We express sincere gratitude for the efforts you have put into your research on climate and environmental policy in advance of the 2020 legislative session and for traveling the state to hold hearings with Vermonters about the ideas you have developed.
We also must insist that you, as our representatives, accurately represent our interests, which involve much-more-far-reaching proposals into shifting the systems and structures of Vermont than you have put forth.
We as a state must stop walking on eggshells and call this what it is: a climate emergency.
Now is a time for Vermont to act boldly and set an example for other states and nations, by eschewing small fixes in favor of powerful, imaginative solutions that are grounded in regenerative fact. Solutions that will stand the test of centuries, not a fantasy of sustainable consumption and pollution fixes that will not get us past the next 10 years before needing to be reconsidered and re-legislated.
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Extinction Rebellion Southern Vermont has some ideas about solutions instead of fixes that we have incorporated into five demands. As your constituents, we expect that you will take meaningful steps to include them in your efforts.
Extinction Rebellion as an organization often uses the word “demand” because the climate crisis is, in part, a human-rights crisis, and historically human rights are not begged for but demanded.
The climate crisis is inextricably linked to other human-rights crises such as the lack of health care, the lack of housing, and, in many places, the lack of clean air and clean water, as well as ecosystem destruction.
As people around the planet acknowledge that other species, and even ecosystems and rivers, have rights and personhood just as humans do, we are coming to understand the climate crisis as a crisis of planetary rights.
We do need to demand these rights, at a local Vermont level as well as a national and a global level, and we believe that our legislators, as members of a citizen legislature, should stand with us in making these demands.
Our role as fellow citizens and voters is that dual role of holding our elected representatives accountable, while also supporting legislators in taking stands that will at times require courage on their part.
We urge that you stand with us in making the following demands.
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We demand that you make bold and clear statements about the very real, dire situation that we are in, and the future that we face if only light action is taken. A strong climate-emergency declaration must be written into the findings section of the Global Warming Solutions Act.
Some legislators have told us that “words don't matter” in regards to declaring a climate emergency, and that they “need to spend our time getting real things done.” Telling the full truth of the situation we are in and declaring a climate emergency are crucial to getting the attention of the general public so that this issue will be addressed with the urgency it deserves.
As the scientists are telling us, “Incremental linear changes to the present socioeconomic system are not enough to stabilize the Earth System. Widespread, rapid, and fundamental transformations will likely be required to reduce the risk of crossing the threshold and locking in the Hothouse Earth pathway; these include changes in behavior, technology and innovation, governance, and values.”
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We demand you make extraordinary, lofty goals for emissions reduction and elimination. Instead of bustling along behind the Paris Climate Accords, we as true independent and hardworking Vermonters need to set Green Mountain Goals in our own way. These goals should blow the mercury through the glass of all other proposed emissions reduction plans' thermometers, which means even if we do not succeed 100 percent to achieve them as a state, we will still make a meaningful adjustment toward a survivable future.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in a summary of its 2018 report, “The [IPCC] report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5 [degrees Celsius] would require 'rapid and far-reaching' transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching 'net zero' around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air."
This means that we must go further than these metrics. Much, much further.
Due to the feedback loops of warming and climate destabilization, the Paris Agreement goals were inadequate when they were stated and signed. Even if all the signatories are meeting their pledged targets, and we know they are not, we would still see a 3-degree-Celsius increase by 2100.
Given that self-reinforcing climate feedbacks are predicted to begin in earnest at 2 degrees Celsius, our best effort to date is effectively a death sentence for much of the planet.
Instead, let's set Green Mountain Goals of emission reduction and elimination that completely upend the complacency we currently see in public discussion and government - cut the dates down by decades, and increase attention to the ways that our dependency on out-of-state industry and shipping ties us to continued emissions.
New York and Maine have already enacted legislation that binds them to systemic transition that supersedes the Paris Climate Accord metrics significantly.
