The legislature has been warned. At the end of the 2019 session, a small band of climate protesters occupied the balcony in the House chamber and unfurled a banner promising to return in 2020. They were largely met with disdain by legislative leaders, for their offenses against regular order.
Well, those leaders had better get ready for more. Climate activists were distinctly underwhelmed by the legislature’s meager accomplishments. Their attitude can’t have improved since then, what with top lawmakers and Gov. Phil Scott all acknowledging that Vermont is going to miss its near-term climate targets by a mile. And Scott pinning his hopes on the magic bullet of technological advances to drag Vermont forward.
The problem with that approach is (a) it’s iffy and (b) it lets us keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere until The Golden Age Of New Technology appears. In the meantime we’ll be doing our part to deepen the climate crisis.
Meanwhile, climate activists have launched a series of Statehouse actions. They recently held a rally calling on MMR, the capital’s most successful black-hat lobbying firm, to drop so-called “reprehensible” corporate clients, including fossil fuel producers and other corporate giants. Last week, a few dozen climate activists camped out on the Statehouse lawn, braving lousy weather to emphasize their point: They’re not going anywhere, and they’re not at all satisfied with the “progress” made by our political leaders, who mostly address the crisis by way of lip service.
And who, truth be told, are probably gearing up for more disappointment on the climate front. Nobody’s talking about the kind of action that would get us back on track to meet our goals. Nobody with any power is seriously talking about, say, a carbon tax — which was originally a Republican idea to address climate change through market forces, but is now considered anathema by even the self-identified moderates of the Vermont GOP. Democratic leaders are likely to prioritize the stuff they fumbled this year: minimum wage, paid family leave, a full tax-and-regulate system for cannabis and a waiting period for gun purchases.
That will leave little time for anything more than incremental climate work by relevant policy committees with no guarantee of floor action. Especially in an election year, when Democrats will have little stomach for tackling an issue that might give Republicans ammunition for campaign scare tactics.
Meanwhile, per VTDigger, activists are approaching this with a decided lack of realpolitik.
The protesters have a list of four demands for lawmakers, including being more transparent about the climate emergency, reducing state carbon emissions to net zero by 2025, creating a “Citizens’ Assembly” to oversee the changes, and making sure the transition prioritizes vulnerable people who will be more severely impacted by climate change.
Mm-hmm, that’ll go over like a lead balloon.
Climate activists are getting stronger and more persistent. The Vermont Youth Lobby has been a wellspring of protest, with many teenagers calling on their elders to do something to protect the future. Legislative politesse is likely to be low priority to kids who face an existential threat.
Legislative and executive leaders have reacted strongly to past breaches of Statehouse order. The mildest disruptions have sparked lengthy discussions about boosting security and enforcement, not to mention condescending appeals to Respect The Institution.
I think it’s safe to say they ain’t seen nothing yet.