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Taking Action on Climate Change

By Fran Hostettler Putnam ’69

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Fran Putnam ’69 staffs the Weybridge Energy Committee booth at the town picnic. Photo by Susan Humphrey

For many years, I have been haunted by reports about global climate change. I could not bear to face the coming devastation to our planet brought about by the consumption of fossil fuels. The overwhelming nature of this problem led me to feel hopelessness and despair. When I became a grandmother in 2006, I realized that the bright future I envision for my grandchildren is seriously threatened by our changing climate. I became acutely aware of how little time remains to influence the causes of climate change, so I vowed to change my passive attitude to one of active engagement.

At the urging of my husband, Spencer Putnam ’67, we designed and built a net-zero-energy house to lower our personal carbon footprint. After moving into the house in 2008, we hosted a series of open houses to showcase our combination of an active and passive solar design with other energy-efficiency features. We have now lived in our cozy house in central Vermont for five years, and it has proved itself in all temperature extremes.

Turning to a broader sphere, in October 2011, I started an energy committee in my small town of Weybridge, Vt. We set a clear goal—to lower our town’s carbon footprint. In 2013, we enrolled our town in the Vermont Home Energy Challenge, a yearlong competition to weatherize 3 percent of homes in each town. Five $10,000 awards were reserved for the top finishers.

Our committee publicized the challenge widely, conducted two phonathons, and completed free home energy visits to more than 50 households. We also:

  • told residents how to save energy by sealing cracks and adding insulation in their attics and basements
  • recommended home energy audits by trained contractors and provided financing information
  • organized a community potluck supper and informational program
  • and offered educational programs for fourth- to sixth-graders about the importance of thermal efficiency in reducing our carbon footprint.

Soon, residents began weatherizing their homes. Next, we erected a highly visible “progress thermometer” in town. By October, we had met our 3 percent goal, becoming the first town in Vermont to do so. Our committee, now including residents of all ages, hosted a celebration of our town’s success.

A vital part of our mission was helping qualifying neighbors—the elderly, disabled, and families with young children—gain access to free, low-income weatherization so they could save on heating bills, be more comfortable in winter, and devote their limited resources to food, medicine, and other essentials.

By year’s end, our town finished the Vermont Home Energy Challenge at 180 percent of our goal, the highest percentage of any Vermont town. When the results were tallied, Weybridge had won the $10,000 award.

Since beginning my climate activism, I’ve taken my message beyond my town. I am an advocate for weatherization, especially for the low-income population, on statewide radio and TV programs; speak to groups and present workshops; lobby my state representatives; speak up at forums; and write newspaper articles. I started a climate committee in my Friends Meeting, work with high school and college students on climate initiatives, and collaborate with other town energy committees and state organizations on climate-awareness campaigns. I will continue to chair the Weybridge Energy Committee as we find new ways to lower our town’s carbon footprint. Since I am retired, I can devote time to this work, and it has given me some measure of hope to see how people have responded.

Some day, I hope my grandchildren will understand that I cared so deeply for them and their generation that I worked tirelessly to secure their future. I know my efforts are small compared to the size of the problem, but since my days at Swarthmore in the ’60s, I have believed in the power of collective action.

I encourage the entire Swarthmore community to continue its efforts to reverse climate change and to join me in making a difference before it is too late.

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