The 1000-plus people who biked, hiked and bused to Montpelier for a climate change rally on Saturday may have been asking one another afterward, “So, did the planet move?”
It might well have, but Vermont’s mainstream media wasn’t on hand to report on it. By ignoring this spirited gathering on the Statehouse lawn — one of more than 2000 worldwide "Moving Planet Day" events organized by a coalition of groups including 350.org, Oxfam, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace — the daily papers, wire services, and radio and television outlets missed at least two important stories:
• Vermonters are accelerating the momentum on climate change issues that got going in August when Middlebury’s Bill McKibben led a series of civil-disobedience sit-ins at the White House gates.
• Peter Shumlin gave a tub-thumper of a speech that surely qualifies him as the most radical of the 50 governors on environmental and clean-energy concern.
TV outlets may have been particularly remiss in not covering so telegenic an event. About 160 cyclists together wheeled the 38 miles from Burlington to the capital city, setting off from the waterfront on a misty morning and arriving at the Golden Dome on what turned out to be a sunny afternoon.
Moving Planet Day described the rally's mission as "calling for the world to go beyond fossil fuels."
Chapin Spencer, leader of the bike and pedestrian advocacy group Local Motion, predicted to his fellow pedalers and walkers that “Vermont will lead the way in the climate movement.” Mike Morelli of the Vermont Iron Workers Union also spoke, as did James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers Center.
But it was Shumlin who most wowed the crowd — inciting even more whoops than Sen. Bernie Sanders, who followed the governor to the microphone. Sanders made a point of expressing his support for Shumlin’s stance — not just on energy and climate, but on single-payer health insurance as well. Sanders said that “if we don’t reverse global warming, all of the other issues won’t matter because we won’t have a planet for our grandchildren.”
Shumlin made a connection between Irene’s destruction and the failure to develop alternatives to fossil fuels. Wearing jeans and a tattersal shirt, the governor poked his fingers into the air to punctuate his warning that Irene is “an example of what lies ahead for us.” Vermont, he declared, faces a “future that’s going to see more storms, more water delivered to us in extreme forms, in great doses, as the scientists have been telling us for over two generations.”
He promised to help lead a switchover to renewable energy sources, saying, “We will get off oil and we will move forward as quickly as we know how.
“And when our brothers and sisters from this great green state, whether it’s Bill McKibben or all the people next to him, stand in Washington and are willing to sit behind bars for our future, we stand with them,” Shumlin thundered.
Of course, actions speak louder than words and it remains to be seen how much the governor can actually get done. But endorsing civil disobedience outside the home of a Democratic president? That’s already much more than most elected officials would dream of doing.