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VT as leader

01/26/07 12:00AM By David Moats
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(HOST) When contemplating the changing climate, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer scope and complexity of the challenge, but commentator David Moats is encouraged that Vermonters are collectively looking for ways to take decisive action.

(MOATS) I was at a conference of about sixty journalists from all over the country, and we were asked to name the stories we thought would dominate the news for the next ten years. There was a nearly unanimous view that the number one story would be climate change and the related problems of energy and resources.

Weird weather in the last few years has reinforced the idea that the climate has entered a new era, and a litany of stories about melting glaciers and drowning polar bears has confirmed the idea. The widespread viewing of Al Gore's movie showed that something was happening - a major shift of public attitude - and my fellow journalists are not the only ones to perceive this shift. The Vermont Legislature has devoted several weeks to a crash course on global warming, with the idea of taking action this session.

I'm interested in the thinking of those still resisting action on global warming. This resistance falls into several categories. There are those who still believe it's all a hoax, but they aren't taken seriously anymore.

Reasonable skepticism is essential to the scientific process, but the skepticism of industry flaks and their apologists has been intended to delay action rather than to advance knowledge.

There is another kind of skepticism - call it cynicism - that grows from recent experience. The cynical view holds that the power of international corporations is so immense and our politicians are so corrupt that meaningful action is impossible.

Resistance also comes from the fatalistic view that the problem is just too big. Beyond the borders of Vermont, freeways are choking with cars and power plants are spewing carbon, not just in America but in China, India and around the world. The fatalistic view sees the problem as too huge and the trend too far gone. A variant of the fatalistic view is advanced by longtime skeptics, who say the natural causes of global warming are beyond our control, so global warming can never be checked.

Certainly, Vermont cannot solve the problem by itself. But neither can any other region - by itself. Meaningful action happens when everyone stands up, looks around, and realizes that together action is possible. For that reason, Vermont has a role to play as a model for other places. We can initiate programs and create technologies with the potential for use elsewhere. We have already started to do that. And we can demonstrate the civic spirit that will be necessary to animate people around the globe.

Can we curb the climate changes that are threatening our civilization? No one knows for sure whether we can or will. But when I ask myself what kind of person I want to be and want kind of society I want to have, I'm not comfortable surrendering to passivity, cynicism, and excuse-making.

I want to live in a place where the citizens take on their civic responsibilities with happiness and hope, not because they know for sure they will succeed, but because practicing stewardship of the world that is our home is a better way to live.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He spoke from studios at Middlebury College.

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