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Environmental Activist Group Lays Out Agenda

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Claudia Marshall
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A "breakout" group discusses climate change strategy at 350VT's first annual meeting.

The environmental group 350 Vermont is making plans for increased activism against climate change.  On the heels of its first-ever annual meeting, the group is focusing on targets from Montpelier to Washington.

About a hundred activists -- mostly volunteers -- spent most of their Saturday swapping ideas about how to get Vermont to cut consumption of fossil fuels. Say’s the group’s Maeve McBride, “it has to be a shotgun approach.  We’re hitting lots of different things at the same time.”

350 Vermont gets its name from the level of C02 in the atmosphere that scientists say is unsafe for the planet. Earlier this year, the levels reached 400 parts per million.

McBride says the groups is growing fast and donations are on the rise. So these activists are now poised to move ahead on a number of fronts -- from fighting controversial pipelines in Vermont and beyond -- to getting the state’s pension funds out of oil, coal and gas.

Divestment organizer Aly Johnson-Kurts says financial advisors are increasingly warning that investment in fossil fuel based energy companies is risky. “We’re planning three divestment rallies in Montpelier for January and for February,” she says, as well as working with students and state employees to force divestment from within.  The group is also pushing state legislation. The most controversial plan is to back a state tax on carbon emissions. But the suggestion of a federal carbon tax was met with cheers from the group.

McBride thinks Vermonters are ready to consider a carbon tax because she says “we get it” now that burning fossil fuel is creating climate chaos. “Having things happen like Irene and the flood on Lake Champlain and the weird June we just had with all of that extreme weather… I have a science background in rivers and streams and that’s one of the areas we’re going to see that change. And because we’re a mountainous state, we’re going to be really effected by that extreme weather. And it’s happening now, and it’s going to keep happening,” she stresses.  

Still, the group’s message is upbeat.  Volunteer Joe Solomon drew cheers from the volunteers when he recounted recent activism across the region.  “It used to be just talk in living rooms.  Now Vermonters are going to Massachusetts to shut down New England’s largest coal plant.  And it worked,” he adds.

So civil disobedience is on the docket -- as well proposals at Town Meeting and the state house. 350 Vermont is gearing up to be more vocal than ever.

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