Portraits in Action

Jito Coleman

Renewable energy engineer/business pioneer

To reach the next level in meeting our environmental and energy challenges will require an invigorated and deeper Personal Commitment by each of us.

Personal Commitment to do the right thing–in our homes, in our life styles, in the politicians we choose.

CLIMATE DISASTER is what we are facing. Accepting tepid political band-aides and ‘tweaks” to the status quo will not begin to address the magnitude and urgency of the challenge.

The deterioration of our environment can be directly tied to energy use and abuse. We need to scale back our wastefulness and change to more environmentally appropriate sources–societally and individually. Our earth can no longer sustain our current habits. We need to shrink our energy footprints and find ways to source our energy sustainably.

People hope and are willing to wait for technology to fix their problems. That is usually a cop out for not being willing to address the issue and take action. Technology will evolve over time, but it isn’t keeping up with the rapidly deteriorating climate. People need to wake up to the fact that they can do more right now. Personally and nationally.

We have started down this road, but with a timidity well short of the committed action required. To meet our challenge we need to do more and do it faster. The means and solutions exist. The commitment to use them isn’t there. Not yet . . .

Our collective footprint is huge; my personal footprint is too big as well.

Personal change comes hard. The ever-increasing awareness of almost certain climate disaster will spur the conversation. But real changes will only come when we collectively take significant and meaningful action. Let’s not do too little, too late.

So put on an extra sweater, heat and cool your house less, drive less, fly less, stay home more and enjoy where you live. And by all means, avail yourself of the newest energy technologies that you want and can afford. Commit to shrinking your footprint today.

Only support candidates, locally to nationally, who have made this commitment as well.

To have any hope of changing course, we need to demand significant action NOW. That will come as we each make stronger, broader, deeper personal commitments.

Jito Coleman in Warren, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Jito Coleman in Warren, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

John Zimmerman

John Zimmerman at the Milton and Georgia Vermont wind farm—a 10 megawatt, four turbine, generation project that was placed in service in December of 2012 and has since become the highest performing wind farm in Vermont. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

John Zimmerman at the Milton and Georgia Vermont wind farm—a 10 megawatt, four turbine, generation project that was placed in service in December of 2012 and has since become the highest performing wind farm in Vermont. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Founder and President, Vermont Environmental Research Associates, Inc

Exciting improvements to our electric, transportation, and home heating power systems in the coming decades will most assuredly evolve from societal pressures to integrate these sectors and improve their carbon footprint to improve air quality. Implementing these changes will inevitably be a bumpy ride as they affect all sectors of the energy industry; power generation, transmission and delivery, and importantly, consumers. In the electric sector this evolutionary trend is rapidly accelerating as new smaller and local generation sources are more frequently added to our electric system at the same time as new load is added by the electrification of the transportation and space heating sectors.

Substantial new investment in sustainable renewable generation sources is needed to achieve our greenhouse gas reduction objectives. If we set our clean air goals carefully and implement them pragmatically these changes will occur naturally, albeit at a slower pace than many would like.

Much of the work in my career has been focused on participating actively in this evolution by supporting the commercial scale renewable energy development. Because local renewable generation systems are usually visible features in the community, we can expect our working landscape will continue to evolve as the transition to clean energy expands along with the public dialogue as to need and societal benefits.

As in centuries past, communities will be able to see and identify with where there power is made. It will be on our rooftops, in our fields, and on our hilltops. The transition is underway now and will continue for generations. I can’t wait!

Dori & Jeff Wolfe

Owner, Wolfe Energy LLC; Co-Founder, groSolar

Senior Vice President of Business Strategy, Just Energy; Co-Founder, groSolar

We pray it is not true, but “crisis” may be the only tool powerful enough to evoke the change needed to conquer the environmental and energy challenges we are facing today. We can’t see parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, so when we hear we need to be at 350 ppm, but are now over 400 ppm, it fails to instill enough action. We can’t feel on a daily basis how 2 degrees Celsius would affect us, so it is an ineffective motivator to encourage us to change our ways.

In addition, for over a century we have allowed the industrial revolution to use the atmosphere as a free dumping ground while we become ever more addicted to fossil fuels. It is incredibly hard for a civilization to break the habit of high profits, power, and convenience afforded by cheap energy. Where education is abundant and forward-thinking citizens harken to scientists’ warnings, change can and is happening. But not fast enough nor among a broad enough base of citizens.

