Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale

Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale

It can sometimes be hard to fathom the many crises we face simultaneously, but we still must act boldly when and where we can have an impact. While the Delta variant surges and the humanitarian disaster unfolds in Afghanistan, we face a looming climate catastrophe that increasingly threatens the entire planet and our very existence. 

Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its sixth report, a compilation of more than 14,000 climate studies warning that we are dangerously close to the planetary point of no return. We have already warmed the globe by 1.1 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial levels and, within the next two decades, we are on track to reach 1.5 degrees of warming.

We are already seeing the expensive and deadly results of unpredictable weather events related to global climate change, but this 1.5-degree threshold has long been feared by climate scientists as having devastating, irreparable impacts on our planet and humanity. 

While this is cause for alarm, the report indicates there is still hope for the future if we can hold the rise in temperature to the 1.5-degree threshold. This is going to require immediate and sweeping action worldwide by governments and global citizens alike. The goal of limiting global emissions has already been endorsed by President Joe Biden and many other world leaders, but it is up to all of us to act. 

In our most recent session, the Vermont Legislature made significant investments in climate change mitigation efforts and other environmental initiatives. We passed Acts 9 and 74, which direct a combined $397.5 million toward emission reductions and green infrastructure.

Here in Vermont, transportation and building energy sectors make up nearly 75 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. With this in mind, we directed nearly $160 million toward weatherization initiatives, a clean energy development fund, community solar programs, regional energy planning and more. 

Around $113 million was directed toward improved public transit, carpool infrastructure, Amtrak and rail, alternative transportation and electric vehicle incentives. We extended zero-fare public transit through 2022 and set in motion a plan to fully electrify Vermont’s public transit system. Other environmental initiatives funded include remediation, clean water initiatives, wastewater projects, flood mitigation projects, soil conservation and radon testing in schools. 

We have already begun to see that climate change and environmental degradation have a greater impact on low-income communities and communities comprised of people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds, where a lack of political power means disproportionately negative health and quality of life outcomes.

For example, during Hurricane Irene, mobile home park residents made up 8 percent of Vermont’s population, but 40 percent of those affected by the flooding. Vermont is one of the last states in the country without an environmental justice policy framework to address these inequities, and that is why I have introduced S.148.

This legislation defines environmental and climate justice for our rural context, maps inequities such as flooding impacts and climate health outcomes and directs resources to environmentally distressed communities in our state. It has already been prioritized by the Vermont Climate Council, and I will work to ensure its passage in the coming session.

The findings of this recent intergovernmental climate report make it clearer than ever before that our role in preventing climate change intensification is essential to our future, our children’s future, and the future of our planet.

I am proud to say the Legislature is working to preserve this future, and I hope you will join us in advancing further critical actions and investments to slow, and hopefully begin to reverse, the devastating impacts of climate change.

Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale is a Democrat who represents Chittenden County in the Legislature.

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