This guest blog post was written by VPIRG Intern Charlie Dobson, of Bennington, who is currently a senior at Holderness School
Earlier this month, the International Panel on Climate Change released its third and final section of its Sixth Assessment Report on where the world sits in the battle against climate change.
Each section had a specific goal:
- Study the physical science of climate change
- Look at impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability
- Mitigation strategies that can be implemented on all levels
Put together, they highlight how climate change will continue to affect us all, with increasingly disproportionate impacts on disadvantaged communities. For instance, in the most recent section, the report finds that standard mitigation measures now often focus on economic concerns “over the concerns and needs of disadvantaged populations.”
Although Vermont may not face annual ravaging wildfires or devastating hurricanes, the state will see destructive economic and environmental effects resulting from more frequent extreme weather events, increases in temperature and rainfall, and disruptive changes to our natural environment if we do not take advantage of mitigation efforts.
So what can (and should) we as Vermonters be doing to protect our state and our friends and loved ones worldwide, especially those who will bear the brunt of the climate crisis?
While the window to act is closing, our tools to mitigate climate change are expanding. The report says, “Many initiatives prioritize immediate and near-term climate risk reduction, which reduces the opportunity for transformational adaptation.” Therefore, it is essential to design climate legislation built with 2123 in mind, not just 2023.
How do we do this? Luckily, the report answers that question – a concept termed “Climate Resilient Development.” CRD is the development of integrated, equitable programs centered around “traditionally marginalized groups” by local, national, and international governments.
In Vermont, this means switching to renewable, sustainable energy in a manner that decreases inequality at home and benefits global efforts to stifle the long-term impacts of climate change. The good news is several initiatives are being considered in the State House that are designed to do just that.
The Clean Heat Standard bill (H.715) being considered in the Senate represents a significant step toward addressing Vermont’s climate pollution. The bill sets a standard, as the name implies, for heating throughout Vermont to lower greenhouse gas emissions and prioritize the cleanest heating methods. The bill also increases access to clean heat systems for low-income households because, as the IPCC says, CRD must be equitable for it to be effective.
Another robust piece of legislation targeting this area is the Environmental Justice bill (S.148), supported by at least 35 prominent groups. If you have been up to date with VPIRG’s efforts, you will know that this bill is one of our key policy initiatives. This bill, which would be Vermont’s first environmental justice law, would, among other things, create an Advisory Council on Environmental Justice tasked with engaging disadvantaged populations and making recommendations on implementing Environmental Justice in state agencies.
VPIRG also has its eyes set on innovative and environmentally responsible investments in transportation. Crucial steps to reduce carbon emissions are on the docket for the final transportation budget, including investments into initiatives such as electric vehicle incentives and charging stations, public transportation and micro-transit, increased bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and broader public transit investments. While the budget has not been finalized, these measures are fundamental to adhering to the IPCC recommendations.
Suppose the threat of climate change itself was not enough to push for a more environmentally sustainable future – adding to the long list of reasons to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels here in Vermont are the local effects of the war in Ukraine – gas prices are rising. Working Vermonters are paying more at the pump because of Russia’s dominance over oil and gas combined with industry greed and opportunism. It’s worth pointing out that 100% of Vermont’s fossil fuels are imported – so the money we spend flows out of our local economy. Implementing measures like increasing electric vehicles, as well as reducing our reliance on cars, will save money, leave us with a better planet and build a better Vermont.
Government measures are just one slice of the pie – every person involved has a net positive impact on the movement to keep our state the way we love it most – green. As Vincent Van Gogh once said, “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”
While the IPCC’s findings are daunting, there are still so many steps that can be taken to brighten the future for Vermonters and the world.