Legislature to address climate as a public health emergency

House Speaker Jill Krowinski will be guest at virtual gathering for constituents of Windham-4

PUTNEY — The smell was what I noticed first - not unlike what you sense when a neighbor is burning brush down the road. “Down the road,” though, turned out to be smoke from wildfires in Manitoba and California which were staining our skies and burning our eyes and lungs last summer. That was the headline.

The body of the story dove deeper into the effects and how fires in Canada and California were affecting air quality here, with experts ranking it as “unhealthy.”

People with asthma, allergies, or other breathing problems were then advised to stay indoors. In Vermont.

To date, most climate headlines have focused on floods, fires, and droughts. Now, here's climate as a public health emergency, jumping ahead and reminding us: Is there anything more important than having clean air to breathe?

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We now know that wildfire smoke can trigger respiratory events in people thousands of miles away from the flames. Reports show flooding can kill from drowning and create huge property damage but that it also increases rates of suicide and mental health problems. We now also see that warmer winters expand the range of disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks.

A recent study in the medical journal The Lancet finds that human-caused climate change is worsening human health in just about every measurable way - and that world leaders are missing an opportunity to address it.

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It is timely, then, that the Vermont Climate Council is wrapping up work on a public report. The Council looks to set standards for carbon reduction and resilience, and the Legislature will be ready to push legislation to implement its report.

That report is scheduled for release in December, with input from the public needed.

Coincidentally, Vermont will be getting its part of the big Infrastructure Bill that President Biden just signed into law to make the investments in a cleaner future.

In the next Legislative session, climate will certainly be a headline issue. There'll be tons more to do, though. That's why all 26 standing committees of the Legislature are lining their priorities up and getting prepared.

Of course, as Covid keeps grabbing us by the ankles and refusing to loosen its grip, we'll have to deal with the health issues there. We'll also be working to make sure the economic recovery from Covid keeps rolling.

And, as importantly, racial and social justice will also be on the front burner, as the #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and LGBTQ+ movements - and the need for them - haven't gone away.

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To make sure your voice is brought to Montpelier, local legislators will be at the ready to meet with Vermonters. That includes myself and my Windham-4 district mate, Rep. Michelle Bos-Lun.

We will be hosting our next monthly online community conversation on Saturday, Nov. 20, and our special guest will be Jill Krowinski, speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives. She will preview the next session, and we'll all be available to take questions and suggestions from constituents.

For links to this event, please email us at [email protected] or [email protected].

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