A forum is planned this week in Burlington on opportunities to enhance the state’s economy in the face of climate change.
The Vermont Climate Change Economy Initiative is being spearheaded by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. The concept of panel discussions began in February with a Summit on Creating Prosperity & Opportunity Confronting Climate Change where groups from a number of sectors came together. The summit formulated the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council, which initiated a statewide series of Vermont Climate Economy forums. The last is scheduled for Thursday in Burlington.
Council on Rural Development Executive Director Paul Costello calls the upcoming forum a listening session. “We’ve got a small panel that’s going to share their perspectives on this. But then we’re looking for folks from the public to tell us ways that they see opportunities and things that they think could be done to support economic activity that makes the state a more prosperous and sustainable place in the future.”
Costello says innovators in the green economy are scattered across the state. “We have a number of key assets but it doesn’t feel like we’ve added them up into a collective story about what Vermont is doing and where it’s going. And so we think that part of this is really celebrating the leadership of businesses across the board in the ways that, you know every manufacturer is looking at business efficiencies for the future. But also saying in particular what are the things that are going to help young start-up businesses and creative new business come to Vermont?”
The Vermont Energy Investment Corporation operates Efficiency Vermont – the only state efficiency utility. Executive Director Scott Johnstone is a forum panelist. He says they are trying to understand the changes wrought by climate change. “With that comes a choice. Do we continue to accept what climate is bringing us or do we try to make sure that our state makes the best of that from our economy’s perspective? So this panel and this process is to say you know yes we’re going to have to adapt. Yes we need to do mitigation and our economy actually is a choice in this process. Do we keep doing the same things we’ve done and see a declining economy as an additional catastrophe out of climate change? Or do we try to change the way we’re doing business and as climate is happening make sure that our economy is thriving and remaking itself?”
Burlington Electric Department General Manager Neale Lunderville is another panelist. A member of the Climate Change Economy Council, he has also worked in state government and helped form a natural gas distribution company in Vermont. He says the information gleaned at the forums will help the state build on its green leadership. “One of the main purposes of this initiative is to find common ground between a lot of different ideas. We as a council, folks come in from many different viewpoints. There are utilities. There are private businesses. There are nonprofits. And there are governmental leaders. All with a slightly different view of the world. Ultimately what we’re trying to find are those ideas that can move the ball forward. And really we’re looking for the innovative ones, the ones we haven’t thought of before or we haven’t moved to action on. Ultimately we know that we need to protect Vermonters and also provide them leadership to deal with the challenges that face us.”
Vermont markets itself as a leader in the green economy. Johnstone expects the forum will bring out even more ideas to enhance the state’s efforts. “Vermonters are imbued with tremendous innovation and entrepreneurial spirit and all we need to do is help open the spigot and frankly we’ll have a hard time ending the session.”
The third Vermont Climate Economy Forum is Thursday at Contois Auditorium in Burlington.