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A Crisis and an Opportunity

The following op-ed ran in the Barre Montpelier Times Argus and Rutland Herald on March 8, 2015

 

by Brian Shupe

Many people have raised alarms about the need to do something about climate change.

By doing something, I mean two things. We must prepare for it, because we are already seeing the effects — and they will only get worse. We must also do something to reverse current trends so that those effects don’t get so bad as to make the earth uninhabitable. These approaches are often referred to as adaptation and mitigation, and both are critical.

Vermonters being a resourceful bunch, it’s no surprise that some are looking for opportunity in crisis. As odd as it may sound, given the enormity of the challenge, that is exactly what approximately 400 people were focused on at the Creating Prosperity & Opportunity Confronting Climate Change Summit in Randolph on Feb. 18.

The conference was convened by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. According to Paul Costello, the council’s executive director, the conference was based on the premise that “confronting climate change through innovative economic development can be a competitive strategy that can build a national reputation, create jobs, and attract youth and entrepreneurism to the states that lead.”

While it hints of gallows humor to imply that Vermont could benefit from what may be the greatest threat to civilization, it does make a certain amount of sense. We will need to make fundamental changes to how we do business, both to adapt to the disruptions we are already seeing and to mitigate carbon pollution so we don’t make matters even worse.

Vermont has already shown there is opportunity in this challenge. The burgeoning solar industry, for example, has made Vermont the state with the most solar jobs per capita in the United States. These jobs and other opportunities are keeping young Vermonters in state and attracting innovators and investors.

Even more opportunity would likely flow from a carbon pollution tax, a policy that was suggested at the conference and that lawmakers are currently considering. A recent independent economic analysis by Regional Economic Models Inc. showed significant job growth after enactment of a carbon pollution tax, particularly in the construction industry.

At the conference in Randolph earlier this month, participants offered suggestions for creating prosperity, tackling topics such as renewing the state’s transportation system, spurring research in new technologies, advancing the next stage of energy efficiency and conservation, and others.

The Vermont Council on Rural Development has convened a 24-member Vermont Climate Change Economy Council to take some of these ideas and lay the foundation for a structured plan for practical action to reduce carbon emissions while stimulating green economic development.

Comprising a broad cross-section of Vermonters with backgrounds in business, state government, the energy sector, academia and nonprofits, the council — on which I serve — had its first meeting last week and has agreed to a regular meeting schedule through February 2016.

This effort — which draws on the perspectives and talents from a range of talented people — represents an opportunity to be seized, and seized with the enthusiasm and attitude Vermonters are known for, in this challenging new world we face. Stay tuned.

Brian Shupe is executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council.