NORWAY – For more than a decade, Scott Vlaun worked for an organic seed company where he repeatedly heard stories from farmers across the country affected by climate change.
Unreliable rains. Early frosts. Stronger winds.
“Everyone had a different story about climate change,” he said. “Climate change was affecting their ability to run an organic farm.”
In 2013, with the future of his young son in mind, Vlaun, along with director of programming and education Seal Rossignol and two others, founded the Center for an Ecologically Based Economy, an organization climate action nonprofit based in downtown Norway. A successful crowdfunding campaign raised $30,000 for the fledgling organization, giving it the opportunity to take root and grow.
“When we started, we were really focused on technical solutions to long-term needs,” said Vlaun, the executive director. They have targeted their efforts in four key areas, each with a large and unsustainable carbon footprint: food, shelter, energy and transport.
Celebrating its ninth anniversary on Friday, the organization has already left its mark on western Maine. Thanks to a generous donation, the association has installed 17 electric vehicle chargers in many cities, including Bethel, Poland, Norway, Fryeburg and Buckfield.
More than half of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions are due to transportation, according to the Maine Climate Council.
Thanks to their efforts, Norway was one of the first communities in Maine to install an electric vehicle charging station in 2014. When the city considered the center’s application, there were only three stations in the area. state, two in Portland and one in Bangor, according to a 2014 article in the Advertiser Democrat.
At the time, there were maybe only two electric vehicles in the whole city, Vlaun said. Now a vehicle can be found almost all the time near the loader.
The organization also runs a bike-share program in inner-city Norway and helped start the Spoke Folks Cooperative, a worker-owned bike co-op that provides trash, recycling and compost pickup.
As a founding member of Community food mattersa non-profit council promoting local food and agriculture, Center for Ecology-Based Economy works to strengthen food systems in the Western Foothills region and reduce dependence on long-distance imports.
“We’re starting to see the connection between fossil fuels and food,” Vlaun said. “It takes a gallon of oil to feed someone in Maine every day.”
We Built This, a women-led carpentry initiative in partnership with the center, helps teach woodworking skills to women and people who do not identify as cisgender men. We Built This and the center are collaborating on a program to offer subsidized climate and energy audits to local homeowners to reduce energy consumption.
“The problems are global,” Vlaun said. “Solutions are ultimately more local.”
In the future, the organization plans to fundamentally change the way residents live and draw energy. The center is currently working on creating a cooperative-owned solar panel in the area, where “anyone who pays an electricity bill can start building equity in their solar panel and eventually own the means to produce its own energy,” Vlaun explained. .
The program would be “democratically controlled” by electricity users, instead of being owned and operated by a large corporation seeking profits.
The Center for an Ecologically Based Economy is also working to create a cooperative housing project in Norway, an initiative that Vlaun described as a potential “game changer”. He envisions a small community where people share appliances, like washers and dryers, and a small fleet of vehicles.
Similar to the solar cooperative, people living in the housing community would become owners with each payment, he said.
Recently, the center became a grant-funded community service provider for the Maine Community Resilience Partnership, a state government program aimed at reducing emissions at the local level and preparing communities for the effects of climate change.
As a service provider, the center will act as a liaison to help enroll cities in Greater Norway in the program and provide support to city officials writing their first community action grant.
“The people who suffer the most from the effects of climate change are those who do the least to cause it and those who have the least capacity to adopt the solutions,” Vlaun said.
The Center for an Ecologically Based Economy will host the three days Vision 2030 Climate Convergence starting Friday 6 p.m. at Cottage Street Recreation Area in Norway. This year’s theme is “Collective Power for Climate Justice”.
This will be the third time the center has hosted the convergence and the second time in person. The event features climate-related workshops and speakers from across the state.
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