UVM Stands

[I had the honor of speaking at the UVM Stands event organized by our students today. Below are my prepared comments.]

Well, we made it to January 20th.  And the weather today in Vermont is appropriately a bit mixed.  Depending on your perspective, inauguration day is partly sunny or partly cloudy.  For me, I keep repeating to myself, “With crisis comes opportunity.”

This is certainly a mantra that the president-elect knows all too well, “With crisis comes opportunity.”  On the side of crisis, today marks an identity crisis for our nation, a moral crisis in our leadership, and a climate crisis for the planet.  On the side of opportunity, gatherings like this are happening all across the country and we are witnessing the awakening of a sleeping giant that has history on her side.  As Martin Luther King first said in a sermon nearly 60 years ago, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

On the climate crisis, the arc is clear, and for now it bends around Washington DC. It starts in our states, where the majority of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions are already regulated by states like California, New York, and Vermont. In Vermont we have set out a clear path to lead the nation in energy conservation and efficiency, and the renewable power revolution. The opportunity to respond to the climate crisis is in our cities, like here in Burlington, the first city in the nation to reach 100% renewable electricity. And as so often happens in our nation’s history, the opportunity to confront crisis begins with progressive leadership from our college campuses.

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At the University of Vermont, on a day like today, our actions speak louder than words. Our community’s path forward to learn by doing and lead by example is as plain as day. UVM is a proud signatory to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. With that agreement is a pledge and a climate action plan to be climate neutral, with zero net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2025 through energy conservation (using less), energy efficiency (doing more with what we use), and renewable energy investment.

We are working closely with our municipally-owned utility, Burlington Electric, to meet our pledge to be carbon neutral in our electricity consumption.  In recent years we’ve made dramatic improvements in buttoning up our older buildings, and through LEED certification of all our new ones, including the buildings that surround us today: LEED gold in Jeffords and Davis, and LEED platinum in Aiken.  But some of the hardest work is still ahead.

The opportunity is now to double down on these commitments; support and empower our campus leaders in the days and months ahead; each play our part to lead by example in our campus commutes, university facilities, and education mission; and ultimately pull our national leaders (some maybe kicking and screaming) into a more sustainable and just future.

Thanks so much to the student, staff, and faculty organizers for helping our campus community take a stand on climate change action on this partly cloudy … or partly sunny day.

Published by Jon Erickson

Blittersdorf Professor of Sustainability Science & Policy University of Vermont

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