Elizabeth Courtney: Time for a miracle

Elizabeth Courtney: Time for a miracle

This commentary is by Elizabeth Courtney, an author and environmental consultant who is former chair of the Environmental Board and former executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council. She is a volunteer staff at the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition. A version of this was first published in the Times Argus-Rutland Herald on Dec. 30.

We like to tell the stories of miracles, small and large, over and again, to rejoice in the appreciation of a grace that seems to come from a divine source. Miracles reinforce the belief that we are blessed, that we are on the right track, that we are in sync with nature, the divine, or a power greater than ourselves. Miracles frequently begin as looming catastrophes and then take dramatic turns for the good.

There are many disasters looming in the world today. But, climate change is surely the 800-pound gorilla of a looming catastrophe, causing nearly every country in the world — except the United States — to work to reverse its trajectory. The drawdown of the pollutants that are causing the droughts, floods, severe storms, wild fires and erratic weather events is the central challenge of our time. Many believe that the pending catastrophe of climate change could be reversed through a massive multi-nation intervention, effectively resulting in … well … a miracle.

That miracle seems ever more distant when we hear that, for instance, even the governor of greenest-green Vermont is rationalizing that there may be benefits to a changing climate. Phil Scott’s references to climate change last month were not about reversing it so much as embracing it. His press conference remarks focused on “climate change opportunities.” If the governor believes that climate change could bring an economic boom to Vermont, that might explain his lackluster action plan to fight it.

But wait, there is a broadly based, business-backed plan to reduce Vermonters’ carbon pollution. It’s called the ESSEX Plan (An Economy Strengthening, Strategic Energy Exchange). Phased in over the next decade, it would help us shift from fossil fuels to renewable electric energy. A climate-change-fighting effort with broad buy-in that attempts to address the concerns of carbon-tax opponents like the governor. It provides immediate relief for ratepayers while promising economic growth opportunities.

And yet, “The ESSEX Plan is still a carbon tax, and Gov. Scott does not believe a carbon tax is the right approach,” says the governor’s press secretary. “The current iteration of the plan … will add costs and leave many Vermonters behind.”

The Republican administration doesn’t like the second-generation carbon tax. What about the Democratic Legislature? House Speaker Mitzi Johnson wants to “do whatever we can” but fails to embrace the ESSEX Plan because, in part, it doesn’t meet her income sensitivity standards. We simply do not know where Senate President Tim Ashe stands on the issue because he remains silent and his silence is deafening.

Alas, in fact, there seems to be a dearth of alternatives — no organized Democratic or Republican effort — to fix the perceived ESSEX shortcomings, let alone to promote a plan to reverse climate change. Is there no one stepping up to the plate to take on the challenge? Are we all naysayers with no solutions? Can’t Vermonters at least set an inspired example for the rest of the country? Until the day we start to actively reverse its payload of carbon — and drawdown its greenhouse gases to a safer 350 parts per million in the atmosphere — climate change will continue to be a disaster.

With all due respect to the governor, the Senate president and the speaker, if there is no leadership on this issue, we will only suffer more from the effects of climate change. What is needed now is to focus our full attention on the problem of this pending catastrophe. Proactive leadership is necessary.

Let’s help the governor, the Senate president and the speaker move Vermont in the right direction. Let them know where you stand. Let us all resolve in this new year to activate our personal and collective abilities to change the course of a climate catastrophe and turn it into a miracle.