Richard Watts


Richard Watts teaches communications and public policy in the department of Community Development at the University of Vermont and directs the Center for Research on Vermont.

Education may be essential to growing healthy minds and satisfying lives, but when it comes to changing behavior it falls far short.

In the early 1970s Amory Lovins called for a transformative new approach to providing electricity. He called it the nega-watt –  because, he said, the cheapest, greenest and cleanest watt of electricity is the one not used.

One of my strongest memories as a kid growing up in Putney in the ‘70s was the night I witnessed a fist fight at the gas station in the Village Center. It was at the height of the Vietnam War, and there was extreme tension between those opposed to the war, and those who supported it.

Watts: Youth Sports

Sep 18, 2017

Seasons have a way of stirring certain feelings. And for me, Fall is about long green fields and the white flash of a soccer ball, thumping the ball forward amid cheers and shouts, moving to the open spaces.

A friend of mine recently lost her job as a reporter - a job she loved. Every day she woke up and thought about how to capture the news and bring valuable information to her readers.

We recently spent four days in a Brooklyn Hospital with our daughter as she recovered from a severe infection that threatened to spread from a badly swollen cheek to her neck.

When Eric suffered a painful hockey injury during high school, the doctor prescribed painkillers. This started a life-long addiction that led to his death last year, just five months after marrying his long-time girl-friend.

As more tapes from President Richard Nixon’s oval office conversations have been released, the transcripts make for some compelling reading.

Last fall Soren Hermanson, a beefy, former-vegetable farmer from a small island off of the coast of Denmark came to Vermont to tell the story of Samso – an island that has gone completely renewable.

A few years ago I sat in the Federal Court House in Burlington and watched the full might of the US Auto Industry on display. Vermont had joined a number of other northeast states and California in requiring higher gas mileage in cars. Auto companies had then chosen to sue three states; California, New York and Vermont. The discovery requests alone had kept several staff in the state’s environmental agency busy for months.

Watts: Boys Adrift

Apr 18, 2017

We’re approaching a critical date in the world of college admissions – the day students put down their deposits and name their college choices. But admissions officers and college presidents already know one thing for sure – that the incoming class will have more women than men.

Early visitors to Vermont found it a beautiful and wild place but with far too many trees. So they set to work, carving farm fields out of the old-growth forests, pulling stumps from the ground, cutting 100-foot fir trees into chunks for firewood, planks for houses and masts for ships. By the time they were done, Vermont was nearly 80 percent cleared. The remaining trees were mostly relegated to the sides of mountains and the northern regions of the state.

Watts: Town Meeting

Feb 28, 2017

During the recent Congressional recess, stories about town hall meetings dominated the news. Large crowds attended the events. In some cases shouting down their Congressman. Some legislators avoided the meetings saying the process had been corrupted. Outside agitators were stirring the pot. President Trump tweeted about the “so-called angry crowds” calling them “sad.”

They came to Vermont in the thousands and tens of thousands, in cold weather and hot. Not speaking the language, often relegated to the hardest and most difficult work, they were treated as second class citizens.

At the time, one Vermont scholar wrote that they were “an abominable crew of vagabonds, robust, lazy men and boys, slatternly women with litters of filthy brats….The character of these people is not such to as to inspire the highest hope for the future of Vermont,” he concluded, “if they should become the most numerous of its population.”

Watts: The Gas Tax

Jan 17, 2017

When my parents moved to Putney in 1964, we bought our gasoline at the General Store. The gasoline cost 32 cents a gallon – which, when you adjust for inflation – is about $2.50 today. In fact, when I stopped to buy gas just recently, the cost was $2.30 cents – actually cheaper today, in real terms, than fifty years ago.

Watts: Sugar Tax

Dec 2, 2016

When I was 15, I bought my cigarettes from a vending machine. Five quarters and out jumped a pack of Marlboro Reds. Smoking gave me a powerful feeling. I felt cool and tough - bucking the authority of my parents.

Technology as a solution to society’s ills is a compelling story-line – like nuclear power will be too cheap to meter, or carbon sequestration will address climate change, and driver-less cars will reduce air pollution.

Several recent car-bike collisions underscore just how far we have to go to create a place where the roads are safe for all users – not just automobiles.

Negative TV ads have become common in political advertising.

Angela Evancie/VPR

Back in 2013, 11-year-old Vermonter Brigid Armbrust, her mother and her younger sister Molly started attending events in the state that touched off the now national debate about labeling genetically modified foods (GMOs). By the time Vermont’s law passed in 2014, Brigid had started a list serve for her peers and organized dozens of personal letters to lawmakers - some of whom went from opposition to strong support. All told, Brigid spent more than 40 days attending sessions of the Vermont legislature.