NORWAY — For more than a decade, Scott Vlaun was working for an organic seed company where time and time again, he heard stories from farmers across the country impacted by climate change.
Unreliable rains Early frosts. Higher winds.
“Everybody had a different story about climate change,” he said. “Climate change was affecting their ability to run an organic farm.”
In 2013, with his young son’s future in mind, Vlaun, along with Programming & Education Director Seal Rossignol and two others, founded the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy, a nonprofit climate action organization based in downtown Norway. The budding organization was able to take root and grow thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised $30,000
“When we started, we were really focused on technical solutions to perennial needs,” said Vlaun, the executive director. They’ve targeted their efforts in four key areas, each with large, unsustainable carbon footprints: food, shelter, energy and transportation.
The organization celebrated its ninth birthday Friday. It has already made a significant impact on western Maine. The nonprofit has been able to make a significant impact in western Maine thanks to a generous donation. 17 chargers for electric vehicles have been installedYou can find them in many places, including Bethel and Norway, Fryeburg, Buckfield, and Fryeburg.
More than half of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions are due to transportation, according to the Maine Climate Council.
Norway was the first community in Maine to have an electric vehicle charging station installed in 2014. When the town was considering the center’s request, there were just three stations in the state, two in Portland and one in Bangor, according to a 2014 article in Advertiser Democrat.
Vlaun said that at the time there may have been only two electric cars in the entire area. Nowadays, you can find an electric vehicle at the charging station almost every hour.
The organization also manages a bike sharing program in downtown Norway. They also helped to create Spoke Folks Cooperative which is a worker-owned, bicycle powered cooperative that provides trash, recycling, compost pickup.
As a founding member Community Food MattersThe, a non-profit council that promotes local food and agriculture, Center for Ecology-Based Economy is working to strengthen food systems in the Western Foothills region and reduce dependency on far-flung imports.
“We’re starting to see the linkage 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 initiative in carpentry, is partnered with the center. It teaches wood working skills to women as well as men who don’t identify themselves as cisgender. The center and We Built This are working together to offer subsidized weatherization services and energy audits to local homeowners in order to reduce their energy consumption.
“The problems are global,” Vlaun said. “The solutions are ultimately more local.”
The organization is aiming to fundamentally change how locals live and obtain energy. The center is currently working to create a cooperatively-owned solar array in the area, in which “anybody who pays an electric bill can start to build equity in their solar array and end up owning the means of producing their own energy,” Vlaun explained.
The program would be “democratically controlled” by the people that are using the electricity, as opposed to owned and operated by a large corporation seeking profit.
The Center for an Ecology-Based Economy is also working to create a cooperative housing project in Norway, an initiative Vlaun described as a potential “game changer.” He envisions a small community where people share appliances, like washers and dryers, as well as a small pool of vehicles.
Similar to the solar cooperative, people who live in the housing community will acquire ownership with every payment, he said.
Recently, the center was made a grant-funded community service provider for Maine Community Resilience Partnership. This program is funded by the state government and aims to reduce local emissions and prepare communities for the impacts of climate change.
As a service provider, this center will serve as a liaison to help municipalities in the greater Norway area enroll in the program and support them in writing their first community actions grant.
“The people that are suffering most of the effects of climate change are the ones that are doing the least to cause it and the ones that have the least ability to adopt the solutions,” Vlaun said.
The event will be hosted by the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy three-day 2030 Vision Climate ConvergenceBeginning Friday, 6 p.m. at Cottage Street recreation park in Norway This year’s theme is “Collective Power for Climate Justice.”
It will be the center’s third time hosting the convergence, and the second time in-person. The event features speakers and workshops related to climate from across the state.