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Resilience in the wake of a changing climate

Guest Viewpoint

— The devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy last month serves as a sad reminder that climate change is real; and it is having a very real and detrimental impact on our communities, our families and our livelihoods.

The economic and human costs of Sandy are staggering. We cannot wait for the next Sandy or Irene, or the next historic blizzard, heat wave, drought or wildfire. We must address the causes of climate change and prepare for its inevitable impacts. We need to plan, and we need to act.

Vermont has an opportunity to lead this effort. Living in small communities, close to the land, we know first-hand that everything is interconnected; vibrant communities, healthy people, well-balanced ecosystems and a strong economy go hand-in-hand. We see that when ecological systems become unbalanced there is a corresponding detrimental impact on our lives and our pocketbooks.

We need look no further than our backyard for evidence that this is so: in places where pollution from storm water runoff has made the waters in Lake Champlain un-swimmable, businesses that rely on visitors to the lake are suffering. Where air quality is poor, increasing numbers of children are experiencing asthma attacks that cause unnecessary suffering and economic hardship as parents miss work and pay thousands of dollars in medical expenses. Where wetlands have been compromised or destroyed, flood damage becomes more severe, impacting lives and seriously impairing already strained budgets.

After witnessing the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, author Andrew Zolli wrote in a New York Times commentary that we must learn to be resilient – “to imbue our communities, institutions and infrastructure with greater flexibility, intelligence and responsiveness to extreme events.” At the same time, we need to take steps now to ensure that our ecosystems can bounce back and adapt to the changes we are experiencing. When we protect our environment we invest in our future resilience.

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