By Chase Dunham, a member of 350VT’s Writing for Climate Justice group, from Plainfield

Last year the U.N. released a climate report saying we have 12 years to get off fossil fuels to avoid irreparable damage to the planet. So, what are we as Vermonters doing about this?

In April, for 5 days, hundreds of volunteers marched across the state for 350VT’s climate walk. On the last day the walk met its final destination in the Montpelier capital building, and called for a hearing for the proposed bills H.51, S.66, and H.175. Two weeks later, 130 people met with their legislators there in that hearing.

Press conference on H.175

The bills H.51 and S.66 would put a ban on expanding fossil fuel infrastructures, and H.175 would keep private property safe from the fossil fuel industry’s use of eminent domain. These would essentially eliminate the ability for fossil fuels to grow its power in our state, but even after the hearing, action still hasn’t been taken. Instead the bills were pushed back towards the next legislative session, wasting precious time. Timing is critical, one would think we’d be scrambling to correct the course of our planet. So, what’s the hold up?

“There’s a lot of disparity between care about climate change, and what they’re willing to do about it,” says Julie Macuga, field organizer of 350VT’s Extreme Energy campaign. When speaking to Macuga, she makes it clear that “We’re not going anywhere,” and it’s “frustrating to see legislature going slowly.” There are reasons for this…

For one, climate change isn’t placed among the top five priorities in the house; losing out to things like family/ medical leave and affordable child care. Also, our leaders aren’t currently holding a vote on legislation unless it meets a 2/3 majority; enough for a veto override. This practically halts any progress on climate change bills.

It’s not hard rationalize why some politicians are dragging their feet. We’re facing a difficult problem in that we’re dealing with a crisis that’s expensive to fix, yet hard to visualize the solution’s (renewable energy) benefits. And it’s a tough pill for some to swallow when the state’s budget is allocated towards action that’s hard to gauge success on. Also, bills perceived to harm the state’s economy or businesses, like increased taxes, are already going to have a hard time passing. And even if they do there’s the potential backlash from the public, so one can empathize, somewhat, with the waters our politicians must navigate. But when facing the bigger picture, these aren’t excuses to keep this on the backburner. We need initiative from our legislators, our situation demands us to be hungry to solve these problems.

Putting aside the incredibly complicated task of crafting legislation, there are more cynical things hampering progress, like the continual lobbying from the fossil fuel industry, steering policies away from the public’s interest. And on top of that, there’s the myth being pushed that fracking and natural gases are a cleaner energy alternative, when its already been proven that those things in some ways are even worse than coal.

While it’s true, our legislators are making feeble efforts towards things like carbon taxing, weatherization, and implementing more electric vehicles, it’s still not enough given how dire our situation is.

Solar and wind energies are cheaper and more efficient than they’ve ever been, and we need leaders eager to take advantage of them. If we want to see progress, we need to contact our legislators and let them know it’s okay to tackle this issue with full force. It seems that the only way to move things forward is if we can assure them they have the support of Vermonters. We have the tools to save the planet, we just need the willpower to use them.

For those interested in helping 350 VT’s legislative efforts, contact Julie Macuga at resist@350vt.org