Low-carbon sausage making

A resolution to put the Vermont Legislature on record as acknowledging the scientific fact of climate change stalled out this morning, amidst a thick procedural fog. All parties retreated to home base, in hopes of tweaking the language and moving the bill

"The round-Earth theory is being promoted by profit-hungry travel companies. It's four elephants, and turtles all the way down!"

“The round-Earth theory is being promoted by profit-hungry travel companies. It’s a flat earth carried by four elephants, and then turtles all the way down!”

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee heard testimony from four experts plus John McClaughry. The latter cast plenty of aspersions and did his best to sprinkle a pinch of doubt into the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real and that We Humans are contributing to it.

He did say at least one true thing: “I’m not a climate scientist.”

Aside from that, he slammed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a political body mired in scandal; mocked climate modeling as a simple matter of picking a convenient endpoint, referred to “the extreme storm business” as a tool of profit-hungry corporations*, implied that resolution sponsor Brian Campion was a tool of VPIRG, and characterized climate change claims as “exaggerated beyond the bounds of ethical practice.”

*Since when does John McClaughry not believe in profit???

Gee, John, don’t hold back. It’s bad for your blood pressure.

As for the experts, Dr. Gillian Galford of UVM’s Gund Institute reported that 97% of the scientific literature agrees that “climate change is happening and is due to human actions.” She walked through several charts that showed the facts of climate change from the global level (everywhere on the planet EXCEPT the northeastern U.S. had an unusually warm winter) to the local (Joe’s Pond ice-outs are happening later and later).

Perhaps the most interesting testimony came from Jody Prescott, retired U.S. Army Colonel and adjunct prof at UVM. He called climate change a “threat trend” of significant concern to the military for its potential impact on global stability, and said that if we fail to address climate change, it “reduces our chances for military success.”

Which might not float your boat, but it’s a valuable perspective to hear.

The other witnesses were environmental activist and UVM freshman Gina Fiorile, and the puppet master himself, Paul Burns of VPIRG.

After the hearing, the committee spent about 45 minutes tossing the resolution around like a rag doll. Most of the objections came from Sworn Enemy Of Wind Power John Rodgers and wind skeptic Diane Snelling.

Frankly, my sense is that both of them don’t want to vote “yes” on the bill, but don’t want to vote “no” either.

Snelling offered a vaguely-couched but insistent objection to a clause acknowledging that Vermont has fallen short of its carbon reduction goals. Which, of course, it has.

Well, to be precise, our carbon production increased during the Nineties and early Aughts and then declined. We’re now roughly where we were in 1990. Which is nice, but our statutory goal was a 25% reduction. Oh well, another statute ignored.

Rodgers can’t see beyond his concern with the siting process. He won’t support a resolution encouraging more action toward carbon reduction if it might mean additional ridgeline wind in his pristine Northeast Kingdom. (I haven’t heard him object to Bill Stenger’s massive brace of EB-5 projects, but there you go.)

Rodgers wants energy projects to be subject to Act 250 — and more. He wants them sited “as near the end-users as can be.” Gee, I wonder how he feels about the massive energy imports we make from Hydro Quebec, currently our primary source of “renewable” energy — and about the likelihood that more transmission lines will be built if we don’t develop our own renewable sources.

Anyway, I’m not arguing that John Rodgers makes sense. I’m just reporting that he won’t support a nonbinding resolution unless it includes language about siting reform and a reliance on “Vermont-scale projects” or something like that.

What struck me is that very few sensible Vermonters are willing to overtly deny climate change. Almost everyone (except John McClaughry) will acknowledge that it’s a problem we need to address — but then they throw obstacles in the way. We don’t want to increase costs, we don’t want to imperil any unspoiled spaces or view sheds. We can’t do anything that’s not in the vaguely-defined Vermont Way. We’re too small to make a difference. In the end, it boils down to this: they see other things as bigger priorities than climate change. Which means they’re not serious about climate change.

Back to the resolution. Committee chair Chris Bray finally decided to table it with the intention of refining the language in time for a committee vote tomorrow (Thursday).

Afterward, Campion expressed surprise that his resolution sparked so much opposition. “I thought it was a slam dunk, and it wasn’t,” he said. “I don’t know how much I’m willing to bend, to be honest with you. I’m okay with a few tweaks, but if it were to change the intent, forget it.” He’d rather have a 3-2 or 4-1 vote on something like his original resolution than a unanimous vote for a watered-down version.

But if we have to fight this hard for a simple nonbinding resolution, how in hell are we ever going to effectively address the onrushing threat of climate change? Or, as Campion put it:

What’s been interesting [about serving on Natural Resources] is how much I’ve learned that we as Vermonters are not doing.  We pat ourselves on the back, beause we do some amazing things. But when you look at not meeting our carbon reduction goals, you look at Lake Champlain and other bodies of water, we still have a lot to do. We have a lot to accomplish, and we’ve got to be very serious and focused on it. 

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