By Claire Greenburger

Claire Greenburger is the 350Vermont Media and Communications Fellow for Summer 2022. Claire is a Middlebury College student, studying environmental justice and creative writing. The following interview with Candy is part of a series of 350VT volunteer profiles that will be published on the blog. Claire hopes that sharing the diverse ways that volunteers are supporting the organization and the climate justice movement will inspire more Vermonters to get involved.

“By participating in the climate justice movement, I am aligning my heart and soul with my values, and I feel connected to those around the globe who are doing their own versions of that work.” – Candy Jones

 

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where in Vermont do you live, and how long have you lived here? 

My name is Candy Jones, and I have lived in Rutland, Vermont for forty five years now. 

 

What’s something that you love about Vermont?

Oh, I love the water! Vermont has the best water in the world. It’s clean! Either a running brook or a cold, spring-fed lake––I love all that. 

 

How is climate change impacting your life in Vermont?

The first way is housing and employment. The combination of Covid escapees and climate refugees [moving] to Vermont has created a housing shortage. Home buying is now far out of reach to many working Vermonters. Rents have sky-rocketed, and this continues to negatively affect folks on the lower economic spectrum. In addition, many of our new residents are remote workers, so our worker shortage across all segments of the Vermont economy is not being alleviated by having new people move here.

The second piece that I want to talk about is agriculture. Even as our dairy industry continues to decline, the small, organic farm model remains strong here in Vermont; however, because of the climate crisis, farmers are constantly having to adapt their growing techniques to adjust to unpredictable and intense weather events. This strains the owners and takes time and energy away from endeavors, such as increasing brand value and regional marketing to urban areas out-of-state, which are the kind of initiatives that could make Vermont organic produce a stronger part of our economy. 

The third thing that I want to talk about is land-use. Demand for new housing is fracturing wildlife habitat and [leading to] more wildlife that’s in contact with humans. Development also depletes the tree cover, compromising the ability to sequester carbon and absorb rain. [New] roads and driveways also create erosion and runoff, causing siltation and degradation of our waterways and all the biodiversity that depends on those waterways. 

 

What motivated you to first get involved with 350? Why did you feel like you needed to take action on climate change? 

My motivation [for being involved with 350] is knowing that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate gives us only seven years to curb our greenhouse gasses. And then there is my own personal, deeply-held belief in the sacredness of all life on planet Earth––that is my primary motivator. 

Just because humans have had the most effect on the web of biodiversity on Earth, it does not mean that we are the most important component in it. 

 

What is your role in 350Vermont? 

I was aware of 350 for a long time before I began to participate. I was inspired by a local, climate group here. They were having a weekly protest at TD Bank––every Saturday morning from 9:00 to 12:00 for a year. And those folks were out there in the winter, rain, slush, sleet––every kind of condition you can think of. The next summer, as these protests were still going on, 350 began having their pop-up campaigns (out of their Volkswagen) throughout Vermont. And I started to chat with Maeve [McBride], who was one of the original directors, and she got me interested in volunteering. 

Together, we developed an initial program, based on the Climate Acts, which were little vignettes that were written by people who attended the COP Summit, several years ago. I happen to know a lot of people in theater and the arts, so I was able to gather some folks to do these Climate Acts. We got some people––we didn’t get a huge amount of people––but we had a wonderful potluck afterwards, and the conversations that we had at that potluck were so rich and so engaging: it was really motivating. So, I got a few people to tag along, including people from the TD Bank protest group. That’s how we started––slowly––and here we are now. 

I feel like our node’s role in 350Vermont is supporting and participating in climate justice campaigns, adding more voice, more action, which creates more influence. Binding together with allied groups increases everyone’s voice.

I want to give you a feel for what our 350 Rutland Country node is like. We are a very collaborative group that is guided by a steering committee. There is no leader. We are all leaders. The steering committee sets goals and develops initiatives for group action. We are more of a project-oriented node. We are grounded in practicality. We try to initiate projects that are within our ability to succeed. We have threaded and woven ourselves into a number of other local organizations for specific projects. We also place a high value on educating [community members] about relevant topics, such as plant-based diets and reducing waste. 

Our node is pretty small, but each person has a forte that they are good at and that they are comfortable in, and we really let each person develop how they want to interact and what part in each program they want to participate in. Sometimes, we push people a little beyond their comfort zones. For example, when we were getting the post cards signed [for the Just Transition Campaign], I had some people who were really scared to approach other people and talk about climate justice. So, we worked on that, and 350 gave us some guidelines for speaking with people. And a lot of people really came through. 

We tend to be a boots-on-the-ground, shovel-in-hand group. We like to do things. 

 

Can you tell me about a specific project or action you are working on or have worked on for 350?

Since transportation and home heating are the two worst drivers of greenhouse gasses in Vermont, we decided to focus on weatherization this fall and winter. Instead of creating a whole new program, we decided to volunteer with existing organizations. We’ve contacted three service organizations in Rutland to see where we can fit in with their volunteer times. So, we are waiting to see who wants us! 

We thought that this was a really concrete way that we could make a difference right now in our community. 

 

What do you see as the most important direction or point of focus for the climate justice movement right now? Where do you think 350 should be directing its attention and efforts?

[We need to] maintain visibility in our communities because that builds trust. This is done on the ground, one project at a time, such as creating treeline streets in areas that have been “heat islands” to cool and clean their air, helping to establish accessible public transportation, creating community gardens and youth conservation programs, and building bike and pedestrian corridors. 

Because the prevailing culture in the United States promotes individual gain and comfort over the common good, people need to see how their lives can be made better [through these projects] in order to change their consciousness––and that would include awareness of the planet. 

So, I think you need to be visible, you need to say, “Hey, we’re the ones who put the trees on your street!” and “Hey, we’re the ones who helped insulate your home!” so that people start to associate 350 with positive things. 

The question “What should 350 do?” — I think voter turnout is a huge, huge, huge thing starting now, through the midterms, [and beyond.] 

I’ve been looking at websites that align environmental, labor and social justice groups to create transformation and increase voter turnout, such as the BlueGreen Alliance, The Us Climate Action Network, The People’s Climate Movement (350 is part of this), and the League of Conservation Voters Movement Voter Project.  The LCV website also shows a rating of how elected officials have voted on environmental issues.

So, if 350 could join more of those alliances, that would amplify our reach. 

I think that is super important right now. 

 

We get so much bad news––like the Supreme Court decision that came out yesterday that limits the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gasses––which makes it difficult to stay positive. Meanwhile, it feels like the climate justice movement is working on an increasingly short time frame to curb emissions. 

Given all of that, what keeps you hopeful and wanting to stay involved in the fight for climate justice? 

Claire, I don’t always have hope.

Sometimes, I feel like my efforts are inadequate against the scale of the problems of injustice, extinction, and ignorance. [But] I have realized that, by participating in the climate justice movement, I am aligning my heart and soul with my values, and I feel connected to those around the globe who are doing their own versions of that work

Even at times when I can’t find my hope, I still have purpose and determination.