Climate Justice Leader Training

Building Ground, part one of our Climate Justice Leadership training program, is coming up on June 2-4! Are you craving connection with other people who are readying to resist the current administration and its climate denying policies? Are you curious to explore climate justice and what it means for this moment in our country’s history? Are you seeking to develop your own understanding of the crisis and learn skills that will help you be more effective in organizing your own communities? Maybe you’ve attended the People’s Climate  March and are ready to start mobilizing?

LOCATION CHANGE: We will now be located at the beautiful Metta Earth Institute in Lincoln, VT!

Learn more here.

Register!  Email jen@350vt.org with any questions!

Doug Smith: From Nuclear to Natural Gas

IMG_2309This blog is the eighth in a series of profiles written by 350VT intern Julie Elfin. Julie got the chance to speak with Doug Smith of Sharon, whose long history of involvement with energy innovation and activism provides perspective for the current situation. This is Doug’s story. 

I’m an activist and an engineer. I grew up in the 1950s and went to college in the 1960s. I’ve been studying climate change and working on renewable energy since the 1960s. Now I’m 76 years old. I have grandkids now, and I’m not so far away from great-grandkids, but we haven’t made much progress.

I was Head Teaching Fellow at Harvard in 1969 on a course called “Human Populations and Natural Resources”. We covered greenhouse gases and our early understanding of climate change. Even back then, we knew there was a problem. We didn’t know the timelines or have a clear picture of the impacts, but we knew it was real.

When I left school, I made money selling my research to solar companies and planning energy development. I’ve always been against nuclear. It was clear to me that there was no separation between nuclear weapons and nuclear power. The two technologies come from the same seed. I was involved in the battle against Vermont Yankee and arrested numerous times. I occupied Wall Street in 1979, protested the Vietnam War and worked for nuclear and Apartheid divestment.

Before the oil crisis in the ‘70s, there was no such thing as an energy expert. Bangladesh was the first country to really have an energy policy, and I was a part of that. It happened that I lived in East Pakistan in the early 1970s, when it declared independence and became Bangladesh. The policy we created was rural-focused, decentralized and included renewables.

There was tremendous potential for solar PV in Africa and South Asia in the 1970s. The Exxons and BPs of the world had solar departments. Japan was getting involved. Even the World Bank got excited about it. It seemed like solar was going to be the next big thing.

Obviously, that never happened. Fossil fuel companies and corporate interests squashed renewables. Big utilities and nuclear corporations combined powers to stop the development of solar and wind. They didn’t want a decentralized system threatening their profits.

We know more science about climate change now than we did in the 1960s, and interest in nuclear has declined since Fukushima, which confirmed that our fears were not just paranoia. But mostly it’s still business as usual. The urgency doesn’t quite get across to a lot of people. If we’d started 50 years ago, we’d be in a different place now, but I think we are moving forward.

I’m retired. I’d like to take a step back, but I can’t. I’ve been active in the Vermont Gas pipeline demonstrations. My wife and I were arrested with a group of grandparents,  chained to the gate of the VGS pipe yard. Since her death in 2015, I have continued to be active in a direct action affinity group. I worry about my grandsons. The Vermont Gas pipeline is diametrically opposed to what we should be doing to build a future for their generation.

It’s outrageous that the state of Vermont supports a pipeline that people don’t want. The power of industry on corporate interests has overwhelmed science, climate justice and the common interest.

Vermont Gas is not a hometown company. They’re a subsidiary of Gaz Metro from Canada. They have a lot of power that politicians pay attention to. Politicians aren’t scientists. They’re not corrupted; they’ve simply got other things to do. Some science supports the industry’s side, and the government gets fed information that reinforces the story Vermont Gas and Gaz Metro want to present. It’s hard to counter that.

I love Vermont. I love where I live. I live simply. I have a little house. I don’t have a car. I have lots of friends and many of my neighbors agree with me, though more passively, on issues like energy, healthcare and immigration. I have access to nature, to the woods near my house. In my personal life, I’m not affected much by climate change, but climate change will affect that land.

I do step back at times. I have less energy now. It’s hard and probably dangerous not to take breaks over the course of a lifetime. I put a lot of effort into my family and my activism has looked different during the phases of my professional and family life.

I practice intensive meditation two to three months per year: no newspapers, no computers, no TV, no speaking. Some would say it’s a break, but I would say it’s not a break–it’s a change. Those times provide the strength I need to keep going.

