There’s a group in Norway, Maine, that’s trying to get ahead of climate change. The Center for an Ecologically-Based Economy works on issues of transport, renewable energy, housing and food.
Scott Vlaun is the executive director of the group. As part of our series, Climate Driven, he spoke to Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz about what he sees as essential for Maine’s future in a warming world.
This story is part of our “Climate Driven: A Deep Dive into Maine’s Response, One County at a Time” series.
Here’s a slightly edited transcript of their conversation:
Vlaun: We’re starting to realize that not only is climate related to all of these other food and energy shelter issues, but it’s also deeply tied to social justice issues, to racial justice issues. These frontline communities are those who suffer the most from the climate, and those who have done the least to cause it and those who can do the least, because they are unable to do it. They don’t have the luxury of being activists.
Gratz: You’ve spent eight years doing a lot of practical things as a way of maybe showing a different way forward.
We work in transport; it is probably our area that has the most impact. We have a bike share program here. So we have free bikes for people, we are real unconditional promoters of cycling as an alternative to cars. We have started a worker co-op called Spoke Folks which transports waste and recycling to the community using bicycles and trailers. We have this very large electric vehicle charging network that we have put in place. Now we have 17 EV chargers all over the region which are free public EV chargers. Many of them run on solar energy. And because of this, this area has become a real hotbed for electric vehicles.
The energy work has been a lot of coalition work, political work, but we are working very hard now in a community solar cooperative. The area of the refuge we worked with. I help people design mini houses, and we helped a youngster build a greenhouse at Roberts Farm Preserve, but right now we have a group of mostly young people who are working on a co-op housing project, housing affordable co-ops they could build Of course they all overlap with food, for example, the large community solar movement in Maine right now, like what will be the effect of that on agriculture? Are we going to, you know, cover some of our good farmland with, you know, foreign companies coming in, and they’re not really concerned about our food security here as much as they find a good place to put a solar farm? .
So let’s talk about food. This is often, I don’t think, something that people often think of as being a major contributor to climate change: a car with an exhaust pipe is one thing but a farm field?
It’s true. The agricultural system, the food system, depending on how the bookkeeping is done, is responsible for 20-40%. greenhouse gas emissions. And this is due in large part to land use practices. But it is also due to the heavy dependence of the agricultural system on fossil fuels. If you look at all the machinery, the traction that is being used, the combines, all that stuff, if you look at all the fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, all of that stuff, all of it made from fossil fuels. So the fossil fuel footprint of the farming system is huge, the industrial farming system. We are starting to focus on small farmers, and that is changing dramatically.
Let’s bring it down to the local level: you talked about some of the initiatives that are already happening in the area where you are. When you look at the future of Oxford County, what does it look like?
I’m standing here facing Main Street Norway, and it’s a sea of cars and trucks going back and forth all day, from towns that are 8, 10, 20 miles from here. This is a big problem: we need public transport. Maine needs to step up. Vermont spends $ 12 per person per year on transit, we spend about $ 1. We really have to do it.
[Note: the administration of Gov. Janet Mills has recently changed how Maine defines public transportation to include ferries and a rideshare program, and it now considers the per capita funding of public transit to be $11.55.]
And a lot of these things, again, become equity issues. You know, we know we need things to be affordable. So a lot of people here can’t afford to get around, or if they can, they drive old, dirty cars. We’re just starting to look at the food system here. It has been a priority for us from the start. We have a local food council here: the story of the local food movement in Maine, Irwin, is really a story of networks of networks of networks. So we tried to work together, we created a food charter, we had a community engagement process here to create a food charter to guide the work that we do in the community and there are things in this charter. food.
The main thing is to provide access to healthy food for all, to empower local producers and to revitalize food culture and traditions. And the list goes on, and it talks about how we treat our land, etc. earn a reasonable living by farming: land is very expensive, the price of land is rising sharply at the moment by the influx of COVID refugees, etc.
So let me close by just asking you, because you’ve been so deeply involved in this for so long, I mean, does it leave you optimistic, pessimistic about where we’re headed?
Oh, I thought you would probably ask that. It makes me want to keep working, to get the job done. And I find it very inspiring, and hopeful, that a new generation is coming with a new understanding of how, to really understand how systems work, and an understanding that this is their future. And they demand a different approach to how we eat, how we move, how we house, dress, etc.