If you have read my two latest Op-Eds on the Prisoner’s Dilemma Around Climate Change and Not Losing our Heads in the face of the same, then you know that I advocate for a thoughtful and balanced response to climate change. A response that conveys the urgency of the issue while also avoiding pitfalls of inhumanity and single-mindedness. But, what does that mean? What does it look like for Vermonters and for our state?
First, I absolutely believe that we should all do our part to take care of our natural environment and our planet. However, not everyone’s capacity or ability for change is the same. For example, some people may have the financial capacity to purchase an electric vehicle or even just a newer and more efficient ICE model with a lower carbon footprint; others may not have this ability. Some people may be able to buy local organic foods, others may not. Some may have the time and inclination for a vegetable garden, others may not. We need to understand these differences and recognize that not everyone’s capacity is the same.
Second, we should stop blaming “big corporations” for the fuel we burn the energy we consume. If everyone converted to electric vehicles today, Exxon Mobile would be out of business. They continue producing carbon-based products because we keep buying them. Could they invest in lower-carbon alternatives? Sure, and they are, but those alternatives don’t yet have the margins that fossil fuels do and the market hasn’t shown a willingness to pay a premium for those products. In short, we have met the problem, and it is us. What we should be doing is looking at our own lives and lifestyles and seeing where we can gain efficiency. That could be taking advantage of weatherization programs to reduce our heating fuel consumption, choosing local and/or less packaged groceries where possible, or even working from home a couple days per week to reduce transportation fuel costs. These are things most of us do.
Third, we should be investing in our local ecosystems. This means taking care of our forests, fields, and waterways as well as making our human-built infrastructure more resilient to climate change. This is actually consistent with the Paris Climate Accords, which speaks extensively to resilience (we just never hear about that part). As we know, many of our downtown areas are built in low-lying valleys near waterways and these tend to flood. Additionally, we continue to dump copious amounts of phosphorus and other pollutants into our streams and rivers, which then end up in our lakes for many years to come. No one is coming to fix our water infrastructure for us, no one is coming to fix our forests, or our municipal sewage systems. We need to do this ourselves and we have been falling down on the job, distracted by shiny objects like carbon-reduction.
Finally, we should all realize that green energy is now big business. The renewable energy sector is already valued at $988 billion and is expected to double by 2030. These companies, along with electric utilities, are spending BIG on lobbying elected officials and have been for quite some time. Many of the lobbyists and advocates that you see grabbing headlines are bought and paid for by these companies. This is important to understand because when we see a new climate initiative being pushed we should be asking ourselves who it actually benefits. Does it reduce carbon in a meaningful way? Is this the most cost-effective way of accomplishing the stated goals? Who stands to benefit from this change in policy?
These are questions we should be asking ourselves about any new policy initiative, yet when it comes to “green” technologies we seem to let our guard down.
So, what can you do? First, do what you can in your own life to reduce your impact on our planet, whether that is buying an EV or replanting vegetation to prevent erosion. Second, call, email, telegram, or even carrier pigeon your legislators and ask them for a balanced approach to climate policy that acknowledges people where they are at, offers carrots instead of sticks, and focuses on our own local ecosystems first.
Ben Kinsley has over a decade of public policy experience in Vermont. Working for non-profit organizations, he has shaped public policy in areas such as education, elections, and ethics. He currently serves on the board of directors for Campaign for Vermont, a non-partisan advocacy group seeking to grow the state’s middle class.