I trust our kids and grandkids. I know things can change. Movements aren’t effective overnight, but activists throughout the history of this country and the world have contributed so much to society. Before the collapse of Apartheid, I could never see how that would happen. But people stood up and things changed little by little til one day it happened.

Check out the previous profile!

Julie Elfin is a senior at the University of Vermont studying the environment and communications. This profile series is her culminating project for her Online Organizing internship with 350VT. 

Hope Petraro: Leading With Love

This blog is the seventh in a series of profiles written by 350VT intern Julie Elfin. Julie got the chance to speak with image1Hope Petraro of Montpelier, a high school student with a passion for art and activism. This is Hope’s story. 

I believe an activist is always a leader. As a leader, it’s important to strike the right balance of listening and speaking, receiving and provide input. It’s synonymous with being a revolutionary, and revolutionaries go against the flow. Activists inspire others and foster progress towards a common goal and common good.

I’m a freshman at Montpelier High School. I work with the youth activism group in Plainfield. It’s great to connect with people who feel similarly and help people. It’s important work. Being able to have and support a positive community of people who care about the greater good is so rare. That’s a good work right there.


Nancy Baker: Those Who Can

IMG_20170310_112315680This blog is the sixth in a series of profiles written by 350VT intern Julie Elfin. Julie got the chance to speak with Nancy Baker of Hinesburg, a special educator devoted to her community and to justice. This is Nancy’s story. 

My philosophy of government is that people who can should look out for people who can’t. The broadest shoulders should take on the most work. As an early childhood special educator, I have 30 years of experience fighting for those who can’t.

Hinesburg is a wonderful community that I moved to because it was a community. The town has a lot of organic farms and a commitment to keep things clean. Now big corporations want to dictate how our town should act and look, and they’re threatening that community.

Geprags Park is the only public park in Hinesburg, so it’s an important element of our community. I was on the town conservation commission and involved in rebuilding the barn on the property. I still spend time there several times a week, walking my dogs, listening to the birds and just appreciating the land.


Jane Palmer: Fighting for Farmers

This blog is the fifth in a series of profiles written by 350VT intern Julie Elfin. Julie got the chance to speak with Jane Palmer of Monkton, a fierce defender of her local farmland. This is Jane’s story. 


D7B8.tmpMy family’s farm is just beautiful. The land is alive all the time. In the mornings, with the fog over the marsh…it draws people in. When it came up for sale 20 years ago, we knew it was ours. We couldn’t let it go to someone else who would chop it up and turn it into cookie-cutter houses. We’ve always been very protective of the land, especially the wetland on our property, because it’s such a beautiful piece of the ecosystem.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the farm is the Vergennes clay soil. Digging up our 2 acre improved vegetable garden plot and putting a pipeline through it, like Vermont Gas planned, would have completely destroyed the soil. And that was only the beginning. Everything we found out pointed to the reality that this wasn’t a good idea. Our neighbor brought over a map of the route that showed the pipeline going right through the middle of the orchard, the septic system, our pond, our water line and a grove of willows between our house and the road. Someone had just drawn a line through our property without knowing anything.


Theora Ward: The Importance of Worker Bees


This blog is the fourth in a series of profiles written by 350VT intern Julie Elfin. Julie got the chance to speak with Theora Ward of Hinesburg, who believes everyone has a place in her activist community. This is Theora’s story. 


I’m not a leader. I’m a worker bee. That’s my niche. Many in this movement are much smarter than I am. I’m just really happy to listen to those people. They help me understand things, and then I can move forward and work on our campaign. I’ve learned a lot. I regularly read scientific studies and legal briefs now. I do things on the computer that, as a 72 year old, I would have had no idea how to do otherwise. It’s not easy, but it is the most important thing I can do.  

I think about climate change every day. I know that puts me in the minority, which worries me. It’s like a huge tsunami coming toward us, and no one is noticing. Huge isn’t big enough to describe it. Climate change is the most important issue of our time. Everything else pales in comparison, because if we don’t solve this issue, life on Earth as we know it will not survive. If we don’t do something about it in the next 20 years, or even less, it’s going to be Armageddon. Believing that, there’s no way I can do anything but work on this all the time.


Terence Cuneo: the Philosophy of Action


This blog is the third in a series of profiles written by 350VT intern Julie Elfin. Julie got the chance to speak with Terence Cuneo of Williston, whose experience as a philosopher calls him to climate action. This is Terence’s story.