According to Politico, “The sweeping emissions reduction and renewable energy measure [Governor] Cuomo signed into law [in July] is the most ambitious legal mandate for cutting greenhouse gases in the nation, requiring an 85 percent reduction from 1990 levels over the next three decades and a carbon-free electric system by 2040.”
With less corruption, fewer entrenched financial interests, and perhaps even more grit than New Yorkers, couldn't Vermont easily create an even more ambitious and powerful plan?
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We demand you plan and implement a statewide decoupling from economic ties with polluting, exploitative industry, both in-state and out-of-state, while strengthening local economic resilience and stability through transitional education and investment.
Some very concrete examples of economic risks that our state faces from climate change: disruption, reduction and destruction of the renewable forest industry; reduction and inevitable total loss of winter tourism; disruptive challenges and failures in agriculture through pest and weather extremes which threatens both food security and economic opportunity; etc.
Vermont will need to find new ways to build resilient communities in the changing climate. Unpredictable climatic events - and the economic upheaval and community destabilization they can cause - may threaten our very survival. Thriving as a community despite these challenges will depend upon our ability to rid ourselves from our dependence upon systems - economic, energy. and political - that continue to erode our self reliance and fortitude.
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We demand that you implement strong policy plans to help transition to these new, powerful, and just systems of resilience, which will also help to heal our wounded Earth.
We must give persistent and powerful attention to Vermont businesses and communities which demonstrate need during the transition away from fossil fuels and wasteful industry. Here are some important ways to facilitate a truly just transition:
• Tackle public transportation so that we've got a statewide public transit network that is accessible.
• Prioritize non-motorized transportation solutions and sustainable transportation infrastructure.
• Support Vermonters in shifting away from automobile-centric transportation by investing in infrastructure for non-motorized transportation solutions and subsidizing electric-assist-bicycle technology.
• Give municipalities incentives to change zoning so that it favors increased density in village and town centers.
• Put much more money into weatherization for poor Vermonters.
• Fund weatherization and other climate-related programs by ending fossil-fuel subsidies, rather than a regressive tax that will hit poor Vermonters hardest. (We support working bill H.243 toward this end.)
• Increase funding to help poor Vermonters who live in floodways and flood plains to move.
• Ban all new fossil-fuel infrastructure (H. 51).
• Financial help for farmers and who want to shift to regenerative practices such as agroforestry and permaculture systems. We cannot merely stop doing harm to soil and water and ecosystems; we must rebuild farms and revitalize them while continuing to grow food and timber.
• Fund Act 48, Universal Health Care, because climate change is already adversely affecting the health of many Vermonters.
Likewise, we must invest in and support those who demonstrate stewardship in their business practices, community plans, and use of materials. Vermonters, municipalities, and businesses alike have come up with many great solutions already. These could be recreated and implemented statewide through smart allocation of resources, education, incentives and deterrents.
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We demand that a mechanism for direct public empowerment be added to the proposed Global Warming Solutions Act legislation.
Top-down mandates of the magnitude required to get us through this emergency will not be well received. These decisions will need to be collaboratively developed in your constituencies by the very people to be affected.
Public educational forums and advisories should be created, followed by town assemblies around the state to provide detailed input to legislators as well as to state and municipal officials.
An organized effort of this type will provide clear and critically important information to Vermonters, who must be instrumental in determining how that information will develop policies and prerogatives in their own communities.
This is crucial to create a meaningfully thorough agenda for your efforts, and to create solidarity between the Legislature and the people.
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In conclusion, we cannot allow the machinations of politics to continue de-escalating catastrophic, desperate emergencies to mere bullet points on the progressive docket. Health care, check. Raise the minimum wage, check. Environmental legislation, check. This will not do - this diminishes the scope of attention on these issues down to the clustered pixels of bureaucracy damming up your government-issued email accounts.
Yet only just outside the Granges, the Town Halls, the church centers, and the State House you meet in, the lives are being threatened - and indeed, Life itself, in our state of Vermont.
We demand that you act boldly and swiftly.