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The topic of climate change has become more and more visible recently in print and on TV. Media coverage in general is up from near zero to about 1 percent in the last 10 years. That may not seem like much, but at least some coverage of the most important subject confronting us all is finally being noticed. The inspiration for coverage may well come from environmental writers like Bill McKibben and his 350.org. And our legislators are paying attention at both the state level and in Congress.
At a recent VECAN conference, Vermont state Representative Margaret Cheney spoke about her clean energy tour in Germany. This European economic superpower is beginning to cut back not only on nuclear but also fossil fuel usage. They are replacing those dangerous or greenhouse gas-producing fuels with sustainable ones. Her talk inspired me to look further into Germany’s progress.
I started by reading an e-book titled Clean Break by Osha Davidson. Germany’s methods are not much different than what Vermont has just started doing. We have similar climates and clean energy goals. The book describes Jimmy Carter as one of their heroes. When he put solar hot water heating panels on the White House roof, some farsighted Germans said, “We can do that, too.” When Ronald Reagan became president, he took those collectors down and went on to defund the renewable industry in the U.S., allowing Germany to buy up much U.S. knowhow and patents at bargain-basement prices. They are now a world leader in thermal solar, PV (photovoltaic) and wind industries.
When we compare Germany with Vermont in our progress toward a clean energy future, we are keeping up just fine – for now. The problem we have for reaching Vermont’s goal of 80,000 homes weatherized by 2020 is lack of funding. Some of us have the money to invest in low carbon footprint projects that also save us money. Others can’t afford the expense even though it does make sense. Vermont’s PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program may soon be funded if we keep the pressure on our legislators. That would make it possible for almost anyone to take the first step – cutting heating energy use by buttoning up our homes to modern standards. Reducing our use of electricity is a project that doesn’t need PACE. Today, LED bulbs don’t cost much more than the old incandescent. They last up to 20 years and use 80 percent less power.
We have great representation in Montpelier with our neighbors Adam and Maxine, as well as Senators Cummings, Doyle and Pollina, but we should keep up the pressure on them to help meet the state’s goal of 90 percent renewables by 2050. There are seven environmental bills before them now which should be considered in order to fight dangerous climate change.
Vermont could follow the example of New Hampshire and raise gasoline prices to match theirs. Those would be non-regressive if some of the revenue was plowed back into an incentive for low-income households to do the necessary upgrades to reduce home heating bills. A reduction in the need for home heating assistance and greenhouse gas emissions would follow.
Our planet, like the human body, can handle a one-degree temperature rise. Two degrees means something is wrong and must be addressed. All indicators, according to climate scientists, point to a two- or, more likely, three-degree planetary temperature rise in our near future. The business-as-usual crap game we’re playing with the biosphere is not fair to any of the life forms with which we share this planet. Our children will thank us for our efforts.
Brattstrom lives in Warren.