Philosophers are taught to be patient. The issues we usually study aren’t that urgent. They tend to be more theoretical, with little immediate impact on society. But in the case of climate change, we don’t have time to mess around. It’s utterly urgent. The kind of disruptions we’re seeing today–record-high temperatures, widespread forest fires, out of control hurricanes–it’s far worse than I’d anticipated, than I’d been led to believe when I started following climate science in the 1990s.

I teach the ethics of climate change, the necessity of doing something, in all of my philosophy courses at the University of Vermont. The logic is simple. Humans are intellectually responsible for the well-being of the planet. The evidence is clear that climate change is real and humans are contributing to it. When we observe effects on this scale, we are rationally required to act. So then the question becomes,“What are the rational decisions to make and actions to take in response to the evidence?”


Rebecca Dalgin: Rooted in Nature


This blog is the second in a series of profiles written by 350VT intern Julie Elfin. Julie got the chance to speak with Rebecca Dalgin of Montpelier, whose connection to the Earth informs her social justice work. This is Rebecca’s story.


I live in the occupied lands of the Abenaki, AKA Montpelier. When I want to feel connected to nature, to this place, I go to Hubbard Park. It’s quiet and peaceful, but still rife with life. As an herbalist, I feel connected to the Earth when I go out and harvest some goldenrod, for example, because I know my family is going to need it come allergy season or to support their digestion.

Humans are inherently connected to nature. We’re animals. We’re a part of nature. As the permaculturist Penny Livingston-Stark says, “we are nature working.” When we build something, it’s still nature. We’ve forgotten that we are connected to each other and to the plants and animals and fungi.To me, that’s a huge part of what has happened to our world. We are nature working, but we’re nature not working very well. (more…)

Mary Martin: Mother, Grandmother, Protector

Mary Martin

This blog is the first in a series of profiles written by 350VT intern Julie Elfin. Julie got the chance to speak with Mary Martin of Cornwall, who’s been involved with fighting the VGS pipeline since 2013. This is Mary’s story.


In the beginning, I was angry. I wasn’t afraid. There’s no fear with anger. I just knew I had to do something.  

I wasn’t an activist or an environmentalist. I wasn’t looking for a cause. Vermont Gas came knocking on our door, my family’s home. They just took the wrong approach with me. They threatened to seize our land right off the bat. What they were trying to do, using eminent domain for a private company, was just so wrong.

At the time, it was just about our land, and I didn’t care about the world. I was like a mother bear protecting her cubs. It was personal: my land, my town, my territory. I was still blissfully ignorant about the harms of natural gas and climate change. I didn’t know about the tar sands, where the gas was coming from. Once you are informed, though, you have to do something about it.


Coming Soon: Activist Profile Blog Series

Protect Geprags Action (Credit Jim Mendell)

My name is Julie Elfin, and I’m an intern with 350VT. I study the environment and public communications at the University of Vermont (UVM). I’m interested in creative communication around big issues like climate change, and in the power of compelling stories to change hearts and minds. I’ve been involved with the climate movement for a few years, and the insular “bubbles” of political opinion that limit the discussion have always bothered me. I believe stories can inspire and persuade in ways that facts and debates cannot.

In order to put this conviction into action, I’ve spent the past few months interviewing activists engaged in the fight against the Vermont Gas pipeline in Addison County. Through short personal profiles, I hope to introduce readers to the many faces of environmental activism in Vermont.

New Path Towards a Low-Carbon Future for the Vermont Pension Fund

No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure October 2014On Thursday, February 8th, 2017, Treasurer Beth Pearce released a letter that details the combined findings of the Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC) sub-committee on divestment so far and changes to make in the next few months. The recommendations in the letter are reflective of months of learning about the rapidly changing world of fossil fuel investments, fiduciary duty, and climate risk while hearing from panels of experts in the field, as well as a study by a third party facilitated by VPIC.

The work of the sub-committee has developed some creative and constructive climate risk mitigating policies which will have very real implications for a low-carbon future for the Vermont pension. The committee will condense their findings into final recommendations for VPIC on February 16th, 2017 to present to the whole committee on February 28th, 2017. Treasurer Pearce has recommended to her colleagues on the sub-committee the following recommendations which represent a broad shift for the pension fund away from fossil fuels and towards a low-carbon future. (more…)