About a year ago, the Vermont Council on Rural Development held a daylong summit in Randolph to discuss the economic implications and potential opportunities of climate change on Vermont. While there were scientists in attendance who could attack or defend the premise, the summit’s focus was on moving the discussion forward. It did not focus on the merits of the global warming debate; it accepted the fact that it is here.
Shortly after that summit, Rural Development formed the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council, a group of two dozen policymakers, business leaders and leaders in state government who met regularly for months, debating the merits of the summit findings. This week the council, a nonpartisan group, issued seven recommendations to advance economic activity “that addresses the challenge of climate change by reducing and mitigating carbon impacts while spurring innovation and creativity, encouraging entrepreneurism, attracting youth, and building jobs for the future.”
In an interview on “City Room with Steven Pappas” this week, Council on Rural Development Executive Director Paul Costello called Progress for Vermont the logical next step. The 40-page report smartly and reasonably breaks down both regulatory and policy adjustments that will help move Vermont toward a different kind of sustainability.
In the interview, Costello said the findings very much hinge on unity in principles around the state. That buy-in should not he hard. Because of the steps that have already been taken across economic sectors, and within Vermont communities, the building blocks are in place already. Costello is encouraged Vermont can be a model, perhaps for other U.S. cities, and in some instances, the entire nation. For example, he pointed to Rutland’s push to become a “solar city,” as well as Randolph’s aggressive weatherization programs and the net zero efforts made by cities like Burlington and Montpelier, just to name a few.
“We believe that Vermont can nurture, support, attract and build business enterprises that can profit in what we define as the climate economy ... But to do so we must act now, together,” the VCCEC council wrote in the report.
The recommendations include: a comprehensive plan toward efficiencies in home heating, weatherization and household retrofits; setting up an initiative to provide seed funding for new businesses; build or strengthen codes, regulations and incentives; stimulate investment in businesses already part of Vermont’s climate economy; promote carbon pricing or trading to reduce carbon use; and brand the state’s many success stories.
According to Costello, “We have a great story to tell.”
The report point to the various ways the climate economy is “an evolving answer, the essential answer, to climate change; it is the economy of the future,” the report states. This new era looks to clean energy development and distribution, thermal and electrical efficiencies, evolving public and private transportation systems, recycling, working lands, preservation and smart growth development, and recreation and tourism.
It comes down to awareness. All of it suggests a broad set of economically significant aspects of our communities as a whole. To achieve many of these goals, it will certainly involve changes in attitude and broader systemic tweaks to create new habits and patterns.
But according to Costello, again, it’s happening every day.
On Feb. 22, almost a year to the day of the last summit, Rural Development is hosting Ideas to Action, the second summit on Vermont’s climate economy. It will taking place at Vermont Technical College in Randolph. Costello said the summit will “help define and advance strategies to make Vermont a national leader in climate economy business development, innovation and job creation for the future.”
Participants will review the VCCEC action plan. And breakout groups will consider strategies for implementation and the partnerships that will be needed to move them forward.
This is the time for the discussion. It is good to know that the Council on Rural Development is willing to facilitate such an ambitious set of ideas.
“It is critically important that Vermonters listen to one another and work together with respect, as we have done historically, to find the appropriate balance between new development and protecting our environmental assets, even as we advance an economy that provides for the health, welfare and well-being of all Vermonters,” the council wrote.
Now is our time to help make the difference. The foundation has been put down. Let’s build something that lasts.