Can devastating floods such as Irene and Sandy, long-lasting droughts as experienced in California, and other environmental crises provide the catalyst needed to inspire us to reach the next level? We hope we can change sooner, as happened with the ozone layer, for with crisis comes high casualties, especially to those most vulnerable in our society. For that reason, Jeff and I have long worked to bring renewable energy to the fore, effecting change now for a better future.

Dori and Jeff Wolfe atop the roof of the former offices of groSolar on River Road in White River Junction, VT. Photo courtesy of Dori and Jeff Wolfe.

Dori and Jeff Wolfe atop the roof of the former offices of groSolar on River Road in White River Junction, VT. Photo courtesy of Dori and Jeff Wolfe.

Alec Webb

President, Shelburne Farms

I believe that providing young people opportunities to engage in learning that is relevant to living in the 21st century is an essential component of what is needed to meet the environmental and energy challenges we face today. It is equally important for land owners and farmers, consumers, government, and business leaders to pursue and support economic development that advances social and environmental values.

At Shelburne Farms, our work revolves around educating for a sustainable future and practicing community-minded stewardship of natural, agricultural, and cultural resources. By supporting educators we extend our impact throughout Vermont, nationally, and internationally as well.

Beginning at an early age, we encourage lifelong learning and offer personal experiences with nature and agriculture. We build connections to place and community and give young people the sense they can make a difference in the world. And beyond our home working landscape and campus, our vision is that every young person, wherever they live, will have access to education for sustainability opportunities in their own schools and communities.

What we are cultivating is a conservation ethic and culture of sustainability. At the heart of that is the intention to become more aware about and responsible for the impact of the choices we make on our own health, the health of our communities, and the health of the natural world.

Alec Webb at the Farm Barn on Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Alec Webb at the Farm Barn on Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Gus Seelig

Founding Executive Director, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board

Since the Vermont Countryside Commission’s report more than 80 years ago, Vermont has continually recommitted itself to compact settlements surrounded by the working landscape. Across generations, through policy and increased investment, Vermonters have stated their desire to protect the values reflected in our landscape and for our villages and downtowns to be vital places where the people in our communities connect with each other.

Vermont’s decision to bring together housing, conservation, and historic preservation provides the opportunity to look holistically at development, conservation, social justice, and displacement of natural systems and people.

A globalizing economy requires both the agricultural and forest economy to innovate and change. Suburbanization and sprawl continue to challenge Vermont whether in Chittenden County or through large lot subdivision of farmland and fragmentation of Vermont’s forests. Our growing understanding of climate change and the health of our waters adds new dimensions to the urgency of our work. Homelessness scars our sense of justice.

Whether it is economic forces driving Vermont’s economy or the expectation that our grandchildren will experience North Carolina’s climate in Vermont, we need to step up our efforts investing in and building vibrant communities while protecting our landscape. Seeking a “sustainable future” will require reinventing our economy and forcefully addressing social equity.

To succeed we will need a greater commitment working together and investing in our collective future.

Gus Seelig outside the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board building on State Street in Montpelier, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Gus Seelig outside the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board building on State Street in Montpelier, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Leigh Seddon

Renewable energy consultant

Founder, Solar Works, Inc

Forty-five years ago, I came to Vermont as a young man disillusioned by the pace of environmental destruction in this country and the human destruction being wrought by the Vietnam War. I wanted to drop out, escape, and retreat into the hills.

Instead of retreating, I ended up reconnecting. I reconnected to community life and came to understand that most, if not all Vermonters have a sense of shared community, guided by certain touchstone values–protecting our land, promoting social equality, and serving those in need. And when this community is threatened, it can come together quickly and act in a unified, powerful way. In 1969, the threat was shoddy development and land speculation. It took Vermont only one year to reach consensus and pass Act 250, a landmark vision of regional, citizen control over land use.

Today, the threat of climate change imperils Vermonters and all of earth’s species. Again, we have stepped up to the challenge by creating state policies that are promoting energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy. The goal is to transform Vermont into a renewable energy economy by 2050. While Vermont’s energy leadership will not end global climate change, it can and will serve as a model for other states and countries. And it is a model that will be attractive to others because Vermont’s efforts will boost our economy, keep energy affordable, and protect our environment.

