Nancy Tips: Vermont’s neutron bomb

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Nancy Tips, who is a member of Friends of Windham.

Lately I have been thinking about the neutron bomb. This device caught the public imagination back in the 1980s because of the sheer, absurd wickedness of it: It was a weapon that could rid an area of a biologic infestation, i.e., people, while leaving the area physically intact. Many who were young and idealistic at the time were quickly rocketed to a whole new conception of human evil when we learned about the neutron bomb.

The attitude crystallized in the neutron bomb seems to me, as a small-town Vermonter, oddly familiar. It is this: Things matter; people don’t. If your viewpoint is abstract enough, exalted enough, distanced enough, this attitude can seem okay, even brilliant. After all, in a march toward irreproachable goals, it is just to prize the handsome works humans have created – industrial plants and infrastructure and the like – above the struggling humans themselves. To some leaders back in the 1980s, this was how it seemed, anyway.

At the time we were too innocent to imagine the neutron-bomb mentality at the heart of Montpelier’s dash to turn the state over to wind developers, so we figured that everybody would consider us people as important as Iberdrola’s things.


Even today, to some leaders, the fundamental attitude behind the neutron bomb still seems pretty OK. I keep thinking about this as Vermont’s candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, Sue Minter and David Zuckerman, strive to convince their constituencies of the benefits of Vermont’s own neutron bomb, a renewable energy policy that regards the people who live in communities outside Burlington, Montpelier and a handful of other favored urban areas, as an infestation with the potential to hinder their brilliant scheme to save the planet, one Vermont ridgeline at a time. Of course they don’t imagine our literal extirpation. But the policies they favor are born of the neutron-bomb mentality: things matter; people don’t.

In Windham, many of us have felt this sharply since the day, four and a half years ago, when Iberdrola first came to town and explained to us the important question of the day. “Is the quality of Windham’s wind resource good enough to entice us to re-make your town by placing an immense industrial plant in your midst?” Actually, we responded, we think our community has a pretty good question too. “Why are you bothering us when we have done extensive consideration of this issue, developed and ratified our town plan, and already know that the topography and settlement patterns of the area make this site inappropriate for what you’re proposing?”

At the time we were too innocent to imagine the neutron-bomb mentality at the heart of Montpelier’s dash to turn the state over to wind developers, so we figured that everybody would consider us people as important as Iberdrola’s things.

We’re no longer innocent. We’ve learned that, for the Democratic administration headed by Gov. Peter Shumlin, for the Public Service Board, for many Vermont legislators, and for Sue Minter and David Zuckerman, the things that matter are the emblems of their private passions, the badges of their personal leadership in the global struggle against climate change. The people whose communities and investments are threatened by these questionable emblems and badges are considered to be, more or less, pesky vermin. Woodchucks, with only minor roles to play in Vermont’s glorious renewable energy drama. Bit players whose whining voices need to be silenced for good, for the greater good.

There are so many questions about whether the passions and the green energy goals of the previous and the aspiring Democratic Montpelier leadership are, in fact, irreproachable. Before signing on to the neutron-bomb mentality, Vermont voters might want to stop and consider these passions and goals, and the people promoting them, not for what they might seem to be but for what they actually are.

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