Striking a Balance Between People and Planet

As a new resident of Burlington, Vermont’s “big city,” I’ve been struck by the town’s population density relative to the suburban and rural areas where I grew up and went to college. With 42,000 residents, Burlington pales next to the New York Cities, Mumbais, and Tokyos of the world. But in Vermont it constitutes a veritable metropolis, and given its location in such close proximity to natural features like Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains, it is a fitting place to consider humans’ coexistence with the surrounding environment.

For the High Meadows Fund, whose mission is to “promote vibrant communities and a healthy natural environment while encouraging long-term economic vitality in Vermont,” this balance between people and planet serves as the foundation of our work. I often have to remind myself that, contrary to linguistic convention, we’re not just an environmental organization, we’re a socio-environmental organization.

Motivated by the fact that “our communities, environment, and economy are threatened by the changing climate,” the work we engage in and support almost always acknowledges, if not addresses directly, ways for human systems to coexist more harmoniously with natural systems.

CarShare Vermont, through its carsharing program and promotion of alternative forms of transportation, is bridging the gap between the human need to get from point A to point B and the environmental need to reduce the transportation sector’s emission of greenhouse gases.

Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, through its work to expand availability and access to locally produced foods in the Rutland region, is aligning the human need to eat and earn a living with the environmental need to responsibly manage the working landscape.

The Institute for Sustainable Communities, through its Resilient Vermont Project, is uniting the human need to proactively adapt to the increased prevalence of extreme weather events with the environmental need to mitigate the factors that contribute to climate disruptions in the first place.

For the past few hundred years, humans have driven the planet, and unwittingly, themselves, to the brink of collapse by way of unchecked industrialization and anthropocentrism. If we hope to continue to inhabit this planet, the environmental path forward must be marked by humility, creativity, and perhaps irrational optimism.

At High Meadows, we value that our partners and grantees bring a holistic perspective to their work, for it’s becoming increasingly clear that focusing solely on people, or solely on the planet, will not be enough to reverse the systemically entrenched problems we all hope to overcome.

Stu Fram
July 2014