By Michael Bielawski
Sophie Howe, the first Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, told about 100 UVM students Tuesday morning that cars – even EVs – shouldn’t be part of the final solution to climate change. She also downplayed the need for individual rights.
Howe was brought to UVM by a new advocacy group exploring a state law requiring a ‘Future Generations Commissioner’ for Vermont.
Some of the plans cited by Hose include discouraging new roads and car ownership altogether, as well as universal basic income and other ideas that she deemed “revolutionary”.
“So this definition of prosperity in Wales, an innovative and productive low-carbon society which recognizes its limits in regard to the environment,” Howe said.
“You wouldn’t think it’s revolutionary for a country to have a long-term plan but it’s completely revolutionary,” she said.
She said these efforts should be comprehensive across all efforts by the government.
“Everything that we do, across government, across all public services, must be designed to take us towards those well-being goals,” she said.
No to all cars?
She described a society that discourages vehicular transportation altogether, be it gas or electric-powered.
“If we are thinking about health and the things that are going to make a difference for health, actually public health is a transport function,” Howe said. “Why do I say that? … If we just build it all around cars that goes to increased air pollution and we’re not going to get physically active. We’re not going to create those connected communities, we’re all stuck in traffic.”
She suggested all of society’s habits need to consider the environment, health, and other quality of life matters.
“If however, your mission is to decarbonize your transportation system, plus also including health … also making the country more equal, actually investing in EV infrastructure is not the answer at all,” she said. “We’re all still stuck in traffic, not talking to each other, in EVs rather than our diesel vehicles.”
She also noted that the cost of EVs – which are highly subsidized by state and federal money – is still out of reach for most budgets.
“If you couldn’t afford a diesel car, then you are not going to be able to afford an electric car, so you are still not addressing that inequity,” she said.
Universal Basic Income?
In going over potential solutions for more equality in the economy, she brought up the potential for a universal basic income system.
“So universal basic income may be a potential solution for that [inequalities],” she said.
She suggested that people need to broaden their ideas and that the policy changes that she is proposing are to completely transform society.
“This is not just legislation,” she said. “This is not just a bureaucratic process refinement, this is a big cultural change. This is completely transforming the way we do business.”
Is Universal School Meals part of the larger agenda?
Universal school meals is a new Vermont policy passed by the state legislature earlier this year. According to Howe, this is also an initiative in Wales. She says it’s about sustainable systems.
“We have universal school meals in Wales tied to a sustainable supply chain,” she said.
Is this new sustainable society Orwellian?
VDC asked Howe during the question/answer session how she can guarantee that citizens’ constitutional rights can be protected while she calls for greater controls over how people live, travel, use energy, and other aspects of their lives.
She suggested that currently different classes of people have different levels of freedom.
She further said, “It’s about not necessarily thinking only of ourselves and how things impact ourselves, it’s about thinking collectively about society, it’s about how our actions are going to affect other people in our society.”
She also suggested that if more climate-focused initiatives aren’t taken up then there won’t be a planet to live on with or without a constitution.
A freshman shares her thoughts
Meredith Alt, a UVM freshman, spoke with VDC about her initial reaction to the presentation. She generally supported the ideas that Howe put forth, and one piece that stood out to her was that EVs may not be the solution for transportation needs.
“She did mention that they were coming from a perspective of understanding that people don’t have access to these expensive cars,” she said.
The author is a reporter for the Vermont Daily Chronicle.
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