Op - Ed

​Witnessing Vermont’s changing landscape and economy

By Nick Richardson

The economy and our landscape in Vermont are intertwined. Recreation, tourism, agriculture, and forestry, all key economic drivers, depend on the natural resources from our landscape. Indeed, the Vermont brand itself is inseparable from our land ethic- a thoughtful way of living, the quality of our products and services, and our environmental and social stewardship. Elected officials in Vermont, regardless of political leaning, have shown national leadership in caring for the environment, and continue to do so today as we recognize and respond to global climate change.

We don’t have to tell Vermont famers, or those who work in the woods, about the impact of global climate change. The increase in the unpredictability of our weather, invasive species, the change in the growing season are just a few examples of how those who work on the land have a front row seat when it comes to the challenges of a warming planet. We also don’t have to tell those who recreate in the woods or have an outdoor recreation business about climate change. They understand how ski and bike seasons have fluctuated or how different products are more useful to customers.

Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time.  The transformation of a global economy from the current fossil-fuel driven, carbon intensive system to one based on renewable and regenerative sources will not be easy. While it will not be without controversy, this transformation will also offer us an unprecedented economic opportunity.  In facing the fact of global climate change we must accept our responsibility to reduce our reliance on carbon-based fuels by looking towards a range of energy alternatives, including in-state renewable energy generation.  Indeed we are also seeing the positive effects of this transformation on our economy with 18,000 Vermonters now working in the green job sector.

Our staff at the Vermont Land Trust engage with many landowners, members and partners who share an interest in finding the balance in embracing renewable energy opportunities, while maintaining access to high quality farmland for agricultural production, recognizing the fragility of our natural systems, and protecting the identity and beauty of our state.  I’m proud that at the Vermont Land Trust we’ve been able to facilitate the development of renewable energy in harmony with conservation of these other values.

It has been interesting to sit on the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s Climate Economy and Action Team to speak with individuals across many sectors and to find common ground on this important issue – and to help Vermont’s climate economy emerge.  On a personal level, I am encouraged by this interest of many to bridge differences in areas of expertise and background and find solutions that consider our environmental and economic future.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. As Vermonters we think beyond our own interests, considering what’s best for all. This leaves me optimistic about our state’s environmental, social and economic well-being.

Nick Richardson is a member of Vermont Council on Rural Development’s Climate Economy Action Team.  He is the vice president for enterprise and finance at the Vermont Land Trust (VLT), where he oversees long-term financial strategy and supports VLT’s work on economic development strategies related to working lands enterprise.  Prior to joining VLT, Nick served as the director of operations at Encore Redevelopment, a Vermont-based renewable energy development company.  Nick lives with his family in Jericho Center.

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