From the Feb. 27th edition of the Barre/Montpelier Times Argus:
February 27, 2008
By Peter Hirschfeld Vermont Press Bureau
WARREN – From abolishing nuclear weapons to impeaching the president of the United States, Vermonters have long used their town meetings to weigh in on matters of national scope.
On Tuesday, in the Mad River Valley, at least three towns will tackle the issue of global warming. But for Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston, the ballot measures have a decidedly local focus. According to backers of a plan to reduce carbon emissions in the Valley by 10 percent, this rural Vermont enclave is as good a place as any to start solving the international climate-change crisis.
"We wanted to test out a prototype approach for organizing people and getting them to start changing behaviors," says Bob Ferris, head of the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren. "… The assumption is that towns, and the elected set of officials representing our government, should take a leadership role in this, and people see what's going on and adopt it in their own lives."
Ferris is among the founding members of "Carbon Shredders," the coalition of Valley residents that petitioned to have the carbon-reducing articles on town meeting warnings in Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston. Moretown may consider the measures from the floor.
All three towns will consider a nonbinding resolution to reduce the energy use and carbon emissions of residents, businesses and institutions by 10 percent by 2010. Warren will also vote on two additional articles: one mandates town participation in the so-called "10 by 10" effort; the other asks voters to appropriate $600 to Carbon Shredders to help fund the group's Valley-wide effort.
Gregor Barnham is head of the corporate responsibility division at the Burlington-based company Seventh Generation and a Carbon Shredders founder. As a Valley resident, Barnham wanted to incorporate the firm's "footprint" mitigation efforts into his own community.
"I thought it'd be fun to start this group and use it as a launching pad – Can we get the whole valley to reduce its carbon footprint by 10 percent by 2010?'" Barnham said.
It's still unclear exactly what Valley residents are signing on for. Barnham says the carbon-reduction mandate will assume whatever form its participants choose.
"It means something different for everybody," he says. "How many showers you take a day, the insulation in the house, buying food locally … You can actually find ways to reduce your energy consumption just by paying attention to what you're doing."
Calculating the amount of energy saved – and carbon sequestered – means voluntary participation in a Web-based carbon-tracking system. By inputting various behavioral changes into a tracking site, Valley residents as a whole will be able to quantify their impact.
"We can have this whole thing reported, and it becomes inspirational in the rest of the country," Barnham says.
Barry Simpson is a longtime selectman in Warren. He says he supports the underlying concept behind the articles but is wary of the measure that mandates 10-percent energy reduction in town facilities. While the town will continue to pursue good environmental practices, Simpson says, selectmen cannot do so at the cost of Warren's fiscal health.
"I believe they're going to amend that so that rather than mandating it, it would be expressed in terms of the town's ability to accomplish that within future budget constraints," Simpson says.
Still, Simpson says environmental and economic interests often overlap. The town has already sought energy efficiencies in its operations, and he says it welcomes the expertise of the Carbon Shredders in finding even more.
"This is a group that certainly has a lot of creditability in terms of what its members have done and achieved previously," Simpson says.
Barnham says the Carbon Shredders will follow the Town Meeting Day vote with a March 18 event preparing residents for the carbon-reducing program. Teams of about 10 people will be sent off to train other Valley residents on carbon-reduction measures.
"We'll begin to see if the ripple effect actually works," Barnham says. "We'll have a Web site, and we're looking at a marketing-buzz strategy to keep people going."
By reframing global warming as a local-warming issue, Ferris says, residents may recognize the benefits, or hazards, of their own personal behavior.
"I think may people think it doesn't really matter, or it's such a big issue they may feel disempowered," Ferris says. "But when they see the needle start to drop on their own carbon usage, it gives you hope … The point is to get people to start thinking."