Matt Dunne loses his biggest environmental booster

For those who thought I was making a mountain out of a molehill, here’s your Monday morning wakeup: environmental activist Bill McKibben has withdrawn his endorsement of Matt Dunne for governor. He’s shifted his support to Sue Minter. The news was broken today by Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck.

This is big in two fundamental ways. First, obviously, McKibben is the planet’s number-one climate change activist. His endorsement of Dunne was effectively an environmental seal of approval.

Second, McKibben was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Dunne — indeed, he encouraged Dunne to run for governor, presumably because he thought that Dunne was the best candidate to continue Vermont’s renewable energy push. As recently as last Wednesday, McKibben co-signed a letter to the Addison Independent endorsing Dunne.

And then Friday came, and Dunne executed a flip-flop worthy of Simone Biles. Technically, he didn’t come out against wind or solar energy. But he adopted the rhetoric of those who are trying to slow or even halt our renewables buildout. He blew all their favorite dog whistles.

McKibben heard. And now Dunne has lost his most prominent environmental supporter.

Which again brings me to the subject of early voting. Thousands of Vermonters have already cast their ballots for the August 9 primary. How many of them were swayed by McKibben’s endorsement? We don’t know, but it’s reasonable to assume that some people voted for Dunne based (in part, at least) on McKibben’s then-enthusiastic support.

Which is why, as McKibben said himself in his withdrawal letter, candidates should avoid significant changes in their positions during the early voting period.

It takes courage to publicly change course and admit you were wrong. Courage has been a hallmark of McKibben’s lengthy tenure in the spotlight. He displayed it once again with his un-endorsement letter.

His letter is reproduced in full at Seven Days. Recommended reading.


23 thoughts on “Matt Dunne loses his biggest environmental booster

  1. Mark Trigo

    I’m willing to bet that Matt’s internal polling shows that he is in trouble and this flip-flop was an attempt to turn things around. I’ve said it before: Matt Dunne wants to be governor because Matt Dunne wants to be governor. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that he is willing to flip-flop. And if he is willing to flip-flop on this issue, he is likely willing to flip-flop on lots of other issues as well.

    1. Sherman Schman

      Bingo! Dunn blows with the wind. Or, in this case with those he thinks are in the majority re: the wind. Yup, you can bet he has polling data which suggests he is behind. Wait for his next flip-flop – which will probably be, no need for background checks when buying guns.

  2. walter h moses

    “First, obviously, McKibben is the planet’s number one climate change activist” . Walters’ opinion I assume.
    Not even close. No.
    I believe Middlebury lists McKibben as a ” Distinguished Scholar”. At ten o’clock this morning anyway.
    At a demonstration at a Mobil Station in South Burlington, several people said he was a ” pain in the ass “.
    My extended family is now voting for Dunne.

    1. Rita Pitkin

      All good activists are pegged as “a pain the the ass” at some point. McKibben has done good work which I am thankful for.

  3. Brooke Paige


    The early voting has always bothered me! The media (and the public) doesn’t concentrate on the election too far in advance and often important information (and change of position on an issue) is occasionally revealed in the final days. I understand the “45 day thing” to insure that military voters and citizens temporarily out of the country need sufficient time to return their ballots, however it seems that a shorter “window of opportunity” for absentee voting is needed. A seven day period, in advance of the election, would insure that the electorate would be casting informed, up-to-date choices (at least in theory).

    H. Brooke Paige

  4. Steve Beck

    So what is the difference between absentee ballot voting and early voting/ I voted early – absentee and I did not vote for Dunne. The whole affair, state and federal is a complete fiasco and I am sick of all of it. And all the Front Porch Forum postings pleading for people to put their names out there for Justice of the Peace.

  5. Thump McDougal

    I’m sick of Car Talk, Peter Shumlin, Deflategate, and Bill McKibben.

    McKibben reminds me of the Hunger Project. The Hunger Project didn’t feed anybody–it just publicized hunger (and put money in a few pockets). McKibben doesn’t do anything about climate change–he just flies around the world accumulating a bigger carbon footprint.

    Environmentalist? No. Climate hypocrite.

    1. ApacheTrout

      In your world, the only people who could rightly fight against climate change would be the Amish or Mennonites. Nice box you’ve placed the rest of us in.

  6. Philip Beliveau

    So McKibben is brave for changing his mind and admitting a mistake but Dunne is a sleazebag for doing the same? I know different context but is it possible that after talking with Vters Dunne just changed his mind? I asked McKibben to help fight the gas pipeline and he did not, I assume since he is an employee of Middlebury College. Not brave. I lost a little respect for McKibben at that point.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Aww, so sorry McKibben failed to meet your standards. I don’t know about your interaction with him, but I do know he’s been involved in the fight against the gas pipeline.

      And yes, the situations are entirely different. Dunne was a politician who had campaigned for many months — and had had conversations with Vermonters for more than a year — but didn’t change his stance until 3/4 of the way through the early voting period. That’s bad.

