By Brian Forest
We have a delegation in France for the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) because we have squandered the time we had to reverse our destructive habits and now climate change is upon us. A report by the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and UVM in 2014 states, “The state’s average temperature has risen by 1.3º F since 1960; 45% of this increase since 1990. The most recent decade was Vermont’s hottest on record.” Two devastating hurricanes within two years caused us millions in damages and untold personal grief. Flood waters we haven’t seen since 1927 destroyed bridges and roads and scoured topsoil from our valley farms. The warming of our climate is bringing insects that have historically remained south of us such as the Pear Thrips, Deer Tick, and the Emerald Ash Borer. The effects of climate change are becoming our new reality.
Vermont is responding to this new reality in many ways. The draft of the state’s Comprehensive Energy Plan has committed us to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 50% by 2028 and obtaining 90% of our energy from sustainable resources by 2050. It seeks to obtain these goals by:
- passage of Act 56 establishing a Renewable Energy Standard;
- the Thermal Efficiency Task Force and two Clean Energy Finance Summits;
- updated building energy codes and a Vermont residential building label;
- pilots of new financing programs including the Heat Saver Loan;
- signing of the multi-state Zero Emission Vehicle memorandum of understanding;
- expansion of the Standard Offer program while lowering the cost of new contracts by more than 60%
- expansion of net metering to 15% of peak load
In the private sector, Green Mountain Power has teamed up with two community-solar providers to buy back solar power from home-owners. Efficiency Vermont saved enough energy from reducing our need for power that since the turn of the century to power every home in Vermont for 5.3 years. Towns like Woodstock have started on the planning necessary to meet the plan’s short and long term goals and Burlington, with the purchase of the Winooski 1 Dam, became the first U.S. city to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources
This looks like a lot of work to reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but we need to do more both individually and as a group. We can pay more attention to “reduce, reuse and recycle; drive more fuel efficient cars (transportation accounts for 46% of our GHG emissions in Vermont); replace our electrical source with solar power. To have a habitable planet, we need to build the infrastructure necessary to move away from fossil fuels and keep two-thirds of the known fossil fuel deposits in the ground. Taking a page from the anti-apartheid movement, Bill McKibben, a Middlebury College ecologist, started the “Divestment” movement to convince investors, individually and as a group, to move our money – colleges and universities, cities, churches, foundations, pension funds – away from carbon-intense fuels into renewables. That was three years ago, and so far over 500 institutions and 3.4 trillion dollars world-wide have been moved from fossil fuel sources. A recent study facilitated by 350Vermont has shown that in that time the Vermont State Pension Fund forwent $77 Million due to fossil fuel assets. This legislative session many Vermonters will be pushing the legislature to pass a joint resolution urging the Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC) to divest from fossil fuels so that our state’s financial actions are directed towards building a sustainable future. What other institutions are we associated with that could divest themselves?
Global warming is here and to slow it down that means all of the above and more. The time has come to be proactive in the pursuit of a livable planet to pass down to our children and grandchildren.
Brian Forrest lives in Williston, is a life-long activist and a volunteer at 350VT.