As a renewable energy engineer, I know we have the technology and skills today to proceed with this energy transition. But it is not technology that underpins the path that Vermont has embarked upon, it is our shared sense of community and our deep desire to leave Vermont to the next generation a little better than we found it.

Leigh Seddon at the Ferrisburgh Solar Farm located along Route 7 outside of Vergennes, VT. The farm was built in 2010 by Alteris Renewables for the Pomerleau Real estate group and was Vermont’s first utility-scale solar installation built under Vermont’s Standard Offer Program. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Leigh Seddon at the Ferrisburgh Solar Farm located along Route 7 outside of Vergennes, VT. The farm was built in 2010 by Alteris Renewables for the Pomerleau Real estate group and was Vermont’s first utility-scale solar installation built under Vermont’s Standard Offer Program. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

David Marvin

Founder, Butternut Mountain Farm

Longtime environmental advocate

We face environmental, energy, and climate challenges that are all interrelated and daunting. How can we possibly address them and have our legacy be as promising as our heritage suggested it could be?

I believe that fundamentally we need a land ethic and a stewardship ethic that recognize humans must not be conquers of the Earth, but need to co-exist with and respect all biota and the communities that support them. We need to seek understanding of the complexity and interconnections of us, them, earth, water, and sky. This is necessary for our mutual survival and demonstrates the humanity in humankind.

We cannot expect the earth to sustain us if we abuse it any more than we can expect a person we abuse to respond with kindness. I believe we should be conservative in how we use our resources and use economy in how we sustain our communities. In all our endeavors we should first do no harm and behave as if our lives depend upon that principle, because they do.

If future generations look back and find we have been needlessly cautious and thrifty, let them decide if their legacy can be spent down a bit. I doubt that will be the case.

David Marvin standing at the beginning of the farm road up Butternut Mountain, near his sugarhouse, in Johnson, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

David Marvin standing at the beginning of the farm road up Butternut Mountain, near his sugarhouse, in Johnson, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Beth Sachs

Founding Director, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation

What will bring us to the next level in meeting the environmental and energy challenges that we are facing today is making the connection between the environment, the economy, and social justice.

All people need and deserve clean air, clean water, the means to support themselves, and freedom to live their lives with dignity.

We need to understand that we’re all in this together, and truly care about each other. We need to reach out and listen to people we don’t meet in the course of our everyday lives.

By engaging, we become more aware human beings, and together we will find new ideas and solutions that we won’t come up with in isolation from each other.

Beth Sachs at the entrance of the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation headquarters at the Innovation Center in Burlington, VT. Photo by Ned Castle.

Beth Sachs at the entrance of the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation headquarters at the Innovation Center in Burlington, VT. Photo by Ned Castle.

Matt Rubin

Founding Member, Vermont Independent Power Producers Association

President, Winooski Hydroelectric Co.

Managing Member, Helios Solar, LLC

The energy challenge that Vermont and New England face stems from the fact that we are at the end of every fossil fuel pipeline, with no carbon based resources of our own. Our long-term energy survival would depend on renewable resources, even if climate change were not happening.

We have, as Amory Lovins said, a brief interval of economic calm in which to encourage the orderly development of all sources of renewable electric generation, before the massive economic and social disruptions that will accompany climate change.

Vermont has legislated goals in place, which intend to bring us to the place where 90% of Vermont’s energy is sourced renewably by 2050. All studies show that electrification will have to increase to provide power for transportation and space heating with air source heat pumps.

The reality in Vermont is that hydroelectric power has been almost fully developed, providing about 13% of Vermont’s energy needs. Solar and Wind are the technologies which will have to provide the necessary new megawatt hours.

The transition to renewable sources of electricity is inevitable. We all should join forces to help make this bright future happen.

