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Molnar: Sustainability

Bill McKibben, Vermont’s leading climate change activist, was speaking at Green Mountain College. “We have won the argument,” he was saying. “Now we have to win the war.“

This reminded me of a recent effort I had made to convince a friend that her quality of life wouldn’t suffer if, instead of buying water in small bottles, she would buy it by the gallon and pour it into a glass. Or, even more revolutionary, drink tap water. In the end, she admitted she simply likes the convenience of individual bottles and refuses to give them up. I’d won the argument but lost the war.

To win the war, McKibben explained to the Resilient and Sustainable Communities graduate course students from around the country, we must change the zeitgeist. And I understood that my friend will give up bottled water only when it becomes socially unacceptable. Unfortunately, there are powerful interests that rely on bottled water and similarly dubious products because these add considerably to their bottom line.

One answer lies in providing alternatives that are both sustainable and improve quality of life, as we see happening in Vermont.

For example, rather than waiting for massive future technologies to save us from the ravages of climate change, we’re investing in small-scale technologies that are making a difference right now.

Solar panels popping up all over the state are placing Vermont at the forefront of renewable energy efforts. And some sort of carbon tax has even been discussed in this legislative session.

Our small-scale farms have a miniscule environmental footprint compared to industrial farms that depend on petroleum-based products and long-distance transportation. Small farming sustains our beautiful working landscape, with Legislative support. And micro-brewed beer is another local industry that makes Vermont a standout, with the greatest number of breweries per capita. The result? Our food and beer are both excellent.

Local business is surviving, sometimes even thriving as down-towns are being revived, thanks to decades of effort. For example, Rutland’s downtown seems to be in the midst of a renaissance, with interesting businesses filling formerly empty storefronts, and a thriving year-round farmers market where people go to meet, greet and build community, which according to a recent UVM study, leads to increased concern about our planet.

With climate change steadily accelerating, the odds are still against us. But McKibben notes that less than one percent of Americans were engaged in the Civil Rights movement. And seeing what they eventually accomplished, it seems to me that we can reach for nothing less.

Martha L. Molnar is a public relations and freelance writer who moved to Vermont in 2008. She was formerly a New York Times reporter.
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