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Opinion: Climate change economy

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2015-08-25

Editorial as seen in the Rutland Herald: http://www.rutlandherald.com/article/20150825/OPINION01/708259959/1038

Vermonters will gather Wednesday evening at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland to chart new steps in creating what is being called a “climate change economy.”

It is one of three public forums organized by the Vermont Council on Rural Development, and it is designed to draw on the wide range of experience, interest and creativity of the entire community. Forums will be held in Burlington and Brattleboro in September and October.

The forum on Wednesday is the next step in a program launched in February this year at a summit on how to create prosperity and opportunity in confronting climate change. Participants at that forum established a council to develop plans for the climate change economy, and the three forums are meant to enlist the community in forming those plans.

The Vermont Council on Rural Development is well suited to the job of drawing ideas from the community. In an extensive series of hearings held throughout the state several years ago, the council, led by Paul Costello, invited people from the community — in Rutland and elsewhere — to brainstorm plans for their future. Rutland’s highly successful creative economy initiative received a significant boost from the process. The creative economy has drawn from the energies of a new generation of young people to breathe life into a variety of community projects. It has been a big part of the revival that has made Rutland one of Vermont’s latest success stories.

For the council to turn its attention to the climate change economy makes sense. It is responding to the remarkable progress the state has made in the development of new energy technologies that is putting Vermont at the forefront of the nation’s efforts to take on the climate change challenge. Thus, the Wednesday forum will include a panel with some of the region’s business leaders: Mark Foley, president of Foley Services; Betsy Ide from Green Mountain Power; and Joe Fusco from Casella Waste Systems.

The forum is meant to take a comprehensive look at the opportunities arising from the need to take on climate change. Thus, climate change is being viewed not as a disaster but as an occasion for economic development, touching on transportation, education, downtown redevelopment, tourism and energy efficiency.

Climate change remains a significant potential disaster if nothing is done, locally and globally, to slow its progress. Because we know that potential disaster is bearing down on us, the question is whether we miss the opportunity or seize it in responding to the changing circumstances around us.

The innovations pioneered by Green Mountain Power, which is transforming Rutland into a cutting-edge energy technology center, are part of the story. The energy transformations already underway have created a whole new category of jobs in construction, energy efficiency and renewable energy. There are more transformations on the horizon, including especially in the area of transportation. Perhaps Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras will be persuaded to talk about his electric car at the Rutland forum on Wednesday.

The climate change economy and what it may lead to encompasses almost all the Rutland community, including the energy sector, tourism and agriculture, as well as education, where awareness of and training for the new era must have its start. Organizers of the Wednesday forum are hoping for a good turnout from all sectors of the community who will bring a positive and creative approach to the climate change challenge.

One of the aims of the forum is to increase the sense of unity within the community as it takes on this challenge. It so happens that the rapid proliferation of solar farms has engendered resentment in some quarters among those who see the installations as a visual blight and who suspect that someone is getting rich on the trend. To bring all members of the community into the discussion is what the Vermont Council on Rural Development is good at. They want to hear from everybody on Wednesday. Helping to foster unity and promoting cooperation in resolving conflicts will be part of making the climate change economy work for Vermonters.