Op - Ed, Opinion

Leading in climate solutions will advance Vermont’s economy

By Joe Fusco

Editor’s note: Joe Fusco, vice president of Casella Waste Systems, Inc. in Rutland, served on Governor Scott’s Vermont Climate Action Commission and currently chairs the Vermont Climate Economy Action Team. This commentary is from a 10-part series in which the authors respond to the pressing topics identified in a draft “Proposition for the Future of Vermont” developed by the non-partisan Vermont Council on Rural Development. VCRD welcomes your ideas at futureofvermont.org. This commentary is Part 3 of the collaboration.

Part 3: Vermont must advance creative economic solutions to climate change. We are now living and working under accelerated change and disruption.

While much of it has been driven by a global pandemic, we are also feeling the impact of political and social shifts. And, still, we face the issue of climate disruption.

A good deal of what was, will no longer be. A good deal of what was coming, will get here faster.

This change and disruption is exposing useful ways of doing things, and less useful ways of doing things. Although it sometimes brings discomfort and pain, it is creating new expectations, new rules, and new opportunities. It is sweeping away dust and cobwebs, and complacency.

In Vermont, it is a time of both healing and breaking. As important as it may feel to return to normal, and to put things back together, we will be compelled on many different levels to deliberately break things, to disrupt and abandon, and reinvent certain approaches, beliefs — even our models of economic opportunity and development.

Among the many choices Vermont is and will be compelled to make about its future are the very real economic and business development opportunities being driven by climate change.

We’ve wasted a lot of energy in this country debating climate change, and pitting the progress of enterprise against the sustainability of the environment in ways that distract from science and undermine our ability to seize economic opportunity.

Politics aside, what I believe matters is that there is a cascade of genuine economic and business development opportunities that will flow from confronting and solving global and regional resource constraints — of which climate change is one.

I also believe that Vermont could benefit deeply by disrupting and reinventing how it thinks about these opportunities. It’s not an argument about what we should tax, punish, or shame, but how we can create value and prosperity by approaching climate change and related challenges with creativity, innovation, and thoughtfulness.

In other words, how can Vermont benefit from deliberately leading in an emerging marketplace where the world will reward those who break new ground in the conservation, renewal, and creation of resources, particularly those resources that have an impact on our climate?

After all, someone, somewhere is going to break new ground in the production, conservation, and distribution of clean, renewable energy.

Someone, somewhere is going to reinvent how we move around — how we transport ourselves and material in revolutionary ways that save energy, space, and time.

Someone, somewhere is going to reach and uncover disruptive new technologies that change the way we build, rebuild, heat, cool, and live in our homes and businesses while consuming as little of the earth’s resources as possible.

Someone, somewhere is going to reimagine what — or if — we throw away, and what we renew or recycle.

So, if this creativity and innovation is going to happen somewhere, why not in Vermont? Why shouldn’t Vermont make itself a spectacularly attractive place to start and run businesses that solve these problems? And why shouldn’t Vermont businesses across all sectors seize market share and strengthen their competitiveness, job growth, and profitability by creatively changing the way they manage energy and other resources?

It — the “climate economy” — is happening. Worldwide and close to home, people and businesses are going to take advantage of the immense problem-solving opportunities, and rewards, around global resource limits and climate change.

There’s a real economy here. And getting there will ask of us to be willing to continue to have the difficult conversations we should be having about Vermont’s economic and climate future. Conversations about how we break old habits, how we adopt fundamentally different approaches to policy making, how we protect our most economically vulnerable neighbors.

Approached sensibly and creatively, we can leverage this opportunity to sweep away dust and cobwebs, to embrace new expectations, and create and ignite opportunity and prosperity in Vermont.

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