ capacity is unused.

        That would be the rational approach. not the heavily-subsidized, crony-capitalist approach.

        See my above comment to Vanessa.

        • Gregory Lapworth

          Excellent comment..part of the solution, thank you.

  • Vanessa Mills

    Glad you asked, Mr. Greenberg. I’m assuming we are also referring to the CO2 emissions issue here, with regard to energy solutions. I’m saying we should reach for the ‘low-hanging fruit’ FIRST and see what a proactive and exciting difference this makes, right off the bat! I’m offering that we can try new things and can, with small, personal,and positive steps, shift how we go about our lives. We can agree, I think, that we see weather and climate issues as obvious. If these are manmade or otherwise doesn’t change the fact that we can decide what side of the solutions scale upon which to to sit. We are going to need to be resilient is we mitigate further damage and further costs to the balance of ALL life as much as we can. And I am hopeful.

    If we all accept the challenge to cut use just a bit/change how we consume ANY given resource/reduce, we WILL make a difference. If we believe that we each of us CAN make a difference, we will. But fortifying the status quo will not a difference make. I am suggesting that if we move from the ‘entitled American’ viewpoint that exploded with Ronald Reagan at the helm, and strive for some deeper personal, homemade satisfaction, i see good things coming.
    I think $$ is needed to help folks. But with large corporations seeing the need to drive consumerism,and other moneysinks (that of the peoples’ money!) in order to profit, they should be checked. They should need to give back. The bulk of the wealth is held by a few. Let’s ask corporations to stop gobbling subsidies and steer these dollars instead toward proactive steps for the people. And the planet. Said David Smith of Greenpointe Homes, “Bigger is not better. Better is better.”
    I daresay that this applies to everything. And it means being interested. It means letting go of ideas that ‘more is better’ and ‘bigger is better.’ It maybe means that consciousness, not ego, matters most.

    What can we, me included, do, Mr. Greenberg? We can carpool more. We can re-use and re-purpose goods. We can share. We can support local merchants and local farmers. We can nurture a little garden plot in our own yard and share and trade the bounty with friends. We can host local food dinners and gather community together and bat ideas around while sharing food together. We can make things. We can look for satisfaction in our own yard, in our own hearts and with our own two hands. We can save $$$ to install personal solar. We can weatherize existing structures and use truly green/recycled items for new builds.
    We can try things like passive solar construction techniques that allow maximum light and passive solar heat. We can downsize in ways that don’t feel bad but maybe feel great. We can invest in this process and feel really good about it. We can understand that pristine ecosystems and natural ancient functioning watersheds are valuable resources we should preserve for how they help maintain balance for all life, in a shifting climate. (The earth is letting us know we’ve TAKEN enough. How will we respond to the earth’s cues? Will we adapt? Will we continue our ways of consumption? Will we try new things and simplify where we can?) We can strive for local food promotion and local food security and this will reduce need for shipping/transporting outside resources as much. Shipping companies can be mandated to do things with conservation in mind, instead of beating out the other guy. I venture an excited guess that these invested steps COULD each make a difference.

    I also think it’s exciting to think that people can begin to understand the power WE actually have. Our dollars and the hanging onto them and the buying better and smarter and maybe less will push demand for smarter production. saving and buying better forces shift in how goods are made and distributed. Corporations do, though, want you to be dissatisfied with what YOU HAVE, so you will look out to buy more from them. It is the way. But it doesn’t have to be.

    Further, I wouldn’t say that we need to further develop Vermont and destroy intact ecosystems in order to justify energy development. that’s actually going in the wrong direction. We can think about the fact that clean water, enough water, food security for Vermonters, and clean air are resources too. Focus on how each and every single one of us needs these basics and it becomes less about how each of us wants to take our share. If we focus on keeping things whole and small-scale and local, we will create solutions in that very process. We will come together and work on what Vermont can be.

    An exciting and compelling thought when striving for solutions: Human creativity is a great renewable resource! How we use this resource is up to us.

    • Gregory Lapworth

      We can become Socialists with the ultimate of being Communists……..nah!!! Been tried, doesn’t work. Think again, Ms..

      • Vanessa Mills

        Gregory: I thank you for your comment. But no matter, I remain hopeful about what is possible for the future of humankind. I will place my bet on the fact that we don’t even know, as a species, just how resourceful and creative we may need to be, and can truly be! and how evolved we can become! I’m not saying this will be an easy or all-rosey process. To be starkly frank, I TRULY think it won’t. But I’m still hopeful. and hope to keep trying. All good. Best to you.

    • Bruce Post

      I have not read this book, but it was recommended to me. It is by Stan Cox and is titled “Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present and Future of Rationing.”

      Cox is a senior scientist as Wes Jackson’s Land Institute.

      Maybe folks should seriously consider rationing as a major strategy for reducing demand for energy generation. Perhaps Shap Smith can invite Stan Cox to address the Legislature, and then, Vermont can get concrete about the oft-cited goal of “leading the nation.” Of course, with an economy built on more, more, more, I cannot imagine any politician wanting to get out in front on this one.

      • Carl Werth

        When the 1%, heck even the 5-10%, start rationing, then I will believe our species has a chance. Until those who hold all the resources start contributing instead of continuing to hoard – it’s all just words and dreams.