Op - Ed, Opinion

The climate economy is Vermont’s answer to growth

By Larry Williams

As the numbers of people who participated in the climate march recently showed, Vermonters and Americans across this country are concerned about climate change. Millions of Americans want action. And while the president and his cabinet are busy denying the science behind climate change, states, cities, businesses and individuals are tackling climate change and searching for solutions.

As former Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently said, “No matter what happens in Washington, we will meet the pledges that the U.S. made in Paris. Cities, business and citizens will continue reducing emissions, because they have concluded — just as China has — that doing so is in their own self-interest.”

I have a business background in Vermont, having been involved in commercial real estate for over 30 years and ski resort management for more than a decade. From my experiences in both of these sectors, it is clear that climate change is here and the impact on our lives is accelerating. It may be obvious that from a ski resort perspective climate change is impacting us — with warmer and more erratic winters, resorts are forced to make more snow and diversify. How climate change is impacting commercial real estate, though, is probably less obvious. The same erratic weather patterns that impact our ski industry also make undertaking good development more challenging. These challenges include higher costs attributable to building in greater resilience as well as an insurance industry becoming increasingly wary about increased claims for property damage.

Climate change is impacting our lives and our economy in many ways — some obvious and some not. The good news is it is also presenting us with an opportunity. As states, cities, businesses and individuals identify climate solutions, Vermont has an opportunity to lead the way. Indeed, in many ways we already are.

Vermont was just ranked second in the nation for transitioning to clean power. The study by the Union of Concerned Scientists noted that “the efforts of top states create jobs and reduce pollution.” What earned Vermont its second from the top mark (behind California), was in part, the fact that we have nearly 18,000 Vermonters now employed in fields relating to energy efficiency and renewable energy.

But just as climate change is impacting our lives in more ways than how we get our electricity, the climate economy goes beyond energy efficiency and renewable energy. The climate economy also includes our transportation system, working lands, smart growth development, the insurance industry and more. If we embrace the climate economy and the opportunities it presents we will continue to create more good paying jobs, make Vermont more affordable and keep money in our local economy.

There are advantages to running a business in Vermont — access to a high quality of life and an educated workforce to name just a couple. However, there are also disadvantages — high taxes, excessive regulation and prohibitively high housing costs for employees are challenging to business owners and stunt business growth. These challenges, combined with the fact that we are a rural state with a very small population, means that there are a limited number of ways in which we can grow our economy. The climate economy presents us with just such an opportunity. By seizing this chance we can create good paying jobs, make our state more affordable, and attract young people to make Vermont their home.

Larry Williams has been active in commercial real estate since he graduated from UVM in 1982. Until its sale in the spring of 2017 Larry was actively involved in the management of Bolton Valley Resort. He is currently involved in a variety of development projects including the Riverhouse luxury apartments in Winooski, a 139 room Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Burlington and many others. He is also a founding member of board of directors of Mobius, the Mentoring Movement. He is board member of the UVM Medical Center Foundation and the Vermont Business Roundtable. 

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