Vermont’s economy has always been influenced by larger forces, whether global recession or changes in the nation’s trade policies. But the economic impact of climate change is a newer force.
After a year of deliberations, the Vermont Climate Change Economy Council, a group of business and public policy leaders, has come out with a report on how the state’s economy should adapt to climate change.
The report, "Progress for Vermont," is grounded in the belief that Vermont’s response to climate change has to go beyond how we as individuals behave.
“It can’t just be individual behavior. It has to be economic change,” says Paul Costello, executive director of the Vermont Council On Rural Development, which created the Climate Change Economy Council.
The report’s central theme is a call to make Vermont globally known for providing a hospitable environment to green and innovative businesses and entrepreneurs.
“Part of our premise is that those who do this and line themselves up with the right brand and the right assets to support businesses are going to have a major competitive advantage in the economy of the future,” Costello says.
The report argues that with the right policies and proper marketing, Vermont could use a climate-focused economic vision to attract badly needed younger workers.
According to the report, Vermont is already on track in many ways in terms of energy and development policy – even local communities are taking action that is consistent with the goals of the report.
“We’ve been hearing in every town that we go to as we work our way around the state, folks looking at downtown business incubation, maker spaces, co-working spaces,” says Costello. “Every town in Vermont is talking about how they’re going to capture the imagination of young people and where they’re going to make it easy for them to locate.”
The report says the state should focus on encouraging energy efficiency and adopt policies that take into account the costs of carbon use.
The report makes no specific proposal for how the state should go about putting a price on carbon and Costello acknowledges the concept is controversial and complex.
“[There is a] need for care in doing it around how it would affect, for example the farm and forest economy - the opportunity to do it with regional participation so Vermont isn’t going it alone," Costello says. "One of the things we’ve done is define things that seem like big picture directions that Vermont ought to go outside of Democratic, Republican, Progressive politics in Vermont."
“In an age of climate change, Vermont businesses are not the problem; they are and will be the solution,” the report states, but Costello is aware that sometimes the dialog around what to do about climate change seems to pit those calling for action against businesses concerned about cost and regulation.
“We think that the ideas in here are more stimulus than they are penalty,” he says.
There will be a summit to discuss the report on Feb. 22 at Vermont Technical College.
It’s likely there will be some debate over elements of the report, just as there was disagreement among the members of the group that prepared it.
“You can do this stuff and make vanilla ice cream every time if you don’t allow yourself to disagree on some things,” says Costello.