Gov. Phil Scott delivered his 2019 Inaugural Address on Jan. 10 and his budget address on Jan. 23, pleading for population growth. On the intervening Thursday, Jan. 17, George Plumb, perhaps foremost among our citizen guardians of what’s left of Vermont’s incomparable natural landscape and uncrowded tranquility, addressed central Vermonters in this newspaper (“I=PxAxT”) pleading for the opposite. Let’s consider the chasm between their worldviews.
Gov. Scott is troubled by our huge state debt, shrinking labor force and falling school enrollments. He faces the hard reality that we’re being swallowed by a financial sinkhole $4 billion deep, and that every Vermonter is on the hook for over $17,000 — the ninth highest per capita debt in the nation.
We share the governor’s anxiety. We understand his sense of urgency. It’s no wonder that he turns to a familiar and reassuring remedy: Pump up the population and recharge the economy with cash incentives to out-of-state workers, the massive construction of affordable housing and family-friendly public assistance, all to encourage population growth. If Mr. Scott’s plans pan out, Vermont will be awash in a tide of newcomers, perhaps as many as the 70,000 for which he has campaigned, packing the towns or sprawling into the countryside, building businesses and paring down Vermont’s voracious debt.
Like Mr. Scott, Mr. Plumb is alarmed, but less about our immediate economic strain than the long-term welfare of Vermont, the nation and the world. He’s watching the giant CO2 gas cloud — the exhalation of human economic activity — choke our habitat slowly to death. United Nations scientists, he reminds us, have just said that we must cut CO2 pollution to 0 (zero) by 2050, or else.
The scale of the danger has dawned even on New Scientist, the rose-colored weekly review of science and technology. The magazine says that if we humans don’t succeed at the superhuman task the U.N. has set us, we are probably goners. And the goners, should you think you have nothing at stake, will include your and your neighbor’s newborns, who will be just 31 years old in 2050.
The misery that economic and population growth will inflict upon posterity, should there be a posterity, add to the discomforts of crowding and congestion they inflict upon those of us already here — these are the misfortunes that trouble Mr. Plumb. But they don’t appear in Mr. Scott’s messages: not the planetary damage done by the ideology of limitless growth, not the crowding, not the congestion and certainly not (Mr. Scott being a developer) the accelerating loss of Vermont’s open space.
That’s the abyss separating Mr. Plumb and Mr. Scott’s views of reality. Growth is good to Mr. Scott because it will rescue us from bankruptcy. Growth is death to Mr. Plumb because it generates yet more CO2, a scourge of the Earth. Mr. Scott sees a growing Vermont as a thriving Vermont. Mr. Plumb sees a growing Vermont as a dying Vermont.
Gov. Scott must feel lonely at the top, a messenger with an unwelcome message. But at least he’ll hear the applause of the business community. At least his constituents will thank him for promising more dollars in their pockets, while asking little sacrifice.
What public service, however, could be lonelier than Mr. Plumb’s resistance to growth? Mr. Plumb must stand up before a nervous audience and tell them that humanity everywhere must shrink, that its growth has already ruined the Vermont we once loved, the nation we once cherished and the life-giving planet we once treasured.
Then, he must salt their wound with the comfortless message that all their recycling, all their wind turbines, all their solar panels, all their electric cars and all their other civilization-saving remedies, will prove but tinkling brass without reproductive abstinence and depopulation. But that diverging road, in Mr. Scott’s world, unless it accommodates a Welcome Center, could never be traveled by.
Mark Adair is a Montpelier property and business owner.