Practicality trumped symbolism Monday night as the Essex Selectboard declined to expand its energy committee over concerns that a drop in volunteer interest could prevent the group from meeting on a regular basis.
Town staff and the energy committee’s chairman, Will Dodge, offered the expansion as a possible solution to receiving two qualified applicants for a lone open seat on the seven-member board. Deputy town manager Greg Duggan said the discussion may soon be moot, with another energy committee member potentially leaving in the near future, but two energy committee members in attendance Monday night urged consideration of the move anyway, emphasizing the grave threat posed by climate change.
Yet after a brief discussion, the selectboard decided to leave the board as-is, given the expansion would increase the number of members needed to reach a quorum from four to five and could lead to problems if the committee were to lose any volunteers.
“Changing it because we happen to have a lot of interest at the moment is not really a consistent thing to do, and more often than not we’re looking for people to volunteer to serve on boards,” selectboard chairwoman Elaine Haney said.
While other members added that anyone interested in the committee’s work can attend the open meetings, committee member Natalee Braun argued having a seat at the table encourages a stronger commitment than someone in the crowd. She said she supported the expansion because the time is now to further mobilize residents interested in energy-related issues, especially the great task of combating climate change.
“This is a massive challenge now,” she said. “We are, I feel, in an energy climate emergency.”
Following several years of infrequent gatherings, including a yearlong hiatus, the energy committee has become increasingly active as of late, meeting on a monthly basis to tackle a slew of new projects. Committee member David Skopin said the group believes more and more people are “waking up” to the risk of climate change.
“Either we get involved … or our children and grandchildren look at us and say, ‘What were you doing at the moment we required a great deal of change?’” Skopin said. “We’re there.”
He went on to say he hopes the committee will eventually need a dozen seats before name-dropping 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her work on leading a youth campaign to address climate change.
Thunberg, who inspired hundreds of thousands of students across the world – including some here in Vermont – to strike in demand of action on climate change, would “have some words to say to us right now,” Skopin said.
“With that in mind, I would encourage us to be bold,” he said.
Though unpersuaded, Haney shared praise for the committee’s work, noting that it recently helped the town to secure two solar arrays and led the charge on a home weatherization campaign, among other initiatives.
“I’m excited to see your membership is so engaged and coming to us with more and more projects,” she said.