Note: Will Bennington, featured in the article below, is Development and Campaigns Associate with Global Justice Ecology Project’s Vermont office. He is also a volunteer organizer with Rising Tide Vermont. Bennington has not listened to Obama’s speech, and doesn’t plan to. Instead, along with GJEP Executive Director Anne Petermann, he went straight to the actual policy document. Apparently, other environmentalists in Vermont would prefer to chew on the rhetoric instead of digesting the facts, which are more coal, more nukes, more fracking, more industrial biofuels and more false solutions taking us over the climate cliff.
-The GJEP Team
By Joel Baird, June 25, 2013. Source: Burlington Free Press
Energy efficiency isn’t a bold, new idea in Vermont. Nor is the quest for renewable energy and cleaner air.
But Green Mountain environmental activists took keen notice of President Obama’s unveiling Tuesday afternoon of a new, national climate action plan.
Within minutes of the speech’s conclusion, author Bill McKibben, a Ripton resident and founder of the global 350.org movement, issued a single, simple email.
In response to Obama’s remark that approval of the Keystone XL tar-sand pipeline from Alberta, Canada, hinged on its contribution to increases in greenhouse gas levels (a widely acknowledged outcome), McKibben wrote: “This is an appropriate standard that the president appears to be setting.”
He added, “The president is saying what the science has always demanded. It’s encouraging news for certain.”
Other local climate-and-energy advocates sifted through Obama’s speech (and the 20-page plan that underlies it) for signs of progress.
No ‘Flat Earth Society’
The president’s pairing of the words “invest” and “divest” to link energy and economic policies caught the attention of Karen Glitman, director of transportation efficiency at Burlington-based Vermont Energy Investment Corp.
“For me, it was a signal that he was talking to students, to a younger generation,” Glitman said, referring to a national campaign on college campuses calling for divestment of fossil-fuel-related stocks.
Slowed by a gridlocked Congress, Obama assembled an ambitious suite of executive directives, Glitman said, including first-ever fuel standards for heavy-duty vehicles and investments in low-emission federal fleets.
More broadly, she added, the president clearly established a government role both for shifting beyond a carbon-based energy economy, and in adapting to droughts, floods, food shortages and other effects of rapid climate change.
“It was an announcement, really, that climate change is here,” Glitman said. “He told the audience he didn’t have time for meetings with the Flat Earth Society.”
Between the lines
Obama’s frequent application of the presidential handkerchief during his late-afternoon speech was fitting, given the weather and the subject at hand.
But Will Bennington, a leader in Burlington-based Rising Tide Vermont and an organizer with the Global Justice Ecology Project, didn’t warm to Obama’s inclusion of natural gas, nuclear power and biofuels in his agenda.
And, Bennington added, it’s premature to celebrate a defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline: The president’s inclination to deny its passage might be swayed by forestry “offset” agreements (which purport to sequester compensating levels of greenhouse gases).
Or, Bennington said, the project might run afoul of free-trade agreements that restrict the award of unfair advantages to local industries.
“It’s important to read between the lines and see what our leaders are actually promoting,” he said.
Scale it up
Although similarly cautious about foreshadowed prospects of a halt to the tar-sands pipeline, Chris Kilian, director of Conservation Law Foundation in Vermont, applauded Obama’s speech for “placing environmental issues squarely back on the national agenda” after years of congressional stalling.
“It’s a big deal,” Kilian said. “It’s always good to bring people back to the value-based imperative behind our environmental problems. It underscored that ultimately, this is about global sustainability and global health — everything we hold dear.”
Vermonters’ keen regard for their landscape, for new solutions to energy challenges and for energy efficiency gives them something of a head start in climate awareness, Kilian added, “but clearly, all of this has to happen on a broad, national scale to make any of it work.”