When we began writing our Winter/Spring 2020 Vermont Environmental Report — Climate Change Solutions: Clean Energy and Beyond — the COVID-19 crisis had not yet begun. In many ways, we lived then in a different world. But in many other ways, we did not.
Before the crisis, many Vermonters lacked access to fair wages, healthy food, housing, and childcare: a sad reality that has exacerbated the effects of the virus on their livelihoods. The dearth of affordable healthcare in our nation and in Vermont has meant continued hardship for millions of families, made catastrophically worse by the current situation. Our criminal justice system was deeply inequitable before the coronavirus swept through America’s prisons, putting so many vulnerable people in further danger.
And then there’s the climate crisis, which has been ravaging the planet, and adversely affecting Vermont’s environment and communities, for decades. Our leadership has yet to take drastic-enough action to mitigate climate change in Vermont. But Vermonters might not tolerate inaction for much longer.
In a poll commissioned in 2019 by our partner organization Vermont Conservation Voters along with VPIRG, 76% of Vermonters said they were either very worried or somewhat worried about global warming, with 61% stating they are very worried about the topic, up from 35% saying they were very worried about global warming just three years earlier.
In the Fall 2013 issue of the Vermont Environmental Report, our Executive Director Brian Shupe wrote: “Adaptation and mitigation are the two pillars of resilience, and focusing on both is the challenge of our times.” At that time, climate change was our leading environmental issue, but not nearly as stark or urgent a piece of the global zeitgeist as it is now, just seven years later.
In 2013, as now, mitigation referred mainly to reducing our contributions to climate change by cutting down our greenhouse gas emissions. Adaptation meant developing smart strategies to withstand, and hopefully thrive in, a period of unprecedented change.
The interplay between adaptation and mitigation remains crucial. And as the years pass, it’s increasingly clear that addressing climate change requires going far beyond the obvious solutions around clean energy and electrification. It requires significant improvements in our transportation system and how we manage our forests, farms, and waterways — and recognizing that how we deal with land use can either equip us for the future or lead us into further distress.
We will ultimately recover from COVID-19, but not from climate change. Meanwhile, there is immense opportunity in how we address the climate crisis. This includes embracing the power of intact forests and agricultural soils to sequester carbon, improving flood resilience along our waterways, and promoting increased public transportation options in smart growth locations.
This issue of the Vermont Environmental Report is dedicated to exploring these solutions — the ones that don’t immediately come to mind when reading the latest report on our global and local failure to decrease fossil fuel emissions from our cars, homes, and businesses. Find the issue here.