Summit Explores Vermont's Climate Economy

Feb 23, 2016

More than 400 participants attended the second annual Vermont Climate Economy Summit held Monday in Randolph Center.

The day-long event followed the release of the report Progress For Vermont, prepared by the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council.

The group was created by the Vermont Council on Rural Development, with a year-long mission to study how government, businesses and non-profits can build the state’s economy in light of the impact of climate change.

The report concludes that Vermont is well positioned to develop a "climate economy" that would attract businesses and entrepreneurs and it outlines additional steps to meet the challenges of climate change.

The report’s recommendations include providing start-up funding and assistance for business creators, rewarding climate related innovation that spurs economic growth and developing a carbon pricing or trading structure.

Conference sessions illustrated both the progress made and the work that lies ahead.

In one session, the discussion centered on how to address our reliance on fossil fuels for transportation, which accounts for about 46 percent of greenhouse gas emissions produced in Vermont.

Facilitator Karen Glitman, director of policy and public affairs with Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, told participants that we haven’t yet moved the needle on reducing transportation’s role in the state’s carbon footprint.

Glitman said the percentage of Vermonters carpooling or using public or non-fossil fuel forms of transportation is still small and nowhere near where it should be to have a significant impact.

“Until we get to 50, 75, 80 percent, we’re not cutting it,” she said. “It seems as though we’ve got to stop what we’ve been doing and try something new. I don’t know what that something new is.”

Participants talked about the challenges of weaning Vermonters from their cars, which include the state’s rural nature and our car-oriented culture.

“So much of what we’re talking about has to do with culture change,” said Brattleboro Representative Mollie Burke, who serves on the House Transportation Committee.

They session also touched on many initiatives and programs on both the local and statewide levels, from the Tunbridge Grease Collective that provides used vegetable oil to power diesel vehicles, to local and statewide efforts to encourage biking.

Christopher Parker of the Vermont Rail Action Network pointed out that the Vermont Energy Plan calls for a quadrupling of inter-city passenger ridership.

“We’ve been thinking very much about commuter rail in the Burlington, Middlebury, Montpelier-Barre area and some exciting things are happening that will bear fruit soon,” Parker said.

Glitman said somehow the health and environmental costs of fossil fuel use have to be factored in, similar to how the health effects of tobacco were monetized through a cigarette tax.

“We’re already paying for it, so it’s a matter of putting it in one bucket and saying here’s the actual price and here’s a way to recoup that burden from those who are polluting and put it back into transforming our economy to a post-carbon economy,” she said.

Making changes while providing affordable, accessible options will require many solutions, participant agreed: from more and cleaner public transportation, increased  availability of electric vehicles and other technologies that didn’t exist not long ago.

A number of participants stressed the need for programs and infrastructure that encourage more use of bicycles.

The challenge of making changes was illustrated by Keri Ellis who recently moved from Chicago to Winooski. Ellis says she hasn’t owned a car for many years.

“It is really difficult to live in this state without a car,” she said.

Ellis says there aren’t enough public transportation options to enable her to get around on a daily basis and she often doesn’t have time to bike or walk to her destinations.