Legislative Report 2/18/2012 - Climate Change Demands Response

This past December, after a year of hearings involving businesses, environmental groups, government agencies, and other citizens, the Vermont Department of Public Service published the Comprehensive Energy Plan.  The vision expressed in the Plan to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by moving Vermont to 90% renewable energy by 2050 is key to setting us on the correct path to our energy future.  Not surprisingly, there is resistance to that vision.  We get questions like: Climate change is a "hoax"; why are you wasting time on it?  How much can the small state of Vermont do to affect a global problem?  Why are we supporting energy resources that are economically unfeasible instead of cheaper coal, natural gas or nuclear? 

Looking at what is happening to our global environment, it is obvious that the global climate is indeed warming.  The north polar icecap as well as glaciers from Greenland to Antarctica are shrinking more each year causing sea levels to rise such that island nations in the Pacific are already losing substantial land mass.  And the effect is a feedback loop that is accelerating the change.  Solar energy, reflected less by the disappearing ice, is being absorbed and converted to infrared, which in turn heats the atmosphere.  Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is being released as permafrost melts in the arctic regions and organic matter that has been frozen for thousands of years decays.  Increasing CO2 and other greenhouse gases are decreasing the ability of the earth to radiate heat back into space, and the exploding use of fossil fuels since the mid-19th century has caused them to increase exponentially. 

Some will say that this is just a natural progression of the earth's thermal cycle, and maybe it is considering that the human race is part of the planet’s ecosystem, just as the dinosaurs were hundreds of millions of years ago.  Maybe our consumption of fossil fuels is just a way of recycling all that stored solar energy.  And maybe it is a tribute to our efficiency that we have learned how to recycle it so quickly.

But it doesn't change the fact that more thermal energy is available in the atmosphere to cause more energetic and frequent storms.  It doesn't change the fact that a rise in sea levels caused by the tremendous release of water stored in the glaciers and icecaps will impact coastal areas on every continent.  And it won't change the fact that some areas will see increased rainfall and flooding while others will dry out as rising temperatures and disappearing polar ice cause changes in air and ocean circulation patterns.

Maybe we have already reached the point of no return.  I hope not.  But with that hope, I want to see our policies change to at least slow down, if not reverse, our patterns of energy use, not so much for the sake of our generation, but for our grandchildren and future generations.  That will only happen by reducing our fossil fuel consumption, by learning to use the clean energy supplied so abundantly by nature even if it means some impact to the visual landscape, and by investing in research and development of technologies that will help us move toward this goal.

I am proud of the work we are doing in the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee to support that goal of making Vermont a model for clean, job-creating, renewable energy development and working with other states as they implement similar policies.