#3: Part of the Solution

Even since last week, I have been pondering and developing my emerging topics, synthesizing each newspaper article I read with the thoughts in my head and the landscape outside. It is amazing what just one week of thinking can do. I have decided, at least for now, that I want to focus on the environment. Better yet, I had two possible and distinct topics going into my interviews. The first: how climate change is affecting Vermont’s environment, what the long-term affects may be, and what we should do about it. The second: the controversial Vermont Gas Pipeline that is being constructed through Addison County right now.

I decided to conduct these interviews with the four people closest to me: my father, brother, sister, and mother. While all five of us live in the same house, each of their perspectives highlighted something new. I was excited to hear from both adults and children so I could hear what they knew and felt, but perhaps even more importantly, what they didn’t know.

Questions on the first topic garnered a wide variety of responses, which was useful in and of itself. Everyone agreed that the environment has been changing, and because of humans, but everyone cited different ways. In response to the question of “How do you think Vermont’s environment has changed in the time that you have lived here?”, I heard about the record high temperatures, changing growing seasons, birds’ migration patterns shifting, and pollution in Lake Champlain and Lake Dunmore. I had expected to hear these responses; they fit in my image for what I decided this project could be. But when I asked about what long-term effects on Vermont’s environment might be, I got responses I couldn’t have predicted. My dad explained that as the climate warms, we will be using more air-conditioning in the summer and ski industries will have to make more snow in the winter, neither of which are eco-friendly practices. But he also said that Vermont’s environment is set up better than other places, by having a colder climate and being inland so we don’t have as great a risk of flooding. He said that as the temperature gets unbearable in the South, “what I imagine in the next ten to twenty years is that Vermont may very well become a more popular place to live.”

I also heard from my mom about the continuous trend of development. She brought up residential and industrial development, seen in the constant construction along highways like Route 7. She also said that as long as she’s lived here, she’s seen new types of energy development—including nuclear, hydro, and wind power, along with the natural gas pipeline itself. And every new type of energy has been liked by some and protested by others. She unknowingly drew the connection between the two topics I am interested in diving into. She also made me realize that changes in our environment have not only been caused by climate change, but some have also been in response to the changes. We have already started on multiple routes to combat the changes in our environment, but we haven’t been able to agree on the correct one.

Everyone in my family did agree that climate change, in Vermont and everywhere, will only continue. In my dad’s words, it isn’t a cycle, it isn’t going to get colder again; the past five years have only been “a prelude to the actual warming”. My sister told me that if we don’t take care of the Earth, things will get worse. And my brother, the youngest but by no means the most oblivious, said of changes in the environment that “right now they’re just concepts, but soon they’re going to be complete reality”.

So how do we take care of the Earth? My sister listed off the typical options: eat local, walk and bike, use solar and wind power, recycle, plant trees. But she followed it up by recognizing that this is just the easy-things-you-can-do list that they tell you in school, and that actual change will take more: “I think some people just don’t understand that if we don’t do something now, it will effect the Earth for the worse.” My mom agreed that we have to change our mindset and “understand that individual actions have a collective impact”; we can’t all just do what we want. My dad said that we often don’t base our decision-making on the effects they will have, especially when it comes to the environment. He proposed a major carbon tax, so that burning fossil fuels is no longer the cheapest source of energy. Only this, he said, would be able to drastically slow down climate change, and he is skeptical that that kind of change can ever happen. My brother agreed that “what we are doing is nothing—it won’t help”. His solution? To ban all fossil fuels.

These ideas were too big for the small state of Vermont, and both of my parents recognized it. We need to try our best to slow down climate change, and we will have find creative ways to adapt to what we can’t prevent. My dad said that Vermont is not the problem, my mom said we couldn’t be the solution; they both agreed that we would have to be part of the solution.

Even just the length of this post so far suggests what a broad topic this one could be. My father suggested that I should narrow it down if I decide to pursue it, perhaps to the effects of climate change on Vermont’s agriculture or ecosystems in particular. I agree that I will need to focus in, yet all aspects of the topic interest me. I have read articles about the effects of climate change on apple orchards and maple sugaring, on fall leaves and winter snow, on Vermont’s dying trees and bees. I want to highlight the changes Vermont is going through and let everyone know that climate change is in our own state. All the pieces are there, and I want to assemble the puzzle. And then I want to let people know what others are doing about it, how they are adapting. How your neighbor could have solar panels or your farmer could now be growing peaches now or your doctor could be planting bee-friendly flowers on solar farms (mine is). I want people to know what climate change is doing to Vermont and what Vermonters are doing about climate change.

The difference with my second topic, the Vermont Gas Pipeline, is that I don’t have a vision for it. I don’t really know much about the pipeline, and that is precisely why I want to research it. If I don’t know, I am sure that many other teenagers don’t either. My brother thinks that the pipeline brings oil from the ocean, none of which is true. My sister told me that she knows it is controversial, but she’s only really heard one side, so she thinks she disagrees with it but can’t be sure. Even my parents, who are remarkably well-informed about social issues, admitted that they don’t fully understand this one. To me, this screams WHAT’S THE STORY, for the whole point is teaching myself and others about an issue. I may not know much about the issue or quite where I stand, so the only way to find out if I’m passionate about it is to learn more.

