If you ever had doubts that climate change was not having an effect on Vermont, you weren’t paying attention. It is happening all around us, across every season.
A University of New Hampshire-supported report that came out in December from SolaVida provides a telling look at the toll climate change is having here, literally, in dollars and cents. The report, “The Cost of Climate Change in Vermont,” not only looks at the impact of climate change on health and well-being, it examines how the state has pivoted (good and not so good) to the demands put on it as conditions have evolved (or devolved).
The “spending invetory” presented in the 40-page report is designed to help state leaders to allocate fudning to address climate change challenges.
“Currently, the majority of the state’s programs address climate challenges pertaining to energy and transportation,” the authors of the report state. “Issues that have been more moderately addressed are in the arenas of food systems and land use.”
It goes on to say that water management and public health are the least addressed areas of work.
“There is a clear lack of attention to addressing the vulnerability of specific industries, like tourism, that are, and will be, strongly impacted by climate change.”
That is a serious indictment for a state that has set goals to change the course of climate change, be it at the local level through community energy committees and weatherization projects, to a broad-based climate council and ambitious renewable energy goals — some of the most progressive in the nation.
The authors of the report praise state leaders for looking hard at the impacts severe weather events have had on infrastructure, government, communication and systems. But they maintain the challenges caused by climate changes are having far-reaching effects on citizens through rising temperatures, drought, wildfires, the effects on our four seasons, pest infestation and disease.
“To date, the state has not comprehensively assessed its progress on addressing its obligation to expend funds to mitigate emissions and protect the public, and the state lacks a comprehensive strategy that acknowledges and addresses all health and well-being risks over both the short and long term,” the report notes.
Certainly, with the steps taken to approve the Global Warming Solutions Act it could be argued that there have been some bold steps taken toward addressing most of those quality of life-related issues. And the state’s energy policy is not deaf to the challenges.
However, it does take money.
This governor and his administration, in cadence with many lawmakers, are putting federal relief money aside with an eye toward an electric vehicle fleet, incentives toward less fossil fuel use (including weatherizing homes, ride sharing and much more). Those are the right steps for Vermont, and this federal money is part of the windfall that is needed to put action plans into motion.
We are glad to see state leaders having these hard discussions, and using this once-in-a-lifetime funding opportunity to actually attempt to move the needle in an appreciable, thoughtful way — not just a short-term fix, but some longer term, foundation-laying kinds of ideas.
Vermont needs to be looking at ideas, whether it is in products and incentives, as well as new innovations, whether it is updating public buildings to make them more efficient, or residential or commercial energy finance programs, with an eye toward solar and other renewables.
We need to be looking at what we drive, and how we can be doing better to take vehicles off our roads in smart, effective ways. But with those discussions, especially among vulnerable communities, those conversations quickly turn into debates about privilege, access and availability of resources.
And then there is the ongoing conversation about how we use our land not just as a resource for export, but for feeding our own, and enhancing our food systems and sustainability. Those conversations, too, quickly become about cost, year-round access, and effectiveness.
What we do know is that the pandemic has provided us with a stark reminder that the cost of living in Vermont, and our access to solutions needs improvement.
So as we spend this federal money, we must — as the governor and state leaders have pointed out — need to examine just how do we do this better, efficiently, and make our carbon footprint that much smaller.
All of the efforts to do so are welcome. And we appreciate the steps being taken. But let’s really move the needle so we don’t have to read another report saying we should do better.