      McKibben changed his mind AFTER Dunne did so, and because Dunne did so. You and yor allies are so desperate to prop up your anti-wind position that you’re grasping at straws. It’s not working.

      1. Philip Beliveau

        I am not anti wind and I have no allies except my loving family! I also have no love for the PSB and therefore feel there should be more local input on wind siting. I like the look of turbines but would probably not want one next to my house. I was sorry McKibben failed to meet my “expectations” too. If he opposed the pipeline it was pretty low key for a high profile guy that could have made more of a difference. I am a landowner on the route so it was personal. I still appreciate his work. I was leaning Dunne over Minter but would be happy with either over nothing burger Scott. I appreciate the reply but the sarcasm, meh not so much.

      2. John S. Walters Post author

        I’m sorry if I was overly harsh, but I’m tired of Vermonters picking holes in McKibben’s record just because he doesn’t agree with them on wind. And he hasn’t been at all quiet about his opposition to the Vermont Gas pipeline. His organization,, has been in the front lines. And if you Google “McKibben Vermont Gas”, you’ll see statement after statement from him opposing the pipeline.

  7. Paula Schramm

    After all the just-too-clever meaness and sarcasm this story has elicited in almost everyone , I’d like to quote from Ed Stanak’s comment from Terri Hallenbeck’s Seven Days article you reference. Why ? Because his quiet and straight-forward description of the issues involved ring true to me, based on my own experiences. This is not a simple ” I’m right and they’re wrong” kind of issue. I will always respect and admire Bill McKibben’s leadership – I’ve gotten arrested a number of times supporting the same goals, AND I also respect & agree what Ed has to say :
    (ED STANAK )
    “I support renewable energy generation projects and have done so since the late 1970s.
    I also support divestment of the Vermont public employee pension funds from fossil fuel corporations.
    And the gas line proposal in western Vermont must be stopped. I was arrested with others back in October 2014 at Shumlin’s office in this effort.
    I reject the idea that nuclear power should be accepted as a “bridge” energy source as we transition from fossil fuels.

    Having said all that, the process in Vermont for the review and approval of the industrial scale renewable energy projects is flawed and very inadequate. I base this position on two things:

    1) having been involved for over 30 years in the administration of Act 250, I have had the benefit of seeing how effective regulatory controls can protect finite natural resources and still permit suitable development along with meaningful roles for the public as parties to the proceedings and

    2) having been deeply involved over the last 4 years a) in efforts to assist the folks in the NEK as they grapple with the energy corporations before the inept PSB ( which refuses to enforce conditions in existing CPGs for these projects while pushing new projects through the process with less than adequate consideration of substantive issues and b) in the legislature which has denied a fair hearing and equal footing for the folks from the NEK ( and other regions of the state) in the face of intense lobbying by the corporations along with political $$$ contributions for ( mostly D&P) legislators.”

    My feeling is that Matt Dunne is correctly working at having a nuanced position on an extremely emotional issue ( emotional to people on all sides – hence the vitriol ).
    I heard a great debate on “ridgeline wind power” years ago at a Progressive Party convention, and all that has happened since was very accurately predicted by the “anti- big wind” presenter. This person was not against wind power at all. They were saying that the only places in Vermont where the wind was adequate for the kind of power generation needed to realistically contribute to meeting energy goals would be along about 27 ridgelines in the state, and the fights and discord resulting from attempting development on that scale would just not be worth it. The same energy production could be more easily achieved with more solar, and other “renewable” means – geo-thermal, energy efficiency upgrades, etc.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      And as for his changing positions after thousands of Vermonters have cast ballots? Even if you agree with him on the policy, you have to agree that this move, at this time, was done in bad faith..

    2. johngreenberg

      Paula Schramm:
      You say that “The same energy production could be more easily achieved with more solar, and other “renewable” means – geo-thermal, energy efficiency upgrades, etc.”

      Do you have any figures to back that statement up? I’ve been following energy issues in Vermont intensely for a long time, and at least intuitively, to be blunt, I don’t believe that to be the case at all. But I’m certainly open to being persuaded.

  8. katrinkavt

    Dunne failed to drink the full portion of Kool Aide so he must be squashed.
    And he had the nerve…the NERVE!! to speak with peoole who have been adversely affected by big wind. The Klein-Burns-Shumlin Kool Aide Klub will not tolerate that and will bring out all its attack dogs.

  9. Faith King

    Wind power does change the appearance of the mountains and it does change the immediate eco system where it is placed. Absolutely true. No doubt about it. Yes and yes. And. We Americans have already contributed mightily to a global problem that is frankly wreaking far more severe and life-threatening damage around the world than ridgeline wind towers will ever, ever cause. The problem is massive. We all as a culture/country helped cause it. We are not giving up our dependence on energy anytime soon (I’m not!) We are an industrialized society and folks, we like the benefits of “industry”. There is no totally harmless, objection-free energy source that I can think of…. So, guys and gals, I do believe the time is now. We need to stiffen our spines, ‘grow a pair’ and stop throwing roadblocks in the way of safe-er energy. Now.


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