By Don Keelan
It is understandable that Gov. Phil Scott may not please all Vermonters all of the time. What he does bring to the office of governor is a great deal of common sense and practicality. This has been quite evident when it comes to the discussion of the climate crisis in Vermont and how to address it.
There are numerous organized groups that have been painting a canvas that Vermont is in dire straits in controlling air pollution resulting from the use of carbon-generating fossil fuels. They point out that the state has failed to meet its target of reducing the carbon footprint in the state’s air, established in 2006 — worse, it has increased by 16%. The percent increase data is only current to 2015.
According to climate crises reports, over 43% of the pollution issue can be attributed to transportation within the state. Another 20% or so comes from fossil fuels used to heat our homes, government and commercial buildings.
If you have been following the publicity that is emanating from those who are convinced Vermont is in a crisis, they are planning a full-scale assault on the Legislature when that body returns to Montpelier in January 2020. Even the groups’ terminology borders on the militaristic — “combat,” “strike,” “allies” and “bold action.”
The assault will be coming in waves. For months, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group has been rallying the state’s school children to pass on going to classes, and instead join with them in petitioning the Statehouse. Inside the Statehouse, there is the Vermont Legislature Climate Solutions Caucus. Since late spring, this group has been crisscrossing the state, pushing forward their goals for immediate bold action by the Legislature.
Is it at all possible to just step back and see the climate crisis with some perspective? Yes, there are serious climate issues impacting the world’s geography — in cities, oceans and air. Here in Vermont we are not in a crisis situation — far from it.
If we wish to assign the term crisis to issues in Vermont, we can begin with the “opiate crisis.” It was only a few years ago that Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his full State of the State address to how Vermont’s opiate crisis was destroying families, taxing our policing and hospital resources, and impacting our schools, especially in the lower grades, where trauma at home had become so common and the cost to address it was draining our state and municipal resources. Four years later it has only gotten worse.
Gov. Scott points out that the state has a crisis with its demographics and housing that is impacting our schools, employers, nonprofits, and our fire and rescue agencies — the aging of Vermont is now upon us, coupled with the lack of young people to fill the positions once held by our aging population.
Efficiency Vermont has a goal next year to provide weatherization to 3,000 Vermont homes. A noble goal, but impracticable. Even if the millions of dollars were available to fund such a cause, there just are not enough trades-people to accomplish a fraction of the objective.
The governor’s goal of adding thousands of affordable workforce housing units also falls flat, and the crisis, the lack of housing, not unlike the opiate crisis, only continues.
When one removes the Vermont mask that tourists see, our state has numerous chronic issues. The clean up of Lake Champlain, the disastrous under-funding of the state’s pension system, the out-of-control health care costs, the fact that tens of thousands of children are in fear as to where their next meal will come from. And not to be ignored, the gravity of the state’s mental illness issues.
Let us address climate change, but let us do so in a rational, practical and common-sense manner. Let us drop the idea that Vermont will lead the world on how to address climate change. Far better to show how we as a state are dealing with the issues that have been plaguing Vermonters and its Legislature for decades. Storming “the Bastille” in January is not the way to go.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.