Commentary

Anderson: Climate change is here, sooner than anyone expected, and we must act

This commentary is by Olivia Campbell Andersen, executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont.

Typically, a new year brings opportunity for reflection and resolutions for healthier and happier living. In the time of Covid and deep economic recession, resolutions may look different. Add the climate crisis into the mix and it can feel overwhelming. 

The current triplicate crisis laid bare the need to reassess existing systems and build the resilient, equitable communities we want for our future. In some ways, dealing with the health, climate and economic crisis is similar to making new year’s resolutions — both depend on faith in the future and a fundamental belief in our capacity for change and improvement. 

This year, I hope you’ll join me and many others in making a New Year’s resolution that envisions a healthier climate for our family, our community, and ourselves. 

Making this kind of individual choice can be empowering. A personal climate resolution can lessen feelings of overwhelm and anxiety about the future. Sharing your climate resolution encourages friends, family and colleagues to consider their climate choices as well. Perhaps making a small personal change has the power to remind us every day of the climate-focused work we also need our elected leaders to undertake.  

We know what happens when we do nothing. We are experiencing more frequent and more violent storms, which equals property damage, power outages, and lost economic opportunity. Rates of tick-borne illnesses in Vermont are among the highest in the nation. Hazy skies over our beloved Green Mountains caused by western wildfires and dried-up wells from extended drought last summer further brought home the reality that climate change disasters are not decades away and Vermont is not immune. 

Climate change is here now, sooner than anyone expected, and we must act urgently and measurably. Thankfully when it comes to cutting climate pollution and growing our local economy, the solutions already exist.

Last year the Legislature wisely recommitted to climate pollution reduction by enacting the Global Warming Solutions Act. In the spirit of building a resilient future, here are a few climate resolutions our elected officials should make to meet Vermont’s climate commitments, reduce our energy burdens and help usher in a clean-energy future.  

  • Stop allowing state funds to purchase new fossil fuel heating systems, backup generators, vehicles, and other equipment when price-stable and reliable renewable or electric solutions are available.
  • Increase income-sensitive point-of-purchase incentives for renewable heating and transportation solutions.
  • Help Vermonters save on utility bills when switching to renewable heating and driving by requiring every electric utility to offer lower-cost electrification rates, following Burlington Electric Department’s lead.
  • Maintain fare-free public transit and expand on-demand transit availability to more communities.
  • Ensure that every Vermonter, regardless of income or electric utility, has equitable access to local renewable energy, as generating your own electricity should be a right not limited by antiquated grid infrastructure.
  • Join 13 other jurisdictions to improve energy resilience and cut long-term electricity costs with battery energy storage and local renewables.
  • Join 12 other states by creating low-income solar policies or programs.
  • Join four other Eastern states in the regional Transportation Climate Initiative.
  • Join 14 other jurisdictions (including our northern neighbor Quebec) in ensuring daily transportation cost savings by phasing out sales of new fossil combustion cars and trucks by 2030.
  • Join 170 other towns, states and countries requiring 100% renewable electricity, following the lead of our own Washington Electric Co-op and the Swanton and Burlington electric departments by relying on more Vermont-generated renewables.
  • Keep young adults in Vermont with climate jobs by creating paid apprenticeship and job training opportunities for them and underemployed Vermonters through a new Climate Justice Corps.

Certainly, navigating the coronavirus health crisis and consequential recession are immediate priorities, but acting on climate change is not a distraction from these. In fact, climate action provides a way forward. 

The governor’s recent budget proposal to help more Vermonters in low- and moderate-income households weatherize homes, purchase electric vehicles, and reduce energy costs with local solar is a good start, as it recognizes we can build back better and catalyze a climate recovery now.

We can’t lose another year on climate action progress, given that Vermont is already behind on its commitments. Much like a leaky roof, the longer you wait to fix it, the worse and more expensive the problem becomes. 

The climate clock now stands at less than seven years, meaning we must reach zero emissions in that short time to keep planetary warming under the conservative, United Nations IPPC recommended threshold. I ask you to join Renewable Energy Vermont and dozens of other nonprofits and local businesses in calling on our elected officials to make good on their climate resolutions in 2021.  

For my personal climate resolution, I’m thrilled to now be driving on sunshine, as we replaced our 12-year-old, well-used car with an electric vehicle. After just two weeks driving an EV, we are happy to say farewell to gas fumes when we wait in the school pickup line or unpack groceries or outdoor gear from the trunk. No more gas station fill-ups, tracking and paying for oil changes, and virtually no maintenance.

Further, the pride in my young daughter’s eyes and voice when she tells others that our car doesn’t pollute the environment is priceless. Recognizing the privilege my family has to realize one of our climate resolutions motivates me to work to enact the policies that will make this type of choice real for all Vermonters. At Renewable Energy Vermont, we are advocating for every family to equitably access the choices and benefits of renewable transportation, heating and electricity, regardless of household income.

Our individual resolutions can become powerful collective actions. Share your resolutions for climate healing online using #ClimateResolution and #ActonClimateVT so we can learn from each other’s creativity and remind our elected officials that climate action is still what Vermonters want.


Commentary

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