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Put a Green Amendment on the Ballot

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Image from Vecteezy.
The year 2023 was the warmest year since recording began. Ocean waters 100° F and warmer were recorded on both of Florida’s coasts. The winter just past also broke records for heat. While El Niño surely contributed to the heat, the fact that Earth registered 1.5° C above preindustrial climate temperatures, the point at which climate scientists have guessed is the maximum warming Earth can sustain without risk of reaching a “tipping point,” which is a threshold when the Earth continues to warm despite our efforts to reduce carbon (etc.) emissions. We should all be doing much more to reduce the causes of warming: emissions of carbon dioxide (mainly from combustion), methane (mainly from anaerobic composting), and the host of other, relatively minor, greenhouse gasses.

In Vermont, acceleration of climate change means we need to carefully think out how we will ‘weather’ the stress of unprecedented global warming, not only by increasing efforts to reduce our contribution to the problem but also shortages of essential commodities such as food and other resources we do not produce sufficient to our own needs. 

Our relatively cool, well-watered, forested state will be a Mecca to people escaping unlivable climates. Climate immigrants and the enterprises they bring with them will stress our environment in ways we cannot imagine now. We will be wrestling with the effects of climate chaos that affect everything from maple syrup production, fruit production, and highway maintenance, not to mention increased flooding in our valley communities, amplified damage from extreme wind events, and, paradoxically perhaps, occasional droughts.

We can pass regulations governing housing, land use changes, and pollution, for example. However, humanity has not faced comparable changes in climate since we developed complex civilizations. Suitable sparsely populated migration destinations cannot accommodate a large fraction of eight billion people on the move.

One measure that can help Vermont adapt to the coming turmoil is a green amendment to our state constitution. “The Green Amendment: The People’s Fight for a Clean, Safe, and Healthy Environment” by Maya K. Rossum provides a partial answer. (See my review at montpelierbridge.org/2022/12/review-the-green-amendment). A green amendment, properly drafted and inserted in the correct place in our state constitution, guarantees a specific set of environmental rights to all citizens. Any measure that, if implemented, diminishes these rights, may be blocked by citizens bringing suit before the damage is caused. In states that have adapted such an amendment, citizens using their green amendment have prevented environmental harm in advance. Called the ‘precautionary principle,’ such amendments enable citizens to require that planned actions prove no environmental harm. It is one tool that can soften the harsh realities which Vermonters will encounter all too soon.

I’ve reproduced the sample green amendment text from Rossum’s book followed by an edited first draft I prepared for discussion. A lawyer familiar with environmental law and the Vermont constitution should be consulted. To be effective, the amendment belongs in the portion of the Constitution devoted to citizens’ rights (Corresponding to the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution).

In my view, a coalition of Vermont environmental groups is best suited to finalize the wording of the amendment, obtain signatures, and promote its passage in the November elections.


Green Amendment Boilerplate

We the people have a right to a clean, safe, and healthy environment, including pure water, clean air, stable climate, and healthy ecosystems and environments.

These are rights that belong to the present and future generations. And you, the government, may take no action that will infringe on these rights.

More than that, as trustee, you are constitutionally obligated to conserve, protect, and maintain our state’s natural resources for the benefit of all the people, regardless of race, ethnicity, wealth, or generation.*

Suggested starting point for a Vermont amendment: 

We the people of Vermont have an intrinsic right to a clean, safe, and healthy environment, including pure water, clean air, stable climate, and healthy ecosystems and environments. Vermont shall allow no abridgement of these rights, singly or severally, nor permit their abridgment by persons, agencies, corporations, and or other entities within the border of Vermont. 

These are rights that belong to the present and future generations. The power and authority of Vermont shall prevent, and enforce remedy if necessary, of any such abridgement of rights ensured in this article.

And you, the government of the state of Vermont, including all its districts, counties, and municipalities, may take no action that will infringe on these rights.

Moreover, as trustee, you, the State of Vermont, including all its divisions and subdivisions, is constitutionally obligated to conserve, protect, and maintain our state’s natural resources for the benefit of all the people, regardless of race, ethnicity, wealth, or generation age.

*This is the amendment to state constitutions suggested in The Green Amendment, ©, Maya K Van Rossum, Disruption Books NY NY (p. 279). Reproduced under the ‘fair comment’ doctrine of U.S. copyright law.

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