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Writers tackle climate change

Vermont authors take on impending climate catastrophe and in so doing shout out our values, clear and loud, to the rest of the world

Dede Cummings is an environmental activist, a member of 350-Vermont, and the founder of Green Writers Press, an environmentally conscious book publishing house that produced many of the titles that she mentions here. Bill Mares and Jeff Danziger will read from The Full Vermonty: Vermont in the Age of Trump on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m.. at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum at 1171 Main St. in St. Johnsbury.


Yes, the climate is in peril, and most of us are too busy to stop and look through the forest.

You see, in Vermont, we are protected, somewhat. Our proximity to Canada, always good, gives us a northern edge. Our Northeast Kingdom, in fact, is a world unto itself, teeming with trout, bears, wild and untamed mountains and bogs, and people who inhabit a world of slow living.

Down south, in Brattleboro, where I live, we are linked by our location between the cities of Boston and New York.

Given the impressive swath of our great state, how does one unify to face the impending climate catastrophe and shout out, clear and loud, to the rest of the world that we are a free, independent little state with a fierce and growing electorate who cares about social justice and the fragility of our climate?

* * *

Our migrant farm workers are a good example of the longstanding tradition of what makes Vermont so great.

Its people and its farms.

Its politicians, like Bernie Sanders, not afraid to speak up for the working people.

Its countless writers and artists, like Ines Zeller Bass and Eric Bass of Sandglass Theater in Putney, who use theater to promulgate a message of hope.

Politics and art aside, what else is there to wake people up to taking a vocal and activist stand against the climate deniers who inhabit the White House?

How can we organize, especially since the election of the arch-nemesis of President Obama thundered into the White House on his cell phone, bleeping out annoying and inaccurate tweets that jeopardize our safety in the world and our fragile environment?

Do the corporations care? Corporations that plunder and pave roads and lay down pipelines filled with gas and oil, that erect windmills that no one wants on our ridges, that imagine a world where they can deliver books by drones from warehouses that don’t even benefit the local economy? Easy answer: greed is a problem for global sustainability.

Enter Bill Mares and Jeff Danziger, two Vermont friends who collaborated on a new book, The Full Vermonty: Vermont in the Age of Trump (Green Writers Press, 2017), and Bill McKibben, the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College and an author, environmentalist, and co-founder of the international climate campaign, which works in 188 countries around the world, with a new book, Radio Free Vermont: A Tale of Resistance (Blue Rider Press 2017).

Let’s not overlook Brattleboro-area writer Peter Gould, one of the original back-to-the-landers in Guilford, whose memoir of stories, Horse-Drawn Yogurt: Stories from Total Loss Farm, is filled with laugh-out-loud humor and poignancy.

Why am I hopeful about these activist writers making a difference in saving our environment? They are funny, that’s why!

* * *

God knows, it has been three decades since Bill McKibben wrote The End of Nature and longer than that since I was a college student at Middlebury College determined to live in Vermont, start a family and a co-op, and dwell amongst a community of communards. Decades.

What has happened to global warming? We all know the answer: just look at the weather news from the past year alone — tropical storms with the fiercest winds in history, fires burning out of control — and, whether you believe in science or not, you will notice the bizarre weather conditions with the words “bomb” in their terminology.

Where did that come from, you wonder, as you huddle down in front of your wood stove with a good book.

* * *

The books I mention are all comedies, but one new book is more of a tragedy and packs a wallop in its quiet and sustained story of a Vermont family and a daughter’s search for a heroine-addicted mother in the hills around Brattleboro during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

That is Marlboro writer Robin MacArthur’s debut novel Heart Spring Mountain, newly published by Ecco Press. Brava to MacArthur, who uses her considerable talent as a writer to create a novel centered around climate change at its core, with a storm that remains fresh in our minds with the devastation it wrought.

Whether it be comedy, or tragedy, we all need to tell the story of the global climate crisis.

These Vermont writers are doing just that.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #445 (Wednesday, February 7, 2018). This story appeared on page E3.

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