It was wonderful to have so many Vermont high schools up in Montpelier for Youth Lobby Day last week. Hundreds of students, accompanied by their teachers, came to the Statehouse to tell their Legislators how important mitigating Climate Change is for their future. Their passionate concern for the future of our state and planet, for our economy and for our way of life, was impressive. It helped affirm my own feeling that this, along with reducing the impacts of poverty in Vermont, are two of the most important and long lasting issues the Legislature must prioritize.
The objective of Vermont Youth Lobby Day was to impress upon the Legislature the urgency students feel about ensuring the health of our environment by working to eliminate greenhouse gases and reduce the effects of climate change. They are clear that Vermont’s economy is especially vulnerable. Billions of dollars depend on the health of our natural systems and the temperature not rising 3.6 degrees F, as projected by 2035. Under threat are industries iconic to Vermont: sugaring, outdoor recreation, forest products, agriculture, and tourism.
They understand not only climate change’s impact on our environment but the startling fact of its financial impact on their future. “The Price Tag of Being Young” is a 2016 report that quantifies the cost of climate change to millennials. It reports that 2015 college graduates can expect hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost income in a world that allows climate change to continue unabated.
In a letter to the governor and the Legislature, six priorities were laid out by these young people: 1) Double the number of low and moderate income homes weatherized annually; 2) Create an Electric Vehicle incentive program using the VW settlement funds; 3) Join other New England States in enacting a Global Warming Solutions Act; 4) Expand the deployment of local renewable power and beneficial electrification; 5) Receive and act on the results of the Joint Fiscal Office’s decarbonization analysis; and 6) Prohibit the expansion of new large-scale fossil fuel infrastructure.
Several of us met with a group of students from the Woodstock Union High School on the Statehouse lawn. Despite the raw day, they were full of energy and optimism – eager to communicate their concerns about Vermont’s slow response to what they see as the pressing challenge of this millennium. They were well prepared and their questions weren’t easy to answer – partly because some of the bills which address the issues they are following are still in play, or haven’t been acted upon, or are full of political challenges. Some of the bills they support may take two years to pass. We had a good discussion, which I hope we will continue.
Vermont’s major natural contribution to reducing green house gases is in maintaining our forest land which enables the sequestration of carbon. Vermont’s two biggest contributors to climate change are burning fossil fuels to heat our houses and to power our vehicles. The best thing we can do is work to prevent burning more fossil fuels by weatherizing our buildings, driving more fuel-efficient cars, and investing in more public transportation. Accomplishing this presents real financial challenges for a small rural state. And therein lies most of the political challenge. However, these steps also present real economic opportunities – as we have seen in the growth of our green construction and renewable energy sectors.
I appreciate hearing from you. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at the Statehouse 802-828-2228 or at home 802-457-4627. To get more information on the Vermont Legislature, and the bills which have been proposed and passed, visit the legislative website: www.legislature.vermont.gov.
Sen. Alison Clarkson