Adapting to Changing Conditions
This commentary is by Dan Jones. Dan is an energy activist in Montpelier, and former chair of the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee.
News Flash: One recent summer storm’s flood damage in Plainfield amounted to a third of the town budget, yet it wasn’t enough damage to warrant emergency Federal aid. The Plainfield select Board is looking for creative ways to cover this cost As I understand, right now damage repair is currently on hold.
People in Plainfield and Barre are still scratching their heads wondering how this kind of flooding could come along just 4 years after Irene. Perhaps they failed to notice that such torrential downpours have been long predicted as a growing part of the global warming disruptions. In fact, many of us may have noticed how many downpours we are getting in our summer rains of late.
Such regular destructive events are going to be a more frequent part of our local climate, along with rougher winters and polar vortices. This, unfortunately, will require spending a lot more of our collective wealth just to keep repairing the roads, bridges and utilities. Pay attention other select boards. This is probably going to be a major cost center for your future budgets.
Not only that, but with the increased toxic run off from the roads and the river side parking lots, even more is going to have to be spent keeping nasty chemicals contained and out of Lake Champlain. Of course, this is just the start of the economic disruptions we are beginning to experience from global warming. However it is right now; not 35 years off in the future. At the rate we are going, in 20 years we might not be able to keep up with the dislocations coming from a the steady stream of weather disasters. A distant California drought is one thing, but the expensive climate destruction happening here in Vermont, requires us to face a different challenge.
This growing problem threatens most of central Vermont’s entire lifestyle and living patterns consisting, as it does, of dispersed single-family homes dotting the beautiful hillsides. Access to that lifestyle is completely dependent on a well maintained road and utilities system. It doesn’t take a climate scientist to tell you that most of those costs will just keep rising as we sink deeper into the realities of climate disruption.
For the sake of discussion, let us now consider that increased maintenance of our roads and parking lots should now be included as part of our real cost of energy. As flooding and toxic run off events repeat and increase, the costs of maintaining our rural infrastructure will further strain already stretched town budgets. Keeping the electricity and the cable flowing down those back roads will simply become much more expensive.
Our commitment to a rural lifestyles, in time, will probably change. When it does, we will need some place local to move that will allow us to continue to be in Vermont. Allow me to suggest that we consider the re-imagining and re-building of our small cities like Montpelier.
Instead of a hub for a bunch of commuter suburbs, perhaps Montpelier could be a sustainable small urban hub. Getting rid of the 60% of Montpelier’s downtown, now paved over to provide toxic run off parking, would open up the needed real estate to change our ideas of living through climate change. In addition, its central VT location provides Montpelier increased attractiveness a hub for sustainable, affordable living next to natural Beauty. New business and affordable homes coupled with a robust local transportation system could make our central city the place to live, Imagine what a sustainable future we could create if Montpelier were to re-imagine its downtown as a locus of housing and commercial activity. Such are comprehensive scheme could provide a sustainable future for our children and theirs?
Extensive affordable housing downtown would allow Seniors to downsize from their empty nests and young people could afford to join our community. Multiple shared forms of transportation that would allow us the convenience of our personal cars without the cost or parking commitments or energy demand.”
I will have more to say about these kinds of positive options in the coming weeks. The goal is to stop feeling attacked by climate change, but rather, how we could use our culture and ingenuity to model how people can adapt to change conditions and gain a lot of benefits along the way.
As will become evident from my next article, I think we would be smart to consider initiating this transformation quickly while the remnants of our wealth are here to pay for it. Its time to consider making changes that we want, rather than those that are forced upon us by rapidly degenerating environmental and economic conditions.
We could use our new understanding of climate economics and work together to aggressively create a much more resilient future right here at home in central Vermont.
Montpelier resident Dan Jones is a Managing Partner of Net Zero Vermont Ventures and former chair of the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee.