The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

Letter to the Editor: UVM is actively lobbying against climate action

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Molly Parker
Molly’s illi for a Letter to the Editor

Jack Hanson ’16 is a Burlington resident and the Executive Director of the nonprofit Run On Climate. Jack served on the Burlington City Council from 2019-2022.

The University of Vermont has long been thought of as a “green school.” As a result, it has attracted a student body that believes in strong environmental action.

I was one of those students, drawn there in 2012 by the feeling that I could be in a community working together to address environmental crises.

After working closely with and at UVM for over eleven years, I’m so disgusted by their hypocrisy that I have to speak up.

My roots at UVM are deep. My parents met at UVM as students in the early 1980s. I have aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends and coworkers that graduated from UVM.

I represented UVM campus on the Burlington City Council from 2019-2022 while working there. I co-led a course last semester. My nonprofit Run On Climate currently works with over a dozen UVM student interns.

I love the UVM community, which is why I’m so upset that those with the most power and highest salaries at the University continue to trample over our values.

While UVM hauls in millions of tuition dollars by marketing itself as a climate leader, its administration has spent decades fighting against climate action.

I know this on a personal level, as I spent well over a thousand hours working with thousands of students and employees to convince them to stop investing in fossil fuel companies. After fighting against us for eight years, they finally agreed to divest in 2020.

The most recent example of their work opposing climate action came last Monday, when UVM’s Director of Sustainability spoke at a Burlington City Council meeting against two proposals that would allow Burlington voters to support stronger climate action from the city.

UVM leadership understands how much our community cares about climate action. They know that, if given the chance to vote on a ballot item to reduce pollution from buildings, we will vote yes.

That’s why they’ve spent two months trying to kill these items before they get on the ballot. They got their way last Monday—one measure failed on a 6-6 vote and the other was postponed.

UVM opposed these items because if the city regulates buildings, UVM might have to invest more in greener buildings, which costs money upfront. These investments pay for themselves over time, but it’s clear that UVM isn’t basing their decisions on long-term considerations.

UVM’s hope, as stated at the meeting, is to enroll in Vermont Gas’s “renewable natural gas” program—buying credits from the gas utility for already-built methane capture projects outside of Burlington.

UVM wants the ability to say their buildings are green—while continuing to burn the same fossil fuel and emit the same greenhouse gasses that are wrecking our climate.

This is nothing new. In 2010, UVM committed to achieving net-zero in all buildings by 2020. This commitment was made after several years of pressure from students—students who demanded their university do better.

UVM decided they could alleviate that pressure—and boost their green brand—by announcing a strong goal. Over the following decade they continued to tout that goal while taking no meaningful steps towards achieving it.

To this day, almost all buildings on campus heat their air and water by burning fossil fuels. In 2022, UVM finally decided to bail on their 2020 “goal,” unveiling a new “goal” of 2030.

And here they are in 2024, lobbying against a city proposal to ask voters if the city should adopt stronger policies to reduce emissions from buildings.

In the same way that UVM didn’t take meaningful steps to reach their 2020 goal, it appears that UVM is only pretending that they’ll reach net-zero emissions by 2030. Even worse, they’re putting resources into fighting against policies aimed at reducing building emissions.

I already know how UVM will respond to this, if they respond at all.

They’ll list all the things they’ve done on climate change. They’ll say how great their plans are. They’ll continue to invest in visible, marketable things, like rain gardens.

They will not invest in electric or geothermal heating, which is hardly visible but is necessary to eliminate emissions. They’ll continue burning fossil fuels.

They’ll keep spending more on parking than on sustainable transportation options. They’ll keep lobbying our city against climate action.

And they’ll keep taking tuition money from environmentalists.

I want so badly to be proven wrong. I want so badly to eat these words.

UVM, you’ve shocked me by how misaligned your actions are with your words. You shocked me like when the curtain fell in the Wizard of Oz: a mystical, powerful emerald fantasy giving way to an old white man in a suit with no integrity.

So please, shock me again—this time by giving a damn, telling the truth and working to secure a liveable planet for your students.

The Vermont Cynic accepts Letters to the Editor that are relevant to our readers. All letters must include the author’s first and last name. The Cynic reserves the right to edit letters for length and grammar and to reject letters for matters of taste and accuracy. 

Letters are voices from the community and do not necessarily represent the opinion of the Cynic. Please send letters to [email protected]

 

 

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About the Contributor
Molly Parker, Illustrations Editor
(She/her) Molly Parker is a senior studio art and anthropology double major from Hopedale, Mass. She had been a member of the illustrations team since the spring of 2020 before becoming editor of the section in the spring of 2023. Molly also creates prints and zines that she displays in the Burlington area as well as her hometown. Apart from illustrating and creating art, she loves watching horror movies, cooking and crocheting. Email [email protected] to get in contact with Molly.