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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

ENERGY EFFICIENCY:

A Powerful Action Against Climate Change

By Fran Putnam

CLIMATE CHANGE has been a topic I could not bear to think about for many years. The enormity of the problem had me paralyzed with despair. When I became a grandmother in 2006, I realized that the bright future I envision for my grandchildren is seriously threatened by our changing climate. It suddenly meant a lot more to me that so little time remains to influence climate change, so I vowed to change my passive attitude to one of active engagement.

Weybridge reaches goal in Vermont Home Energy Challenge

Weybridge reaches goal in Vermont Home Energy Challenge

In October 2011, I started an energy committee in my small town of Weybridge, Vermont. We set a clear goal—to lower our town’s carbon footprint. In 2013, we decided to focus on one of Vermont’s most powerful actions against climate
change: making our leaky homes and buildings more energy efficient. We enrolled Weybridge in the Vermont Home Energy Challenge; a yearlong competition to weatherize 3% of homes in participating towns. Five $10,000 awards were reserved for the top finishers.

Our committee publicized the challenge widely. We completed over 50 free home energy visits, held education programs in the school and at public events distributed information about do-ityourself home weatherization and much more.

Soon, residents began weatherizing their homes. By October, we had met our 3% goal, becoming the first town in Vermont to do so. We also stayed true to a core commitment of ours: helping qualifying neighbors learn about free, low-income weatherization so they could reduce their energy bill burden, be more comfortable in their homes, and devote their limited resources to food, medicine, and other essentials.

Our efforts worked. We helped our friends and neighbors save energy and money, we finished the Challenge at 180% of our goal, and we won that $10,000 award!

While we still bask in our accomplishment, our committee has not sat idle. So much work remains. We need to ensure that all Vermonters’ homes are energy efficient. (While it’s not flashy like solar it’s a powerful carbon-reduction strategy and cost-effective, saving $1000 annually for the average homeowner who undertakes a comprehensive retrofit!)

As a state, we must make much faster progress to reach our goal of weatherizing 80% of our homes by 2050. That will require funding low-income weatherization programs and more support for financial incentives for all homeowners.

This is, of course, challenging, especially in times of fiscal restraint. But the urgency we face is real, and it will never get any easier. So we must each do our part. It also means that it’s time for bold policy action, such as enacting a carbon tax. A price on pollution could serve as a funding source for efficiency and renewable energy programs and a powerful incentive for citizens to reduce fossil fuel use.

I know my efforts as a climate activist are small compared to the size of the problem, but I believe in the power of collective action. When those who care about our planet’s future work together, we can be a powerful force for change.

Fran Putnam is the chair of the Weybridge Energy Committee, which recently was awarded the Vermont Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence.

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