Matt Rubin at the Winooski One Hydroelectric Project in Burlington, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Matt Rubin at the Winooski One Hydroelectric Project in Burlington, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Don Mayer

CEO, Small Dog Electronics

Founder, North Wind Power Company (now Northern Power Systems)

Climate change is the most serious threat to mankind we have ever faced. The solution is a change in how we think about the world. Our fragile planet is under attack and is reacting with actions that can threaten the very existence of the cause of the attack, us. Energy and transportation are the two areas where we can make a significant difference. We must wean ourselves from depleting the dwindling reserves of fossil fuels. We must embrace a paradigm that highly values energy conservation and sustainability. Renewable energy sources are one important tool in this battle, but more important is fostering a universal awareness of the causes and dangers of climate change.

Opposition to wind and solar projects and energy conservation efforts seem very silly when put into the perspective of the irrevocable change to the planet’s climate. The solution is at hand even as the danger becomes more evident. We have seen amazing advances in wind and solar energy displacing fossil fuels. We have seen practical electric vehicles and meaningful energy conservation efforts. We need to take that to another level, but the path is clear to combating climate change and saving our planet.

Archival photo of Don Mayer (center) pictured with Mr. & Mrs. Eldy Schragg, who were responsible for teaching him about the Jacob’s Wind Generators. Photo courtesy of Don Mayer.

Archival photo of Don Mayer (center) pictured with Mr. & Mrs. Eldy Schragg, who were responsible for teaching him about the Jacob’s Wind Generators. Photo courtesy of Don Mayer.

Tim Maker

Wood heating consultant and project manager

Founding Executive Director, Biomass Energy Resource Center

Large-scale wood heating and district heating pioneer in U.S.

I first came to Nepal in 1968, stayed almost five years, returned twice, and am now here again, working as a volunteer for an NGO that is constructing schools in areas devastated by last year’s earthquake. My years in Nepal have informed my way of looking at the world and I find, once again, that being here is shaping my view of the future.

We are just starting an epic struggle to stop using oil, gas, and coal–the cause of the terrible climate crisis that faces us–even though the extraction of these fuels has been and continues to be the greatest source of wealth in our history as a global family.

In Vermont and in the U.S. we may get a glimmer of how this may be done, but in the developing world it is the use of fossil fuels that makes development possible. Nepal has just come out of a political fuel embargo that threatened to be a bigger disaster for the economy than the earthquakes. Now everybody here is clamoring to use more diesel, more gasoline, so that this poor country might have a chance of material progress.

I can imagine what it will be like here if the world decides to stop taking fossil fuels out of the ground–and it won’t be pretty. But I sense that it will be just as disastrously difficult for us in the western world because oil and gas are so foundational to the way we have organized our economy and our lives.

Tim Maker at the Robinson Sawmill in Calais, VT. The mill is on a regular walk Tim takes from his house through Kents’ Corner and Maple Corner, linking his daily life to the history of these villages.

Bill Maclay

Author of The New Net Zero

Ecological design innovator

Founder and Principal, Maclay Architects

Today we live amid one of the most remarkable revolutions in human civilization– the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy. We are experiencing a transformational tipping point and a societal change in our energy sources which fuel all aspects of our civilization. This revolution is here–we now are tipping the scales toward a renewable future.

Nationally buildings consume 48% of total energy and carbon. If we take a leap to make our buildings net zero–which means they renewably produce what they consume annually–we can make a significant reduction in our fossil fuel addiction in order to largely solve our carbon emission challenge. Net Zero buildings offer one clear path forward to address 48% of our climate change problem.

Here is the path. Net zero buildings are: The most affordable choice–it is less expensive to power our buildings with renewable energy than with fossil fuels. Easily achievable–we have the technology readily available–nothing new needs inventing. Healthy and beautiful–they create cherished and long-lasting places for people who respect our natural world.

Without this, we are missing the opportunity to do the right thing for our children, our planet, and all living systems–and to be healthier, happier, and save money. How do we get there? Let’s begin a movement forward together. Join with members of your community to share what people are doing locally and brainstorm a path to a renewable future.

Seek out opportunities to support and advocate for this important mission. Look for resources such as, The New Net Zero, where my colleagues and I offer both the vision and “how to” details for achieving a net zero future.

And most importantly–ACT NOW, YOUR CHILDREN AND THE PLANET WILL THANK YOU.

Bill Maclay pictured in the solarium of the George D. Aiken Center–home to the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont–and now a LEED Platinum green building after a 2012 renovation by Maclay’s firm, Maclay Architects.

