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Vt. discusses ways to turn climate change into economic opportunities

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2015-02-18

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RANDOLPH, Vt. -

Most government officials, nonprofits and policy groups agree on the threats posed by climate change. The primary question for many has turned not only how to prevent it, but how to best exploit those changes for economic good.

Upward of 450 people packed the Vermont Technical College gymnasium to kick off the daylong summit. The goal was to develop strategies to turn the challenges of climate change into economic opportunities.

"This is the wide mouth of a funnel in terms of trying to add up the state's conversation around economic development in a time of climate change," said Paul Costello of the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

Costello says the main idea is to develop strategies, whether it's keeping Vermont in the forefront of solar development or adapting tourism to fit future weather patterns. And one of the keys to that, he says, is attracting and keeping young people.

"How do we put out the word that Vermont is taking leadership to become mission central around climate economy to attract those young people all across the country who are saying, where is this working? Where are things moving forward? How do I participate? Let's make Vermont a center pin for that as an economic strategy," said Costello.

A dozen smaller panels include scientists, business leaders and state and local officials on issues ranging from smart growth of communities to visions for transportation.

"Transportation is the elephant in the room. We, the transportation sector, are the largest contributor to our state of Vermont's carbon footprint. And it's a really hard nut to crack in a rural state with a rural economy where we're so dependent on our cars," said Sue Minter, Vermont Transportation Secretary.

Keynote speaker Jigar Shah is a former CEO of a major solar company and writes about creating wealth from the climate crisis. He says renewable energy is already generating big bucks.

"The technologies that we need to really tackle climate change are now here, and they're cost effective and they're profitable. And so to me, this first stage of climate change actually one of the largest wealth creation opportunities of our time," said Shah.

Ideas generated at the summit will be kicked off to a new 24 member Climate Change Economy Council, which is tasked with coming up with some practical plans over the next year.