Heather Furman: Calling on our leaders to trust in science

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The year 2020 has been one of hardship, evoking not only a plea for responsible leaders to embrace change, even in uncertain times, but also demonstrating Vermonters' resilience to move through it.

Change and resilience is at the essence of the Global Warming Solutions Act, which is coming up for a final vote in the Vermont Legislature. Scientists have identified this decade as a critical moment where we must make bold moves to tackle climate change. We must act quickly to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to avoid more severe impacts for our children and grandchildren, and we must adapt to those impacts we're already experiencing.

In the decade since Tropical Storm Irene, we've seen a three-fold increase in federally declared disasters in Vermont. We know that storm severity and frequency is increasing. We know the devastating impacts that these storms have on our rural communities and our economy. And we, at The Nature Conservancy, know that we can leverage nature — our forests, wetlands, and floodplains — to strengthen our systems and build resilience for the decades ahead.

We have had nearly a decade and a half to make significant progress on our state's emissions goals but have failed. We need a real accountability framework that turns those goals into requirements in order to meet the demands of our time. We need to catch up to our neighbors by passing and implementing the Global Warming Solutions Act.

The Solutions Act is about making changes in how we engage, plan, and hold ourselves accountable to address the climate crisis. It creates a Climate Action Council, a group of diverse Vermonters, charged with using the best available science to develop an actionable plan to reduce carbon emissions and meet requirements. The Solutions Act also emphasizes the need for climate adaptation measures to build greater natural and community resilience, and the role that nature can play in addressing both.

That is why I strongly support the Solutions Act. It recognizes the critical role our natural and working lands can play in the fight against climate change. From absorbing and storing carbon in our forests, wetlands and soils, to reconnecting floodplains to reduce flood vulnerability, we are excited and energized to use nature as part of the solution and realize the many other benefits those solutions will create.

Building a future where both people and nature thrive will require trusting in science and engaging a diverse audience to ensure we create a solutions-based plan that addresses the needs of all Vermonters, supports our rural communities, and creates jobs. We need to hold ourselves accountable - to our neighbors, to the next generation, and to our planet.

It is heartening to see the strong, tri-partisan support the Solutions Act has generated and I look forward to its passage later this month. The time to act on climate is now - let's do this, together.

Heather Furman is state director of The Nature Conservancy in Vermont.

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