Bill Maclay pictured in the solarium of the George D. Aiken Center–home to the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont–and now a LEED Platinum green building after a 2012 renovation by Maclay’s firm, Maclay Architects.

Sally Laughlin

Founding Director, Vermont Institute of Natural Science

Longtime environmental leader

Humanity must fully realize and continually remain aware of our place on this planet–we are only one of a myriad of species inhabiting this beautiful green and blue globe, and we are the only one capable of doing great harm to its fragile fabric of life. As individuals and as a species, we must live carefully and consciously with an eye to the long horizon of the future.

The only way to live healthily and sustainably is in balance and in harmony–with our planet Earth and with our own psyches. The alternative is disaster and destruction, both of ourselves as individuals and of our only home. The fabric of life on this globe is easily torn and repairable with great difficulty–if at all.

Human greed is the worst impediment–corporations running the world, running our politics, blind lust for wealth and power blinding people and nations to all that is of true value, and to our own and our Earth’s self-interest. Our tribal instincts allow us to believe all kinds of foolish unfounded nonsense about deities, the leaders who represent them, and how whichever group we belong to represents the chosen group or religion or tribe. Homo sapiens is deeply intelligent and inventive; we could widen our focus and move away from the instincts and emotions which evolved to operate on a tribal level, in a lightly populated world, and see ourselves and our planet as a whole.

If not us, who? If in Vermont, why not everywhere?

Sally birding for Bohemian Waxwings overlooking the waterfront, near Battery Park, in Burlington, VT. Photo by Andrea Robertson.

Sally birding for Bohemian Waxwings overlooking the waterfront, near Battery Park, in Burlington, VT. Photo by Andrea Robertson.

Bob Klein

First director, Nature Conservancy, Vermont Chapter

Whatever energy sources we utilize in Vermont inevitably will have cultural and environmental consequences. Whether we like it or not, with energy development there’s no free lunch. There have always been trade-offs. Having discovered that the environmental cost of burning fossil fuel is unacceptable, we’ll transition to other energy sources, and make new trade-offs over the decades to come.

Meeting “the next level of environmental and energy challenges” should involve confronting these trade-offs consciously. There’s room to decide what impacts we’re willing to accept. We can weigh the consequences of certain energy choices against things we value–local control, scenery and open space, prime ag soils, natural areas, and recreational access to land, for example. Some energy choices could even have an impact on Vermont’s rural character itself.

We may be facing a climate emergency, but this need not lead to a suspension of the rules. We do not have to leave the adoption and siting of alternative energy sources to chance. Like other kinds of development, state, regional, and local planning can steer renewable energy installations away from other things that we value. Geographic Information Systems and resource mapping tools have never been more widely available. We just need to use these tools, together with an enabling policy framework, to meet the challenges before us.

Bob Klein on the boardwalk at the Burlington Waterfront Park in Burlington, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Bob Klein on the boardwalk at the Burlington Waterfront Park in Burlington, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Warren King

Executive Assistant to President, International Council for Bird Preservation  

Founding Board Member, Audubon Vermont  

Former Board Member and Chair, The Nature Conservancy, Vermont Chapter  

Founding Chair, Ripton Conservation Commission  

Longtime environmental advocate and citizen scientist

I’m intrigued by biological diversity and rarity. Diversity is the natural capital of our time. It defines life’s possibilities and opportunities. As diversity increases, interconnectedness and, consequently, stability increase in the natural world. But as the world loses species the linkages that hold ecosystems together are strained, and more species become rare or disappear. Realize it or not, we are the poorer. Our world, our options diminish.

We are living in the time of the sixth great extinction, the only one to be caused by a species. I’ve kept a bird life list for years, but it has stopped growing; my rarities list, those species I’ve seen that are now endangered or threatened, is swelling. A number I’ve seen are now only memories.

As our population grows we lose more wild land, where most of the world’s diversity lies. Most people have had no contact with wild land, and don’t care if it, and the species it supports, are lost.

Vermonters have taken a somewhat different course, protecting a large portion of our wild lands. We attempt to acquaint our children with the values inherent in wildness. Knowing the land and what it nourishes, and coming to cherish it, is the only path to protecting what we have. So I work to protect rarity and diversity in the hope that more people will come to understand that our options for the future depend on it.

