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Climate change

01/24/07 12:00AM By
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(HOST) The changing climate has become a top priority for Vermont's state government this year. And commentator Helen Labun Jordan has been thinking about the types of climate change policies Vermont might need.

(LABUN JORDAN) November's weather broke Vermont's record for hottest single day. And for least amount of snow. But it wasn't until it felt like April in the weeks leading up to Christmas that I began to really pay attention.

It seems odd to me that I would have overlooked the cues that might be part of something as serious as global climate change. Experts say this is the disaster that will define my generation, and you're not supposed to ignore that level of catastrophe. But the problem is that while climate change may be a definitive disaster, in daily life it feels a lot like an issue we've been through countless times before: a change in Vermont's culture.

Now, I suppose my age group might be more blas about sweeping cultural changes than generations past. We expect them. After all, the Internet quickly reshaped the way we learned and interacted with the larger world. Wal-Mart and other chain stores had ingrained a sense of limitless, inexpensive customer choices in look-alike outlets long before we were shopping for our own households. And climate change itself is old hat for us. I was born in 1980, the start of the hottest decade on record. By the time I turned eight, global warming was making ominous headlines on the cover of Time magazine. My generation is growing up accommodating climate change as it has accommodated all the other changes that were in motion long before we had any say in the matter.

Everyone is already adapting, to some degree, to a new way of life in Vermont. This year, in a warm November, we traded in the feel of approaching snow on a fall evening for another month to do end of summer chores. In the future, we'll probably accommodate other changes. For example, altered seasons and new pests might transform our forest growth, but at the same time we might get more weeks for hiking through the forest trails that remain. Probably agriculture will change, like it has before, when sheep farming faded out or bulk tanks came to dairies. The ski industry has already glimpsed a future of practical adjustments and is vocally concerned over who will eliminate a trip to the slopes from their wintertime traditions when the snow is unreliable.

Of course, we need to do more than simply adapt. Decades of debate around climate change, largely focused on environmental impacts, have brought this issue into the spotlight for statewide action. Today, crucial cultural issues are joining the environmental ones. The wind debates have clearly set this stage, as proposals to install wind turbines call on Vermonters to determine what we believe is most fundamental to preserving Vermont's culture - from keeping ridgelines out of the working landscape to building the state's portfolio of climate-friendly energy options.

We are obligated to do what we can to reduce climate change. At the same time, though, we are also obligated to recognize the cultural changes that are already happening and find a way to preserve Vermont's character in the midst of warming seasons. It's a conversation that should have everyone's attention.

Helen Labun Jordan works at the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

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