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A call for action

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2015-03-01

By Steve Pappas, Times Argus: www.timesargus.com

A summit at Vermont Technical College on Wednesday showed exactly how far Vermont has progressed when it comes to climate change, but also how far we still have to go if we want to be economically viable — and sustainable — on the world stage. “Creating Prosperity and Opportunity Confronting Climate Change” was the name of the conference hosted by the Vermont Council onRural Development. The summit had an ambitious daylong agenda that brought together scores of statewide experts and facilitators, as well as hundreds of participants, all aimed at moving forward the discussion of climate change and its stranglehold on Vermont’s struggling economy.

Thirteen groups — through panels and, at times, painfully frank discussion — tackled heady issues, including marketing Vermont as the innovative economy destination, improving education, and adapting outdoor recreation and tourism.

While causes of climate change — fossil fuel dependence, for one — did enter into parts of the day’s conversations, there was an assumption already in place: Climate change is happening. That ethos was designed to force summit participants not to assign blame but rather to push forward with ideas, recommendations and action plans.

Many of the theories and models discussed Wednesday have been debated thoroughly among academics and the business community for decades. Those old conversations put off some participants who have spent years looking for solutions. Coming up with specific recommendations for reshaping policies and adding jobs — even among experts — proved a tough exercise.

However, all the ideas put forth yesterday were made from the same stock. The consensus was: It comes down to adapting and transforming and not waiting.

During an hourlong discussion on business leadership in response to climate change, the panelists each, through their own initiatives, showed how they have had to adapt — sometimes creatively deconstructing their business models in order to do so — to learn to fail fast and move on, as well as to make concerted efforts to educate employees and the public about what they are trying to do.

These were not small-time Vermont companies. The discussion included representatives from Casella Waste Systems, Washington Electric Co-op and SunCommon, as well as the University ofVermont School of Business, which has started a master’s program specializing in climate change job growth.

Nearly every discussion Wednesday used the words “resilience” and “opportunity.” For the most part, the dialogue was encouraging and positive. Some participants said they wanted bolder action than what was tossed around at the summit; others affirmed what may be the most obvious truth of all: When it comes to climate change and the economy, we do not know what the future holds right now.

So what’s next? How do we put Vermont on the global map as a leader in the innovation economy? Being on the same page, for one. To bolster our economy, we need to adapt and integrate all of the factors that make our state unique, and that could mean doing so in a completely new way. And as our businesses succeed while they adapt, we need to tout them. We need to share best practices and ensure everyone — from schoolchildren to retirees to onlookers around the globe — knows the steps we are making to help the planet and ourselves.

“Vermont can be in the forefront of innovation and economic advancement through climate action,” the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s executive director, Paul Costello, advised participants. Now’s the time to act.