Warren King on the boardwalk at Otter View Park in Middlebury, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Warren King on the boardwalk at Otter View Park in Middlebury, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

John Ewing

Founder, Smart Growth Vermont

Lifelong land conservation advocate

In the 1970’s we entered a golden period in environmental commitment: the drafting of Act 250–the protection of farm and forest lands and ecologically precious areas– the environmental laws that were enacted in the 1980’s–and a flourishing of non- profits in land conservation, environmental advocacy, community preservation, and the smart growth movement. The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board became an enabler of projects generated by these groups.

These values, and commitment to them, are being eroded. There continues to be strong citizen support for preserving the special qualities of Vermont: our towns and villages, our farmlands and forests, and the environment. But the constant competition between these goals and the pressures for growth are out of balance. It is necessary to integrate these pressures with our overall goals. But in the last few years the political leadership has yielded too often to the urgency of development.

A few examples: massive real estate development at ski areas, the location of large industrial wind facilities on our ridgelines, the recent attempt to develop major commercial centers at rural interstate interchanges (despite a long standing state policy). Growth–jobs–the fiscal health of the State–these are important and can be accomplished without destroying the Vermont we cherish. Business development must be planned to occur where it will enhance, not diminish, our communities and natural landscape–at a scale appropriate for Vermont.

A renewed commitment by our political leadership to compact growth, and respect for our natural heritage, will be the most essential element in returning to our basic values.

Photo by Dorothy Weiker.

Photo by Dorothy Weiker.

Elizabeth Courtney

Environmental consultant

Former Executive Director, Vermont Natural Resources Council

In 1969 Vermonters responded to a land use crisis: Governor Deane Davis described it as “Rampant Growth” brought on by the expansion of the Interstate Highway System. His solution was to assemble the Gibb Commission that established the foundation for Act 250. Now, 45 years later, we have a different land use crisis, brought on by the urgent need to shift away from fossil fuels to cleaner, renewable sources of power. But the distributed nature of renewable energy generation presents a new set of land use challenges.

Today, we cannot escape the fact that any environmental or land use issue in the foreseeable future must be addressed in the context of how we power our lives. We have statewide goals to build a renewable energy portfolio that satisfies 90% of our clean energy needs by 2050. That means ramping up on efficiency and conservation in a big way. And it also means responding to the land use and environmental implications of distributed energy generation—solar, wind, geo- thermal and hydro—that we will soon rely on as primary sources of energy to power our homes, workplaces, schools, and vehicles. The hotly debated siting issues associated with these facilities must be addressed soon, so that we can meet our energy goals while honoring the longstanding policies and regulation that protect our natural and cultural resources.

It seems strikingly obvious that it is time to assemble the 21st century equivalent of the Gibb Commission to research and recommend ways in which we could coordinate and integrate a system of land use and energy planning and permitting in Vermont.

Elizabeth Courtney overlooking the village of Whiting, VT–a landscape view that demonstrates the land use pattern of compact village settlement surrounded by open working landscapes, long established as a hallmark of smart growth in Vermont. This pattern was a cornerstone issue during her tenure as Executive Director of the VNRC and continues to be an important environmental and energy policy to protect our forests, farm lands, and water resources while accommodating new growth in our town centers and downtowns.

Elizabeth Courtney overlooking the village of Whiting, VT–a landscape view that demonstrates the land use pattern of compact village settlement surrounded by open working landscapes, long established as a hallmark of smart growth in Vermont. This pattern was a cornerstone issue during her tenure as Executive Director of the VNRC and continues to be an important environmental and energy policy to protect our forests, farm lands, and water resources while accommodating new growth in our town centers and downtowns.

Hilton Dier

Managing Partner, Missisquoi River Hydro

Consultant, renewable energy design

In tackling our current energy and environmental issues, the temptation is to focus on new technology, outreach, finance, or other technical factors. The problem is that none of these, individually or collectively, is sufficient.

The fundamental problem we face is one of political decision making–who makes decisions, and on what basis those decisions are made. The question prior to that is how decision makers are chosen. The root question is one of psychology and persuasion.

Our elected decision makers have to pass through three barriers. The first is raising multi-thousand dollar donations. The second is gaining approval from the handful of media conglomerates that control 90% of the market. The third is fulfilling the expectations of an electorate that has been indoctrinated by corporate media giants.

