Experts: Vermont isn't immune to impacts of climate change

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Tensions are high in Montpelier over climate change and people in Australia are also pushing for action, saying the fires there are a perfect example of how things can get out of hand.

Last week, WCAX introduced you to South Burlington resident Robbie Stuart and his Australian friend, Ross Constable. During that conversation, Constable said we need to do our part here to protect our planet as a whole.

"I think people should pick up the Australian experience and shake it in the faces of politicians and say, 'If you don't act, this is what's going to happen.' This is the reality that's happening now in Australia and that will happen in a country near you or in the country you're in," said Constable.

Constable says the issues in his country are ones we have to tackle globally.

University of Vermont professor and ecological economics expert Jon Erikson agrees.

"These are affecting us right here in Vermont. It's not just the fires in Australia or the floods in the Midwest," he said.

Erickson says it's critical we recognize Vermont isn't immune to climate change as our extreme precipitation events increase and temperatures fluctuate. He says Vermont is historically great at making climate action plans but struggles to follow through. He points out the fact that the state emits 16 percent more greenhouse gas emissions now than in 1990, but New York emits 8 percent less according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

"It's time to do something. It's time to stop sitting on our hands. It's time to start walking the walk, not just talking the talk," said Erickson.

It's time, he says, we don't have.

"We need political will. We need political leadership. That's what these protests are about," Erickson said.

He and other activists say emerging proposals like a Green New Deal are a good start but don't go far enough. They want more rules, not incentives.

But all agree Vermont needs to lead the country to solutions by setting a good example.

"Look what happened when we changed one lightbulb. Somebody else changed a lightbulb. The market said, 'Oh, we need more energy-efficient lightbulbs.' That started a whole conversation about electricity usage in our homes," said Emily Boedecker, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

"The 2010s was the decade of extremes. I hope 2020 is the beginning of the decade of action," said Erickson.

As Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, outlined in his State of the State address, the focus is on making electric vehicles more affordable and accessible to all Vermonters, so the state can collectively reduce our carbon footprint.

Boedecker says changing the way we get from place to place will be key in making that happen.

"We do need to go to those more difficult places, where individual choice has a very significant impact. So, we're already working well together -- both the state, past administrations, this administration -- to try to set up structures that allow people the choices, but also we need to work with people individually so they have the ability to make the choices that are right for them," said Boedecker.

She says those individual choices can range from composting to using energy-efficient lightbulbs, but primarily the focus for Vermont is on getting people to invest in electric vehicles.

She says that's only possible if the state makes them more affordable and accessible.