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Will Vermont Accept California Climate Refugees?

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Understandably, no one’s really asking that question. Vermont is too far away. Plus, we don’t hear words like “refugee” or “IDP” in reference to the thousands of Americans displaced by the California fires. We generally save the language of climate crisis and social upheaval for more far away places.

 
 

But those Californian families whose homes were destroyed by the Valley Fire are “internally displaced people.” These “refugees” seek refuge. Maybe they haven’t traveled far, but they know something about the words “migrant” and “crisis.”

 
 

Eventually we’ll use this vocabulary in new ways in our conversations about this country’s experience of climate change. And I imagine that eventually lots of people will be displaced, seek refuge, and migrate even to Vermont, where I live. The ground is still high. The trees are still green. Winter still comes.

 
 

I recently traveled from Vermont to California, to attend a wedding in a Calistoga vineyard not far from where the Valley Fire now roars. The day before the ceremony I played golf with the groom-to-be at the course by the fairgrounds and racetrack. No golfer, I shanked a few, including at least one ball that shot off into the Calistoga Speedway. It’s in that racetrack where we can now see the homeless gathered, families whose homes are now in ashes. In one news clip, the fire chief tells the displaced people at the racetrack that the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

 
 

That’s what I remember Channel 8 News saying about other fires when I was there in August.” The cause of the fire is still under investigation.”

 
 

Before we went to wine country for the wedding, we spent a few days in creek-less Walnut Creek. I’d go jogging in the morning among the houses, along the dry streambeds. Many people continue to water their lawns daily. From the porches of homes with the greenest lawns American flags waved in defiant drought-be-damned nationalism.

 
 

After the wedding, my wife drove us down the freeway and I read Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything. I heard the News 8 anchor in my head. “The cause of the fire is under investigation.” Oh please, I thought. The cause is waving flags and watering lawns back there by the non-creek. I felt superior. I boarded the plane for the three thousand mile, jet fueled flight home. Flying high above the ground, it’s easy to ignore your footprint.

 
 

And it’s easy to forget the fires once you get back to Vermont’s Green Mountains. However, it has been an unseasonably hot September. I’m a high school principal. We’ve had three weeks now of pretty sweaty adolescents in those upstairs classrooms.

 
 

Last weekend, at my son’s birthday party, I heard from a neighbor that a vineyard is going into the fields of the old farmer next door. Napa vineyards burn and grapes come to Vermont pastures. It’s bizarre. But climate change is like that.

 
 

Vermont Pinot. Californian refugees. And I wonder what the future IDP situation will be like here on the east coast. Will Vermont need to make room for sea rise refugees from Boston, Bridgeport, Brooklyn? How many? When? Hard to predict. Climate change is like that.

 
 

And the ticks. Climate change is terrifying – and it’s also annoying. I worry about ticks on my boys’ ankles when they go play in the field – I mean, future vineyard. When I was growing up in central Vermont we didn’t have to worry about ticks. Ticks were a Connecticut thing.

 
 

Lyme disease and vineyards, refugees and IDPs. I’m sure Vermonters will adapt to the changing times. We’ll make the best of it. We’ll help folks resettle – which has happened here before, and is happening now. And we’ll have our share of climate changing hardship – which has also happened before: Hurricane Irene was the real deal around here.

 
 

So maybe the vocabulary we’ll need isn’t that new after all…

 
 

Still, it feels like change. And I feel resistant. Conservative. I feel conservative when it comes to climate. I don’t want change. Which means I want the carbon to stay in the ground. Which means I want leaders who’ll lead radically on this issue. Which brings me, I guess, to Bernie. So the conservative side of me wants the socialist for president. Bizarre. But climate change is like that.

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