Our Work

Letting a Crisis Go to Waste?

From the 6/13/2010 Burlington Free Press

By Elizabeth Courtney

There is certainly a lot to worry about these days. The catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico — which is devastating the livelihoods of thousands, drowning wildlife in oil and irrevocably ravaging ecosystems — is the most recent and deeply disturbing of our nation’s worrisome events.
In Vermont, a series of leaks of radioactive water at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, no comprehensive energy plan for Vermont, significant and semi-debilitating budget constraints, a noticeable trend, for the first time in a century, of a loss of our forestland are among just a few of the challenges facing Vermonters.
As world leader Winston Churchill once quipped, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” That powerful and thoughtful statement is based on the premise that we must turn problems — even the most daunting challenges, like the Gulf oil catastrophe — into opportunity.
In that spirit, let’s look at one particular opportunity we have before us in this election year to increase the discourse and leadership on the many important issues facing Vermonters.
At this time we have no fewer than six candidates for Governor. They include Senators Shumlin, Bartlett and Racine, Secretary of State Markowitz, former state Legislator Dunne and Lt. Gov. Dubie.
Some might say that it’s a problem to have so many candidates for governor, but actually, that’s six potential voices focused on the issues near and dear to Vermonters.
Let’s imagine for a moment that Vermont’s next governor undertakes the tough but likely pivotal path of creating a single platform to address the inextricably connected issues of energy, the economy, the environment and public health.
That leader’s platform might read like this:
“The world, the nation and the state of Vermont are suffering from an addiction to fossil fuels to power our lives. Our oil habit has been blamed for many ills, ranging from wars in the Middle East, to horrific spills in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere. It is responsible for global climate change, air and water pollution, loss of cropland, sprawling land use patterns and public health issues ranging from elevated rates of cancers to a crisis of obesity in our youth.
 
My administration will work to curb Vermont’s fossil fuel and nuclear power dependence in favor of increased conservation and efficiency and locally produced renewable energy sources, such as sustainably-generated wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and hydro. This transition will create new, well-paying jobs for Vermonters and will help make Vermont the go-to place for innovative entrepreneurs who seek a high quality of life for themselves and their workforces.
 
My administration will help Vermont communities grow smarter by encouraging new development in town and city centers, leaving the countryside open to foster an unparalleled local food economy and a vibrant forest products industry so that Vermont can feed, fuel and employ Vermonters. Better town planning and investment in alternative transportation solutions will result in decreased vehicle emissions and increased walking, biking and riding opportunities — with significant benefits for the environment and public health.”
Now that’s a platform!
This kind of commitment is essential from our next governor and would sustain and grow Vermont’s economy in the 21st century. It is a vision Vermonters should demand of our next leader.
Frankly, we cannot afford not to turn our challenges in these troubling times into opportunity. Let’s not fail to act together now to turn Vermont’s shortcomings into powerful course corrections.
We can seize the chance this election year to embrace new energy, economic, public health and environmental policies by calling on our leaders to address them head on.
Elizabeth Courtney is the executive director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, Vermont’s leading statewide environmental organization, and also recently served as one of six members on the Governor’s Climate Change Commission. She can be reached at ecourtney@vnrc.org