There are few public figures in Vermont who enjoy the veneration and clout of Bill McKibben and Sen. Bernie Sanders. McKibben has long been an unparalleled advocate of the environmental movement, and Sanders has been a peerless advocate of the people vs. corporations.
Their recent Statehouse forays in opposition to the wind moratorium bill have taken on the taint, if not the entire cloak, of hypocrisy. Nothing in their past positions would lead one to anticipate their pro-corporate-wind pronouncements.
It appears the calculation has been made (in the governor’s office, perhaps) that McKibben’s and Sanders’ command of attention would parallel corporate-scale PR, outstripping the reach of small-scale citizen constituencies.
Their current declarations opposing a moratorium serve to inflame the deliberative legislative process and alienate the growing numbers of Vermont’s citizens trying to hold constructive conversations with legislators.
Sanders’ disparagement of Vermonters against corporate wind as deniers of climate change is offensive and wholly without basis. Sanders cannot point to any evidence supporting his insulting remark, because there is none.
What shall we think of what Sanders has written: “What (the rich) do is use (money) to elect people who support them … they use their political power to get legislation passed which makes the wealthy even wealthier.” On the U.S. Senate floor Sanders quotes the late Leona Helmsley that “only the working stiffs out there pay taxes.”
In Vermont’s own Statehouse Sanders abandons the “working stiffs” and advocates on behalf of a corporation like Green Mountain Power, offspring of a Canadian mega-corporation, Gaz Metro/Enbridge. Again Sanders says, “If you are a large corporation … you know what to do.”
Most of us are familiar with Bernie’s themes and probably assume he’s been sticking up for us, the “people” when he speaks of “working stiffs.” We’ve trusted him when he pays tribute with words such as “the vast majority of people, working people, middle-class people, low-income people, are losing. That’s who’s losing. It is clear who is winning. The wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well.”
Sanders asks, “Does that sound like democracy?”
I ask: Does Sanders sound like Sanders when he pushes us to accept corporate-scale wind?
In the Northeast Kingdom where multiple industrial wind turbines already exist and where dozens more are proposed, communities of working people, small dairy farmers, local merchants, low-income residents in remote towns live and struggle to pay taxes. In fact, the residents of Lowell struggled so mightily that they grabbed the big money bonus thrown their way by GMP. The utility correctly calculated that $550,000 for 10 years would buy the right to destroy Lowell Mountain.
I ask you, Bernie Sanders, is such a transaction about climate change or money?
When GMP said it would build industrial wind turbines only if it received tax incentives ($45 million), was that about climate change or money?
I ask you, McKibben and Sanders, why are the most economically vulnerable Vermont towns being targeted to trade mountain ridges for cash bonuses? Why are Vermonters who live closest to the economic bone in the least developed part of our state (read: poorest) being targeted to accept the corporate boot on their environment, mountains, wildlife and headwaters?
How do McKibben and Sanders justify killing ecosystems in the name of fighting climate change?
Sanders worries that Vermont will “look bad” if we don’t go along with industrial wind turbines. He ought to be proud that Vermont ranks 49th nationally in carbon emissions.
Pro-moratorium Vermonters are the ones who carry Vermont’s environmentalist banner, and we have the facts on our side: Vermont’s obsolete, inadequate transportation system is the biggest driver – 47 percent – of our carbon emissions because Vermont does not invest in public/mass transportation. Vermont’s residential and commercial carbon emissions contribute 31 percent because we have not invested in renewable heating sources.
If Sanders doesn’t want Vermont to “look bad,” he ought to revisit the Statehouse and, in his inimitable style, demand that our legislators get busy crafting laws to correct this correctable emissions crisis.
Let’s review McKibben’s history. Perhaps he now regrets his revealing remark to a SolarFest crowd in October 2010 (www.nucleartownhall.com) in which he accepts nuclear energy as part of reducing carbon emissions. He avoids publicizing that view because, he says, “It would split this movement (350.org) in half.”
One can read McKibben’s “The End of Nature,” where he writes unequivocally, “We must substitute, conserve, plant trees, perhaps even swallow our concerns over safety and build some nuclear plants.”
In his 2010 book, “Eaarth,” McKibben muses about renewable energy and says, “If you’re going to build big … the biggest wind farms need the steady gusts of the Midwest.” He’s correct about the Midwest, and the National Renewable Energy Lab confirms it. Yet McKibben denies that the lab’s findings show Vermont will never generate sufficient wind energy to justify corporate-scale development. The McKibben I know should be railing against the destruction of Vermont mountain ridges.
McKibben reported in “Eaarth” the following when he learned of a farmer in Cameroon who responded to his 350.org campaign: “He and his neighbors planted 350 trees on the edge of the village. … This gesture made me weep. People in Cameroon have done nothing to cause global warming.”
People in Vermont have done nothing to cause global warming either. Is McKibben uninformed about Vermont’s ranking as 49th nationally as a contributor of carbon emissions?
Ironically, McKibben notes that the Cameroon farmer was able to send a photo of this tree planting by cellphone and tells us, “You have to go pretty far back of beyond to find a village without a cellphone.” Well, Bill McKibben, speaking from the back of beyond here in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, there’s no cellphone service here.
In McKibben’s book “Eaarth,” he observes that “small-scale” farming is again being recognized “perhaps just in time to help us deal with the strains of our new planet.” He observes that in England, “most of the serious people are agronomists, however, who have begun to think more closely about the assumptions underlying our (American) ingrained view that big is better.”
McKibben and Sanders themselves promote the “big is better” approach by throwing their lot in with corporate wind.
I invite Sanders and McKibben to tour the Lowell Mountain industrial wind turbines in the spring. I’d like them to imagine the hundreds of never-to-be replaced carbon-ingesting trees torn from that earth in the name of global warming.
You will be welcome to climb Lowell and see for yourself the 21 turbines, each 460 feet tall, as they sit on now impervious surfaces, along impervious access roads, which now can carry only contaminated headwaters down the mountain, through once pristine streams.
Perhaps you will both weep.
Peggy Sapphire is a writer living in Craftsbury.
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