Commentary

Roger White: In climate comments, Roper’s got hold of the wrong end of the stick

This commentary is by Roger White of Middlebury, an artist and a volunteer with 350Vermont. 

Rob Roper’s recent commentary on the work of the Vermont Climate Council contains, in 791 words, not a single one devoted to anything like a positive suggestion. The piece is a pure hatchet job on our state’s first formal attempt to address the climate crisis. 

Neither does it acknowledge that the problems the council is attempting to solve — How are we going to live and work in a world transformed by climate change? How do we get our state on the right path to a sustainable and healthy future? — even exist. 

Perhaps Roper imagines that the world leaders who gathered last week in Glasgow to address the climate emergency are just there to golf. 

Instead, he writes with what seems like barely contained glee over the anticipated failures of ideological opponents, voicing concern for the lives of everyday working people (“what all Vermonters need to understand”) in order to convince us that a situation grave enough to mobilize 25,000 delegates from 110 countries to the COP26 climate summit this month doesn’t warrant any attention from us, or him — never mind, indeed. 

It would be nice to pretend that the future holds nothing to worry about besides the specter of big government, or that the free market alone will somehow magically solve the existential problem of a warming planet. Sadly, though, we’re living in the real world, where even the oil industry admits that unless we act fast to reduce our fossil fuel emissions, the future will be no place we want to live in. 

The Vermont Climate Council represents one attempt to describe what “acting fast” ought to look like. So, instead of just shrugging it off, we ought to engage with the process as much as we can — since we’re all (as Roper rightly points out, to his credit) going to be dramatically impacted. 

Roper is also correct that combatting the worst effects of climate change is likely to be difficult and expensive, and that it may prove politically unpopular — the right thing to do often is. But I’m not sure I trust his sense of the populace. 

I think all Vermonters do understand that big changes are coming down the pike, whether we like it or not, and that the worst thing to do is probably just to do nothing. Without a solid road map for the transition off of fossil fuels (and let’s face it: Even Russia and China concede that this is what has to happen), the process is likely to be chaotic and desperate, benefiting utility company shareholders and electric car manufacturers while leaving the rest of us in the lurch. 

A few other words absent from Roper’s commentary could help us as we work together to draw this road map, and hopefully end up with a plan that represents the interests of all Vermonters. There’s “compassion” (the thing we feel toward our neighbors, toward future generations, even toward the land and water, when we consider how to best care for our beautiful state); “justice” (an idea we keep in mind when asking ourselves whether our plans are fair to everyone or not); and lastly, “science” — in case we lose track of the grave nature of the challenges we face. 

Roper worries that “The Climate Plan will do nothing less than reshape our entire economy, radically alter the way we live and work….” 

I think he’s got hold of the wrong end of the stick: It’s climate change itself, not the Climate Plan, that is already reshaping our economy, and altering the way we live and work. And as things ramp up, the changes — and the costs of dealing with them — will continue to mount. 

The best thing we can do is to face up to them now, keeping compassion, justice and science in mind as we go about it.


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