On January 22, 2020

Anger over the climate crisis

By Sen. Dick McCormack

On Jan. 9, several climate crisis protesters disrupted the governor’s State of the State address for about 20 minutes. Colleagues, constituents, and media had several different reactions; outrage at the disruption, snide sarcasm about the protesters, outrage at the climate crisis and outrage at government’s failure to respond to the crisis proportionately. Personally, I had several simultaneous responses.

First, I respect the protesters’ position on the crisis. Human caused global warming was proven scientifically years ago. Politeness has moved serious people to avoid insulting science deniers, prolonging the “debate” long after it ceased to be a debate at all.  Now we are in the future of which science has warned us for decades. “Someday” is here in California, in Australia in Europe, Africa, and the Arctic.

I also share the protesters’ anger over the government’s inadequate responses. Few Vermont lawmakers indulge in the foil hat lunacy of outright science denial. But many express what might be called denial lite, admitting there’s a problem but denying its full seriousness. Calls for “moderate, reasonable,” presumably painless, measures made sense 40 years ago when President Carter suggested them. But we’ve squandered that opportunity. We really are in an emergency.

Having urged a serious response to global warming for decades, I must admit I feel a little defensive when protesters condemn politicians as a uniform whole. On the other hand, I’m humiliated by my allies’ and my failures. We really don’t have much to show for our efforts.

I do take exception to the protests for one thing. We have a republican (lower case ‘R’) form of government in which we the people express our voice through the election of a deliberative Legislature.

The protesters are right about global warming. But they claim to speak for the people without having been elected by the people. The legislators and the governor were elected, and the protest interfered with our deliberations. Watch out! People who are wrong about the issue can, and do, declare themselves the voice of the people as easily as people who are right.

But, that said, respect for correct process presumes the process will yield results. With the civil rights and labor movements there came a time when respect for process became acceptance of the unacceptable.

As a defender of the process, I recognize that global warming is indeed a crisis, and a worthy response is non-negotiable.

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