From my prior knowledge and what I learned in the interviews, the pipeline is in its final stage of completion and will be bringing natural gas through Vermont starting soon. The gas is cheaper and less pollutant than other fossil fuels, but it is still not renewable. So the major problem with the natural gas pipeline is that the permanent infrastructure commits us to fossil fuels for the long term, and as my dad said, “encouraging investment in another form of fossil fuel is a mistake.” Natural gas is a bridge fuel that is better than what we have now and may have been beneficial years ago, but now we should be switching to renewable energy, so the pipeline is coming too late.

The pipeline has also been controversial because of the major construction it entails, and because people don’t feel they are getting a say in the process. Both the Public Service Board and the gas company have been unreliable and communities have spoken against them, to little avail. Additionally, the gas is extracted from the ground during fracking, a process that is hugely detrimental to the environment where it is fracked. In my mom’s words, “Vermonters will be taking advantage of this cheaper form of energy, but they are not having to live with the consequences.” It all ties back to connecting our actions to their implications.

There is so much to explore, from so many perspectives and with so many characters. Each issue is complex and interesting and ripe with possibility. There is not just one problem, and not just one solution; I only ask to be part of the solution.

Mittell, Jason. Personal interview. 24 Sept. 2016.

Hardy-Mittell, Walter. Personal interview. 24 Sept. 2016.

Hardy-Mittell, Anya. Personal interview. 24 Sept. 2016.

Hardy, Ruth. Personal interview. 24 Sept. 2016.

Featured Image by Stanley Zimny

Greta Hardy-Mittell

5 Responses to “#3: Part of the Solution

  • Shel Sax
    5 years ago

    Hi Greta,
    Certainly a lot to think about in your last post. It seems like you are exactly where you should be in the process. You’ve now narrowed down a huge number of possible topics to two: climate change in Vermont and the gas pipeline. Not that those two are small but you’re getting closer to something more specific and do-able.

    As you move along with whichever topic you decide to pursue, I’d encourage to think about two things: the costs and benefits of your topic and the distribution of those costs and benefits. For example, several years ago, the pulp mill at Fort Ticonderoga was planning (and did burn) used tires to generate energy with the by-product of really nasty pollution, mostly headed to Vermont. With the pipeline, the plant will be burning much cleaner natural gas with much less pollution that benefits Vermont, particularly Shoreham, Bridport and Cornwall. So, do try to think not only about costs but also about benefits. And how those benefits are distributed: if you’re the pulp mill or live nearby, you’re better off. If you have construction work by your house, digging up roads and property while the pipeline is under construction, you’re worse off.

    Also, ask yourself, who gains and who losses? How are the costs and benefits distributed. John Elder has done a fair bit of work on environmental justice and how it impacts the poorest socio-economic sectors of our society inequitably. Something that you might want to look into for Vermont. (See https://vtdigger.org/2014/07/13/vermont-law-rubin-fellows-look-environmental-justice/ as an example)

    I’d also encourage you to engage in dialogic thinking – in this case, asking yourself, what are the counter-arguments to what I’m writing and thinking. Imagine you’re on a debate team and the topic is the gas pipeline and let’s assume you’re opposed to it. What would you say if you had to argue in favor of it? This is a good way of strengthening your argument.

    On a totally different topic, about 8% of men suffer from red-green color blindness. The color scheme of your blog makes it really difficult, at least for me, to read. I had to copy and paste your post into a Word document, so I’d suggest you consider changing it.

    Hope this is of some help.
    Cheers, Shel

  • Greta,

    You may have already come across this source (http://vtclimate.org/) but if not, it could be useful because it focuses specifically on climate change in Vermont.

    Previously, you had expressed an interest in writing and music and I’d encourage you to look at how people choose to share their message about the environment. For example, Bill McKibben has written books about climate change, but he also helped found 350.org which uses social media to campaign for the environment. I thought for a while but struggled to come up with any modern music about climate change. Then I found this, which may explain things: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34844244 At the very least, as you continue to explore these issues, you can at least be thinking about whether the message is communicated effectively. Part of your challenge in this course is to communicate your learning and your message to a larger audience. If you pay attention to how others do this (successfully or not), it will help you to better craft your story.


    • Erik,
      Thank you for both of the links you provided! The first will certainly be useful if I decide to go into that topic, and the second was incredibly interesting. I’ll keep them in mind.

  • Greta,
    I agree with Shel Sax, I think you did a great job narrowing down your options. I think it is great that you still have two that you can look into, better yet that they are somewhat connected. Like your family commented I don’t know much about the gas line, I have definitely heard about it. Though, I have not learned about it or have opinions on it. So if you do decide on that as your topic it will help inform me as well!
    I agree I think that when I went to my interviews I expected something, then something totally unexpected came up. I thought it was an interesting idea your dad said about even though it is a bad thing that global warming is happening. It will be good for Vermont’s popularity, I had never thought about it that way.
    I am so excited to see where you are going to go with this, it is also another topic that I thought about when coming to WTS.

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