Anyone who has been outdoors during the past week is well aware of the wildfires burning in Quebec and Nova Scotia. The smoky haze that inundated Vermont is nothing compared to the thick smog that settled on New York City and other eastern states south of the Champlain Valley.
The wildfires burning across Canada today, as well as those that have devastated the western United States in recent years, are driven by climate change that is melting ice caps and altering the jet stream. These effects, in turn, dry out major land areas, making them susceptible to drought and wildfires, and increase water content in the atmosphere, driving more extreme storms that flood coastal areas susceptible to higher rainfall.
On the first Saturday in June, I had the opportunity to attend the Vermont Energy & Climate Action Network conference at Middlebury College along with my Charlotte Energy Committee colleague, Deirdre Holmes.
The keynote speaker was Bill McKibben, author, climate activist and founder of 350.org and Third Act. In his talk, he said that we continue to face an existential crisis with a changing climate that is already on the cusp of reaching a point of no return. The impacts are being felt around the world as well as here at home: 33 million people displaced by unprecedented flooding in Pakistan; a 20-percent decrease in the great Antarctic circumpolar current which affects marine ecosystems worldwide; and a prediction that we will exceed a 1.5 degree-Celsius increase in global temperature in 2024.
The melting of the polar ice caps at both ends of the earth are reducing the reflectivity of the sun’s rays as well as increasing sea levels; while the melting of permafrost in the arctic releases tons of the highly potent greenhouse gas methane, further increasing global warming.
But McKibben also noted some positive developments over the past decade. Scientists and engineers have done a great job providing us with tools to combat climate change, including cleaner methods of energy production, better methods of natural resource management to store carbon, and increased understanding of climate science. As a result, the cost of renewable energy has dropped lower than fossil-fuel prices. Wind is now the cheapest way to generate electricity, and solar is close behind. The costs of combustion, moreover, far outweigh the benefits in terms of climate change, adverse health effects, and its influence on geopolitics. He compared renewable energy versus fossil fuels as “getting energy from heaven instead of from hell.”
He is encouraged for the climate by the youth movement. Our young people understand the need to change our habits. NIMBY-ism has to change; we have to look beyond our own backyards. We can no longer ignore the effects of fossil fuel production and consumption on others while we refuse to take responsibility for our own actions or inaction. He then challenged the rest of us to do our job to combat climate change, too, because “once the arctic is melted, there is no plan to freeze it again.”
The Vermont Energy & Climate Action Network conference provided an opportunity to learn more about the assistance that towns, organizations and individuals can expect as a result of the major federal legislation that passed, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.
Bonnie Waninger of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns gave an overview of the programs and gave us links to the information at the website. Vermont League of Cities and Towns can provide consultants to Vermont municipalities for the various programs including renewable energy grants and low-interest loans, a USDA Loan forgiveness program, and charging and fueling infrastructure grants.
Jan Myers of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity gave us a rundown of the Residential Energy Efficiency tax credit that helps homeowners with weatherization and energy reduction and the Residential Clean Energy tax credit (30 percent) for renewable energy installations. She also referenced low-interest loans for clean energy provided through Vermont Energy Investment Corporation.
Following the presentations were breakout sessions for exchanging ideas among attendees and experts.
As Charlotte moves forward with implementing the Town Plan, there are many opportunities to keep climate change mitigation in mind. The Charlotte Energy Committee is sponsoring the Solarize Charlotte initiative to encourage adoption of residential solar. (See Charlotte Energy website for details.) The design of the town garage includes geothermal heating and solar-ready roofing. A 5-MW solar facility on Lake Road will help Vermont’s electric grid reach its 100 percent renewable electricity goal and support transitioning our transportation and heating demands to cleaner electricity. We can all take advantage of the assistance from Efficiency Vermont to button up our homes. And, finally, Sustainable Charlotte is currently taking orders for energy-conserving window inserts for the coming winter.
(Mike Yantachka is a former state representative and a current member of the Charlotte Energy Committee.)