Commentary, Opinion

Climate council has served up a nothing-burger

By James Maroney

Editor’s note: James H. Maroney Jr., of Leicester, is a former farmer who has a master’s degree in environmental law and policy from Vermont Law School.

The passage of Vermont’s Global Warming Solutions Act in 2020, over the strenuous objections of our Republican governor, was a remarkable testament to the depth of commitment by the Legislature that climate change was not only real but that Vermont, one of the nation’s smallest states, could — and must — do something to curb it.

The bill passed by virtue of Vermont’s overwhelmingly Democratic majority, but the governor vetoed it; and the Legislature, confident of its duty, overrode the governor’s veto.

Bolstered by resolutions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. Climate Alliance and the World Bank that had all concluded “A climate emergency threatens our communities, state, and region and poses a significant threat to human health and safety, infrastructure, biodiversity, our common environment, and our economy,” the Legislature set about appointing 25 of Vermont’s most highly positioned officials — including the secretaries of administration, natural resources, public safety, commerce, human services, transportation, agriculture and 15 other prominent persons appointed by the House and Senate — to the “Climate Council” to “identify, analyze and evaluate strategies and programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve the state’s reduction requirements … not less than 26% by 2025; not less than 40% by 2030 and not less than 80% by 2050.”

Brave Little State! Except, maybe, not so much.

This month, after 12 months of internal debate, the Climate Council issued its preliminary recommendations, and they amount to … nothing.  The Climate Council has determined it doesn’t want to “burden” anybody disproportionately, which effectively means it doesn’t want to do anything at all. All that high-flying language, all that ink and blood spilt for a new law that effectively boils down to a renewed commitment to the status quo.

It gets worse: This month we also learned that the would-be Transportation and Climate Initiative partnership among Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia appears to have stalled once again, as Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont joins Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration in saying the plan “is no longer the best solution for the commonwealth’s transportation and environmental needs.”

The dissolution of this pact leaves Vermont standing almost alone in its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, the largest of the big three before heating and conventional dairy.

Vermont dairy a problem? Pay no attention to those 90,000 acres of corn planted along our rivers and streams and fertilized with 40,000 tons of petroleum-based herbicides and poisoned with who-knows-how-many tons of petroleum-based herbicides.

Pay no attention to the 600,000 tons of conventionally raised phosphorus and calcium-rich grain imported from Iowa, all of it to feed 125,000 cows to force them to make a product that has no market value.

Pay no attention to the fact that Vermont’s 450 (remaining) conventional dairy farmers are losing money, which is cause for concern because they are — wait for it — part of the solution and we need to pay them extra so they can continue doing what they are doing.

Greta Thunberg, 18, sums up where we stand in just a few poignant words: “blah blah blah, blah blah blah, blah blah, blah blah.”

If you are, like me, concerned about the nothing-burger the Global Warming Solutions Act and its 25 supposed proponents on the Climate Council have just presented to us, you have probably also tired of reading the relentless op-eds from John McClaughry and Rob Roper of the Ethan Allen Institute, denying that global warming is real but, if it were, Vermont cannot or should not do anything.

If the members of the Climate Council cannot find the courage to stiffen their backs — and no matter how certain the rest of us are of the reality of global warming — McClaughry and Roper will now exact as forfeit that we admit they are right to say we are not going to do anything about it.

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