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Preparing for What Comes Next

As we come to terms with an end to our expectations of a “normal” future, it is now time to get about the business of preparing for a disrupted future. After the December flood, even Vermont’s moderate Republican governor is bucking his party’s delusional denial of climate change. Governor Scott admits: “We simply cannot rebuild the same way in the exact same places.” 

For those of us here in the Winooski valley, the questions we must then ask are: “Is the state actually going to do anything to prepare us for such continued disruptions?  What are our local municipalities capable of doing?  What are each of us prepared to do?”

For years, local climate aware activists have promoted the feel-good promise of continued convenience in a green technology future. Yet, for all our virtuous consumption of EVs and heat pumps, it’s now time to admit that we are too late to stop the climate disruptions coming our way. Of course, we still rapidly need to change how and what we consume, if only to help slow things from getting immeasurably worse for the next generation. Sadly, our political leaders are providing no leadership in preparing for the unavoidable shifts in our prospects. Here we sit in central Vermont, looking at the probability of a regularly flooded future, without any good direction or planning as to how we adapt to this situation.

Eight years ago, I first wrote a commentary about “normalcy bias,” and how it was blocking our ability to adapt to the changes. I noted how that bias was keeping us from preparing for the climate emergency. At that time, I suspected the earlier starts to sugar seasons would damage our landmark industry. But the sugar tappers proved more resilient than I expected. They began sequential tapping and intermittent boils as the yearly multiple of mud seasons defined our new winters. I have heard of one maker who got 1,400 gallons of sap from our recent December mud season. These canny farmers have learned how to start adapting to the changing circumstances. Perhaps we could all take a lesson from their practice of resilience.

But our time is short. We’ve already had a December flood, along with that full round of Mud Season before starting the new year. Certainly, this recent flood event has gotten a lot of our merchants and decision-makers to wonder how fragile things are about to become. Fred Bashara recently posted in the Forum about all the businesses that will not rebuild if we have a second flood.

It’s time we start being honest and stop pretending that we will be going back to “normal.”  We need to follow the lead of those sugar makers and figure out how to adapt to the rapid shifts coming our way as best we can. 

Our strong local community can help in supporting the downtown businesses as they figure out how to move out of the flood plain. We can start considering a new local economy that builds a longer growing season and a potential increase in hydropower with the floods. We must expand our local capacity to grow food in a future where America’s traditional agricultural regions dry up and burn up. Should we have the will, we certainly have the intelligence, the learning, and the resources to build a more responsive and resilient local governance that can respond to the mounting challenges.

The decades of “normal” we have experienced in post-World War II America have gone away. That is as true for Vermont as it is anywhere. It is time that together we get about the business of building what needs to come next.  We need to do that where we live and stop expecting federal and state governments to continue support in the next disaster.  Perhaps we can make a shared resolution to actively work on adapting to this new “normal.” If we adapt well, our river valley can continue to be a great place to live.

Dan Jones has created various resiliency-based initiatives in Montpelier including the Sustainable Montpelier Design Competition and the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition.

The material presented here represents the opinion of the author and does not reflect the opinions of The Bridge. Commentaries may be submitted to editor@montpelierbridge.com. Preference is given to submissions by those who live in central Vermont. Submissions are encouraged to be 500 to 750 words in length.