MONTPELIER — A call to combat climate change with a comprehensive strategy to save the planet has come from the central Vermont chapter of the Vermont State Employees Association.
The call to action came at the annual meeting of the VSEA chapter last week and may come up again at the annual meeting of the VSEA at Okemo Mountain Resort on Sept. 14.
VSEA is a union that represents 6,200 state employees to improve wages and working conditions through contract negotiations, legislative lobbying, training and education. It is an independent organization, not affiliated with any international union and controls its own policies, procedures and budget.
The central Vermont chapter of the VSEA has defined the dire predictions of climate change in its declaration of a global calamity – but also laid out a detailed strategy to respond to the crisis approved by members. The statement the VSEA chapter issued was drafted by members Bob Atchinson and Ned Swanberg.
“The whole thing was inspired by Greta Thunberg,” said Atchison, referring to the Swedish schoolgirl who sparked a global call to action last year, urging students to skip school and launch protests in their communities, calling for more action to combat climate change.
Since then, there have been several school strikes in Vermont that led to protests that shut down a session the House of the Representatives this year and blocked streets in the Capital City. Other affiliated organizations in Vermont involved in climate protests include 350 Vermont, Extinction Rebellion Vermont and Uprise Youth Action Camp in Marshfield.
More actions are expected, including a call for a global action Sept. 20 that is expected to paralyze many cities and towns with large protests.
However, Atchison said that VSEA members will not be allowed to strike in their official capacity as state employees because of an agreement with the state. But individually, VSEA members can be involved in campaigns that combat climate change, he said.
“People have to realize that there really is something wrong with the planet and it is indeed an emergency,” Atchison said. “So, (our statement) are affirmations that prove that there is a climate emergency and then it talks about some solutions for it.”
“The members of the Central Vermont Chapter of the Vermont State Employees Association calls on all union members and all governments and peoples worldwide to declare a Climate Emergency,” said the statement issued by the VSEA chapter at its annual meeting last week.
The statement went on to call for actions to reverse global warming by restoring “near pre-industrial global average temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations” and halt all new fossil-fuel infrastructure and technologies that rely on them. The statement also called for efforts to “draw down” carbon from the atmosphere, transitions to regenerative agriculture and end the risk of “the sixth mass extinction” of species on Earth.
Instead, the statement called for efforts to create “high-quality, good-paying jobs with comprehensive benefits for those who will be impacted by this transition,” the statement added.
The statement said there needed to be a return to the goal of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord signed by 175 countries committed to reducing the temperature of the planet to below the 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels or at least limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. President Trump has disputed climate change and withdrawn the United States from the climate accord, drawing widespread criticism.
The statement calls for a “blue-green” alliance of labor unions and environmental justice groups to work together to phase out industries that are “harming workers, community health and the planet, while also providing just pathways for workers into new livelihoods.”
To reverse climate change, the statement calls for: A shift in the economy from “dirty energy” by reducing highway construction and expanding public transit; moving from incinerators and landfills to zero waste; switching from industrial agriculture and food systems to more local food production; moving away from urban sprawl to smart-growth urban development; halting “rampant, destructive over-development; and promoting habitat and ecosystem restoration.
The statement said a broad effort to combat climate change would require the participation of all sectors of society, including community organizations, the interfaith community, labor unions, business, and groups that represent people with disabilities, minorities, immigrants and women’s rights organizations.
Atchison said he is already involved in efforts to combat climate change at the local level in central Vermont.
He is a member of RAMP (Revitalizing All of Marshfield and Plainfield), which is a group of residents from both towns that have banded together to strengthen their communities in the face of climate change and make the towns more energy efficient.
The two towns have also joined forces with the Vermont Council on Rural Development, which has developed a climate economy model for communities.
The plan calls for identifying strategies to reduce energy use and carbon emissions and find ways to switch from fossil-fuel use.
Other proposals include strengthening the resiliency of the Route 2 corridor between the two towns, improving and expanding the housing stock, expanding the area’s farm and food network, improving transportation options in the towns and increasing renewable-energy use in homes, businesses and other institutions.
VSEA President Steve Howard said it was not yet clear whether the union would consider adopting the central Vermont chapter’s declaration of a climate emergency statewide at the annual meeting next month.
“Whether the union as a whole will, is not clear at this point,” he said. “Members can certainly bring up anything that is not on the agenda. And there are members of VSEA who are interested in the impacts of climate change.
“You just have to look back to Tropical Storm Irene and all of the dislocation that occurred and all of the state employees risking their lives to save patients at the former state hospital (in Waterbury). VSEA members are concerned about the environment, the impacts of climate change,” he added.