Our Work

VNRC Comments on Link Between Climate Change and Affordability

COMMENTARY – October 30, 2007

By Elizabeth Courtney, VNRC’s Executive Director
The irony struck me last week when Governor Douglas announced the conclusion of his “Set the Agenda” tour. According to the governor, affordability topped the list of issues Vermonters care about most, and climate change barely crossed the radar screens. What’s the irony? Action on climate change is all about affordability.

It’s troubling that the governor hasn’t yet made this important connection.

In another ironic twist, on the same day the governor announced his ‘tour’ results, his six member climate change commission rolled out its long awaited report. For over a year I have served on this commission, developing a set of strategies to reduce Vermont’s contribution to the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. Our take home message? Vermonters cannot afford to ignore the threat of climate change.

The climate commission put forward 38 strong recommendations that will serve three primary functions: reduce Vermont’s carbon footprint, build our “green economy” and save Vermonters money. Now that’s an affordability agenda.

We need look no further than energy costs projections to see how this adds up. At over $90 a barrel, the highest cost for crude oil in history, heating a home with oil in Vermont this winter will average 22 percent more than last year, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. Clearly, that is not affordable. But, if we implement the climate commission’s top recommendation (expand the efficiency utility to include home heating fuels) we can help thousands of Vermonters have a more affordable winter.

Other news items unfolding demonstrate how related these issues are. Last week, the head of the federal Centers for Disease Control told Congress (despite attempts by the Bush administration to silence her) that the CDC “considers climate change a serious public health concern.” Already, most Vermonters would agree that health care is not affordable. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, the average family plan for health care in Vermont is over $13,000 annually, not including deductibles which are often as high as $5,000. That means that the average Vermont family could be looking at $18,000, out-of-pocket dollars before they get any benefit out of their health care plan. Add unanticipated climate change effects, and the costs could rise even higher. Again, clearly, not affordable.

Escalating costs like these – coupled with the loud and urgent call from the world’s leading climate scientists – are combining to create a critical need for action on climate change. Thankfully, as we prepare to tackle this monumental challenge, many of the issues relating to affordability for average Vermonters – whether it’s home heating, health care, housing, transportation, or food – can all be part of the climate change solution. But inaction on either front is not an option.

Failing to recognize that the crisis of climate change is intertwined with issues relating to affordability undermines Vermont’s ability to effectively address either one. Unfortunately, it appears that the governor views these issues as separate and unrelated. The sooner Vermont’s chief executive recognizes how deeply these issues are interconnected, the better off Vermonters will be.

I hope the governor heeds the advice of his commission and musters the courage necessary to implement the difficult but essential greenhouse gas reduction strategies we have put forward.

To turn the climate change crisis into opportunity, we need real leadership. And we need loud and clear calls from Vermonters, those who feel we can no longer afford to ignore climate change. I invite you to start first by joining the Vermont Natural Resources Council at the second National Day of Climate Action this Saturday, November 3 in Montpelier as we ask for leadership on this issue. But, please, don’t stop there. Make sure you talk to your friends and neighbors and state and federal leaders about taking action on climate change now.

We can’t afford not to.