Building a Climate Economy: Earth Day Speech at Manchester Town Green (April 22, 2018)

Kath James Earth Day 2018

Kath takes the mic at the Earth Day celebration hosted by Earth Matters, the local environmental action group, at the Factory Point Town Green on April 22, 2018.

Thanks for coming today to celebrate Earth Day and the great work that’s being accomplished locally by Earth Matters. Most recently, I worked with Earth Matters on a non-binding resolution to urge our community to make a stronger commitment to meeting Vermont’s goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050. The resolution passed by unanimous voice vote at town meeting in March.

To be an effective advocate, the first step is to educate yourself, and so I’ve been reading the latest Manchester Town Plan, approved in May 2017. It’s a thoughtful and strategic document filled with excellent ideas. But in 72 pages, climate change is mentioned only three times, and only in the context of responding to or preparing for natural disasters. To my mind, this presents an opportunity. Because climate action is not only an urgent threat and global imperative. It’s also an exciting new avenue for far-sighted vision, for leadership and for positive change … a path that answers the call to action while bringing new residents, new jobs and new business opportunities to our state.

I was up last night until almost 1 a.m., reading a book called The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones. First published in 2008, this book lays out a substantive and practical plan for how we can simultaneously solve two of the biggest problems facing our country: responding to climate change while expanding our economy.

As Jones points out, “fossil fuels are a finite resource doing infinite damage.” And the challenge — the opportunity — that lies before us is to retrofit, reboot, reenergize, rescue and reinvent the U.S. by building a new climate economy … today.

This is not a futuristic task. We have what we need to move ahead. Across the United States, the climate economy can provide hundreds of thousands of skilled, good-paying, family-supporting jobs as we move to weatherize and retrofit buildings, conduct energy audits, install solar panels, plant trees, maintain and repair hybrid vehicles, build mass-transit infrastructure, and much more.

Even better, the climate economy also builds on Vermont’s strengths — the things we already do so well — including organic and sustainable agriculture, specialty and value-added foods, outdoor recreation and tourism, nonprofits and the arts. This is what our elected leaders — at the town, state and federal level — should be focusing on: A compelling, far-sighted vision to lead our country into a new climate economy and a new sustainable world. Vermont can and should lead the way on this issue, and if it does, imagine the possibilities.

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a group of local folks that I nicknamed the “Green Team,” including solar entrepreneur and Vermont climate commissioner Bill Laberge and Manchester Conservation Commission chair Alan Benoit. In an hour, we filled eight sheets of paper with exciting ideas for how the Northshire could transform itself into a hub for the climate economy and sustainable living.

To give you just one example, we often talk about the need for affordable workforce housing. Alan has a fascinating plan for a “pocket neighborhood” with small zero-energy modular homes that share a community room and a garden. We also talked about a business incubator or “maker” space for climate-tech entrepreneurs … a shared commercial kitchen for specialty food producers … ride sharing and charging stations for electric vehicles … a “food hub” for low-income families where farmers can share or sell their excess produce. Some of these projects are already underway, and others are well worth discussing.

These ideas are not only exciting, but they also provide an incredible branding and marketing opportunity for Vermont and for the Northshire in our efforts to attract new residents and young people. And Millennials don’t deny climate change, by the way. They get it. And they’ll be drawn to states and communities that get it, too. They will be drawn to states and communities that take the lead on climate change, instead of lagging behind.

True confession: I’m not an economist. I don’t have an advanced degree in urban planning. But I don’t have to. The ideas are out there. The experts and entrepreneurs are out there. The technology is ready and getting better all of the time. The solutions are here. What we need right now is a citizen’s movement that not only embraces but demands this kind of vision from our elected leaders. I’m dedicating myself to this goal by running for the state legislature this year, and I hope you’ll join me.

 

 

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