Meeting our environmental and energy challenges will require unified (government) action, a reduction in consumption, increased energy and material efficiency, and a fundamental change in economic incentives. This would go against the interests of the corporate entities that presently run our political filtration system. Likewise, it would go against the beliefs of the legislators selected by the present system.

To have enlightened decision makers we need to overhaul our electoral and campaign finance systems. Before that we need to make people understand that this is both necessary and possible. Ultimately, we need to either legally redefine the for-profit corporation to give it moral competence or render it politically silent and powerless.

Hilton Dier in the blacksmith portion of his shop in Middlesex, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Hilton Dier in the blacksmith portion of his shop in Middlesex, VT. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

John W. Casella

Chairman and CEO, Casella Waste Systems, Inc

For several American generations over the last two centuries or so, our national mythology has conditioned us to think–no limits. In particular, no limits to the resources we thought necessary to build a booming nation, bursting with opportunity, abundance, and technological triumph.

But, to bring ourselves to the next level in meeting our environmental and energy challenges, clearly we must wake up to the idea that there are limits, and the idea that our natural resources in particular are finite.

Our entire economy is undergoing a shift towards rewarding ideas and innovation that foster the sustainability of finite raw materials and resources. Where in the past we were content to simply consume, consume, consume these resources, I am seeing a new paradigm for growth and opportunity in our ability to transform, conserve, and sustain these resources. If, of course, we first accept the idea of limits. From a personal perspective, I know this to be true in the way I look at our business. I came to this conclusion: we’ll grow by helping to solve the problem of the world’s limited resources.

All of our problems are centered around resource limits–natural, environmental, capital, human, and so on. All of our opportunities–profit, growth, contributing to society–come from our willingness and ability to solve those problems.

How do we get to the next level? By being more innovative, and by being willing to leave old paradigms behind–whether they be outdated public policy approaches or traditional business mindsets. Either way, we have to be significantly more creative and assertive in engaging this problem of finite, limited resources.

John Casella pictured with processed recyclable plastics at the Casella Zero-Sort Processing Facility in Rutland, Vermont. Photo by Ned Castle.

John Casella pictured with processed recyclable plastics at the Casella Zero-Sort Processing Facility in Rutland, Vermont. Photo by Ned Castle.

Darby Bradley

Past President, Vermont Land Trust

To meet our environmental, economic and energy challenges, we must focus in at least three areas:

Reduce Fossil Fuel Use: Vermonters export $1.5 billion annually to purchase fossil fuels, an enormous loss to our economy. We will keep more of these dollars in circulation here by making our buildings more energy efficient, promoting solar generation, and reducing commuter driving. I also favor using wood pellets for heating, if they are produced on a small (40-50-000 green tons) scale. The pellet mill in North Clarendon buys its material from local woodlots. Loggers get better prices for their low quality wood, landowners have better options for forest management, and home and business owners have the convenience of fully automated pellet furnaces.

Build More Affordable Housing: To preserve our working landscape and revitalize our community centers, we must build more affordable housing close to employment, schools, shopping, and other services. This will not only help attract young families and give older Vermonters an opportunity to downsize, but it will reduce the pressure for subdivision and development of undeveloped lands upon which our quality of life and our agricultural, forestry, and tourism industries depend.

Focus on the Entrepreneur: While we may hope for the next IBM, our best chance to build Vermont’s economy is to focus on entrepreneurs, who have good ideas but need help to get them into production. The astonishing transformation of our agricultural and food industries has taken place because government, investors, land trusts, lenders, philanthropic organizations, and many others have made it possible for innovative farmers, cheese producers, beer brewers, and other entrepreneurs to pursue their ambitions.

Darby Bradley at the edge of a field that is part of the 300-acre Sparrow Farm in East Montpelier, conserved in 1995 with a public trail easement. The mountains in the background are the northern end of the Worcester Range, where VLT conserved over 7,000 acres in 1997 and 2014. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.

Darby Bradley at the edge of a field that is part of the 300-acre Sparrow Farm in East Montpelier, conserved in 1995 with a public trail easement. The mountains in the background are the northern end of the Worcester Range, where VLT conserved over 7,000 acres in 1997 and 2014. Photo by Dorothy Weicker.