The Vermont Council on Rural Development is holding a major statewide conference, “Creating Prosperity & Opportunity Confronting Climate Change,” in Randolph on February 18. The gathering will launch VCRD’s new Climate Change Economy initiative, which aims to stimulate the growth of small businesses that can prosper by addressing various aspects of the climate change scenario.
VCRD’s goal is to “ally business, policy and community leadership to advance policies and investments to grow jobs and nurture innovative business development in sectors ranging from clean energy to recycling, transportation systems, and thermal efficiency.” Vermont is poised to become a national leader in this area, and the Feb. 18 event could trigger an outburst of creative energy and purposeful investment.
These efforts will be supported by a proposed Vermont Climate Change Economy Council that will emerge from the conference. This working group will develop a framework of policy actions and investment strategies during the coming year.
VCRD is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization authorized by the federal farm bill to act as a neutral convener at local and state levels to support the viability of rural communities. Its previous initiatives have included the Working Landscape Partnership, the Council on the Future of Vermont, the Digital Economy Project and other efforts to galvanize action and support collaboration among community members.
Characteristically, this group’s approach to climate change adopts a moderate, inclusive position: On one hand it recognizes that we do face new and volatile conditions on a planet with an altered atmosphere; “business as usual”—heedless consumption of resources and dumping of wastes, including carbon dioxide—is becoming ever more problematic. On the other hand, by emphasizing prosperity and opportunity, this project invites participation by businesspeople, policymakers, and other mainstream interests who do not accept the warning by Naomi Klein and others that climate disruption will “change everything” including the capitalist economy itself.
The environmental and economic challenges of our time are so complex and systemic, it is difficult to know how best to address them. Like Klein, many activists propose various radical remedies, from a “new economy” to ecosocialism to the breakup of large nation states, replacing the entire system with one that is more sustainable. Others believe that the industrial age is inexorably winding down and that we face an inevitable descent into a simpler, low-energy future, for which we better start to prepare. On the other hand, there are those who argue that technology and innovation will enable us to continue our accustomed lifestyle and economic institutions well into the future.
I have explored many of the more radical analyses and find their arguments compelling in many ways. Some deep systemic changes are going to be needed to bring about a truly sustainable society. But given where we are right now, those changes are probably not going to happen any time soon. VCRD’s approach is a reasonable place to begin, working within the current economic and political climate. It offers common ground, and a supportive structure, for moving together thoughtfully into an uncertain future.
Smaller scale economic enterprise, based on collaboration and a more realistic understanding of environmental limits, is a step in the right direction. We don’t know for certain that this project can ensure prosperity, as we have come to define that, but it is a meaningful step toward resilience, which in the future will probably be much more important.
Information about the VCRD conference can be found at: vtrural.org/programs/climate-economy. It would be great to have a large contingent of participants from the Woodstock area who can come back energized to build a climate change economy here.
Do Just One Thing: Consider attending the VCRD conference on Feb. 18.