Archive for July, 2008

Making the C.A.S.E.

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Monday, July 21st, 2008

When I read the headline in the Burlington Free Press recently that nine new consortia are applying for 19 new nuclear reactors, I thought that Vermont was again positioned to snatch defeat from the mouth of victory with the current anti-nuclear campaign. Yes, we have legitimate issues related to safety and waste storage. We can and must deal with these. What we cannot deal with is eliminating one-third of our base load energy supply and thinking that wind, solar and other renewables can backfill. Those are intermittent and unpredictable sources, which cannot backfill. Nuclear is neither intermittent nor unpredictable.

 

When Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, articulated a cogent argument in 2006 in support of nuclear power, people sat up and took notice. When he spoke to the Vermont legislature last session, he caused a stir. According to this preeminent environmentalist, the more than 600 coal-fired electric plants in the U.S. produce a full one-third (36%) of the globe’s CO2 emissions, the primary gas responsible for climate change. Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, cost-effective energy alternative that can reduce these emissions while continuing to satisfy a growing demand for power.  That should resonate strongly with Vermont’s espoused values around clean air and clean energy supply.

 

“CASE”, the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which is co-chaired by Moore and Christine Todd Whitman, former NJ Governor and Bush EPA Administrator, has 740 organizations and 915 individuals among its members, and has developed a campaign to provide factual information about nuclear energy.  Vermonters who are interested to learn the Top 10 Facts or The Basics of nuclear energy or to read Moore’s arguments to go “clean, green & nuclear” are encouraged to visit www.cleansafeenergy.org.

Whatsoever you do to the least among you…

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Monday, July 21st, 2008

She was hunkered in the weeds at the intersection of I189 and Route 7 with a cardboard sign that read “traveling, broke, hungry”. A light rain had begun to fall on her and the cars that were queued up beside her at the red light. She looked pretty ratty and wore the tanned face of someone who was always outside; whatever possessions she owned were in a well-worn knapsack. I reached in my wallet and pulled out a $5 bill, rolled down my window, and handed it to her, saying “Take care of yourself.” She smiled, met my eyes and said, “Thank you very much.” She couldn’t have been more than 20 years old.

Now I’ve been at that intersection numerous times when other needy people have been holding up signs, yet I’ve managed to drive by without handing them any money, muttering, “Don’t these people know about United Way agencies and their programs that provide food, clothing and shelter? Geez, Louise!” But in this young woman’s sweet yet dirty face I saw every mother’s child, and she made me cry. But for a simple twist of fate, she could be my son or your daughter. But for another economic downturn, it could be your neighbor’s entire family figuratively standing at that intersection.

Very, very hard spending choices are going to be made by low-, working-, and middle -class families this fall and winter. In addition to gasoline prices, many other necessities have risen dramatically and are projected to increase further. The problem is that, among other things, our income has not kept pace. According to the May 2008 Issue Brief by the Public Assets Institute (www.publicassets.org), between 1996-2006 Vermonters’ median household income grew 44%. During that same period, food prices increased 23%, rental housing outside Chittenden County 29%, inside the county 47%, average municipal tax on a home 63%, the median value home price 104%, fuel oil 126%, health insurance 130%, and basic cable TV 138%.

Let’s make certain that Vermonters help each other bridge these challenging times. At a minimum, make sure that the emergency food shelf in your town is fully stocked all year long. The people who use it may be people you know.

Drivers of Change

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Monday, July 21st, 2008

I had the pleasure of participating in a brainstorming session hosted by Vermont Public Television (www.vpt.org) this week, in which a number of us were asked to identify urgent issues on the Vermont landscape and, with the aid of a knowledge-based tool out of the quality management system, determine what were the drivers of those issues; where were the strong causal relationships? Our results were quite interesting.

 

The initial list of issues and sub-issues was familiar: the economy; aging population; cost of living; health care; energy; federal/state dynamics; environment; education; leadership; housing; substance abuse; childcare; community/identity; the “Two Vermonts”; Vermont farms; youth; public safety; and communications. The systems analysis exercise sought to identify the direction of the relationship between issues, so that eventually we ended up with a relatively short list of issues that – if resolved – could conceivably remedy all our other problems. Or, so the exercise led us to believe.

 

The messy diagram eventually showed that the strongest systems drivers were: #1 – leadership; #2 – aging population; #3 – federal/state relations; #4 – education; and #5 – transportation. Hmmm, not health care? Not energy? Not the economy, stupid?! Not according to our analysis.

 

This was but one of numerous visioning exercises underway on the Vermont landscape. Over the past couple years Vermonters have been mobilized around energy, health care, economic development, community development, transportation, and the future of Vermont. All are important topics and valuable information has flowed from those efforts, however, without that most important driver ~ strong leadership ~  to actually set priorities, communicate the vision, allocate resources, implement plans and monitor progress, meaningful change will continue to be handicapped or delayed.