One Year Ago Today

Waterlogged campaign materials in the VPIRG office after the July 2023 floods

A year ago today, Vermont weathered some of the worst flooding in the history of the state, causing over $1 billion in damages and displacing thousands. One year on, on the tail of a hurricane barreling through the Caribbean & southern US and threatening our region with flash flooding again, hundreds of Vermonters are still displaced, towns & businesses are still rebuilding, and the climate crisis is ever present in our minds. We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating; storms like this are happening ever more frequently, and with increasing intensity.  

VPIRG’s Montpelier office flooded to the ceiling, wiping out 50 years of paper records, equipment, and organizational history. Floodwater-deposited toxic sludge persisted in the nooks and crannies around the city for months. For myself, it was a lesson in disaster response but also in Vermonters’ resilience and community. That sense of mutual responsibility was part of why I fell in love with the state 6 years ago as a VPIRG canvasser, and why I have stayed here since. I was touched that in the days after the flooding we hosted many volunteers who came by unprompted to help us dispose of the waterlogged contents of our shelves, distribute supplies, and check in to make sure we were handling everything okay.

We were lucky – many suffered far worse, and others lost everything. I had the privilege of speaking to residents, farmers, and business owners impacted by the July flooding and subsequent December flooding earlier this year. These were stories of loss, hopelessness, and neighbors helping neighbors. Of lackluster FEMA responses, life-long loans, and fierce determination to hold climate polluters accountable. Over the course of the recent legislative session, I compiled those interviews into VPIRG’s first short documentary.

From those conversations, one thing is clear; our state cannot afford for this to be the new normal. Climate mitigation and infrastructure improvements are hugely expensive, and repeated disaster response even more still. Fortunately, newly passed legislation like the Flood Safety Act and the Climate Superfund Act will make a meaningful difference for the tools and funding available to respond to the future disasters that, in our current global climate, seem inevitable.  

It has taken so much for us to get to this point – months of door-to-door canvassing, statewide tours, consultations with legal experts, lobbying, and uncertainty up until the last minute. Holding the fossil fuel industry financially accountable for the mess they knowingly made is a just cause, and those reparations are unquestionably necessary when faced with the alternative of Vermonters footing the bill for future storms. But even this victory is bittersweet – we don’t expect Big Oil to go down without a fight. 

Last week, we came together with friends and allies to celebrate the success of our Make Big Oil Pay campaign and the passage of the Climate Superfund Act at Positive Pie, one of many businesses devastated by the flooding. I had spent the previous month working through footage of interviews with Melissa, the owner, as part of what felt like at the time a last-ditch effort to stave off a gubernatorial veto. I noted many of the same themes in her story as the others I had heard throughout the state: devastating loss, a community effort to recover, debt, strong resolve to bounce back and uncertainty about the future. As the remnants of Hurricane Beryl once again threaten the state with flash flooding, I can’t help but think of those Vermonters only just barely back on their feet after last year, and those still recovering.

As we look forward during a time of political and environmental uncertainty in this country and around the world, it is more important than ever to uphold the Vermont values of community and mutual aid I’ve seen on display since moving here. The resilience and determination of Vermonters in the face of adversity are inspiring, and together, we can continue to make meaningful changes to ensure a just and sustainable future.

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