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Buried in the sand of climate change

Posted January 5, 2007

For those who think global warming is just a myth, a media-created fantasy, just take a look outside. Unless you live on one of Vermont’s mountaintops, the chances are there isn’t a lot of snow on the ground, and with temperatures topping 40 degrees just after New Year’s Day, it’s easy to see why we’ve been left out of the snow loop this year.

Sure, it’s not unheard of to have a brown and green December into early January. But, the data from the National Weather Service in Burlington puts the past two months at some of the warmest since records were first kept more than 100 years ago.

Vermont author Edward Hoagland, one of the pre-eminent nature writers and essayists of his generation, or any generation, wrote nearly 15 years ago that the days of some species were numbered. Not because of warming temperatures, but an even graver threat: “I believe, incidentally, that those of us who care about bears and frogs haven’t much time left to write about them, not just because — among the world’s other emergencies — a twilight is settling over them, but because people are losing their capacity to fathom any form of nature except, in a more immediate sense, their own.”

These words remain an apt description of our ongoing head-in-the-sand approach to policy regarding global warming. For nearly three decades we have ignored warnings from scientists that we were contributing to a natural phenomenon, and it could have dire consequences.

Vermont’s legislative leaders have already zeroed in on global warming as one of the topics that will be dealt with in the upcoming session. While some scoff that this is being touted as a top issue to face head on, elected officials know there is palpable discontent for business as usual when it comes to dealing with our future, and the future of the generations behind us.

Talk to a college student, or anyone under the age of 35 or so, and they’ll more than likely say that the biggest issue facing their generation is climate change and how it will impact the world they are inheriting.

No one is foolish enough to think that Vermont’s actions alone can turn back the clock on the global warming trend. But, we have some major decisions to think of in the coming years, and can perhaps set an example for others.

Vermonters don’t expect heavy-handed edicts from on high, but thoughtful approaches that will help the state better prepare for its energy future, becoming less dependent on fuel and energy sources that are fossil fuel reliant.

We can’t all drive hybrid cars or put up a solar array or wind turbine in our backyard, but we can change light bulbs, look for other ways to reduce car use (where we can and when we can), and look for ways to support renewable energy in some capacity or another. Aside from stricter energy standards for homes, and appliances, we can also help Vermonters save money by weatherizing their homes and using heating fuel more efficiently.

It also means we need to stop subsidizing global oil giants.

While critics say renewable power wouldn’t make it in the market without subsidy, Jeff Wolfe, of the Vermont-based groSolar, counters that today’s subsidies are tomorrow’s policy. Today, large multinational oil companies receive billions of dollars in subsidies, tax credits, and other incentives to continue to bring dirty fuel technology to market, rather than investing in processes that have zero emissions. This policy is simply a subsidy that hasn’t been taken off the books.

For Vermont, as we reported last year, many climatologists predict that the winters could become shorter and more intense, with moderating temperatures on either end that lead to wetter falls and springs. While not a death knell for ski areas, it doesn’t bode well for the fall tourist season, or for sugaring time. It also means wetter springs that make it harder for farmers to get a good planting in early.

Facing global warming head on will only help to preserve our own economy, and the livelihood of thousands of Vermonters. That’s why we must make sure that any decision we make today must be viewed in the context of how it will impact the world as a whole.

Then again, isn’t that what we should be doing anyway?

We’re always telling children that there are consequences to their actions. And, they are living it right now, and many of them don’t like what they see coming down the road.

To continue decades of hiding from tough choices and shirking the responsibility we need to take for our actions is no example to set. It’s time to get serious about making the world a better place, rather than just playing lip service. That is certainly not cool.