Vermont is making news for its national-low number of Covid-19 cases and new Global Warming Solutions Act. But Windham County diplomat Peter Galbraith says that doesn’t mean the state can inoculate itself from whatever ails the world.
“The pandemic, the economy, the climate — they’re global issues, and the operative word is global,” the Townshend resident says. “One question here is what is the nature of our global cooperation?”
The former United Nations envoy, U.S. ambassador and Vermont state senator proposed some answers during a recent Windham World Affairs Council talk on the eve of the 2020 election.
“I know we say all elections are the most important,” the Democrat said during the public online program, “but this certainly ranks very near the top.”
Galbraith — the first U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Croatia from 1993 to 1998 and a state senator from 2011 to 2014 — boiled down current campaign issues to the coronavirus, economy and climate change.
“The three challenges have absolutely dominated not just the news, but our lives,” he said.
Galbraith said Vermont may be reaping praise for its pandemic response, but it can’t single-handedly ward off the virus forever.
“Vermont being, not unsurprisingly, the best suggests that what you do locally makes a difference,” he said. “But unless this is solved as a global problem with widespread vaccination and other measures, there’s no solution at all — unless we want to continue to live in a world in which people basically don’t travel and trade becomes difficult.”
That, Galbraith said, will continue to threaten the economy.
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“The pandemic can’t be solved alone, and the economic problems can’t be solved alone,” he said. “The American economy is not in any way separate or separable from that of the rest of the world.”
Galbraith noted that, although the United States spent nearly a trillion dollars in stimulus to deal with the Great Recession a decade ago, the nation’s recovery was slowed by Europe’s austerity measures.
“Globalization is not easily reversed,” he said. “We may wish to have a lot more manufacturing in the United States, but perhaps not at the point at which we have $5,000 iPhones, because that might be what it would cost to manufacture those things.”
Galbraith argued similarly about climate change.
“Whatever we do here in Vermont, frankly, makes no difference at all,” he said. “What the United States does, because it’s a significant source of CO2, matters. But fundamentally, it’s an issue that has to be solved globally.”
Galbraith noted his father — John Kenneth Galbraith, the late economist and President John F. Kennedy adviser — used to speak to the Windham World Affairs Council annually in what’s become a half-century family tradition. Although the diplomat most recently has addressed Iran and the nearby Middle East countries of Iraq, Syria and Yemen, this year his thoughts are close to home.
“One of the issues that people have to decide in this election is do we wish to continue on the path of the Trump administration of going it alone, or do we want to return to a system where we enrich our country by including (others)?” he said. “I suppose from the language that I’ve used, you might guess how I come out on this. I’ve tried to be nonpolitical here, but that’s difficult. There’s a lot that is at stake in this election.”
Galbraith, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2016, hopes Republicans will experience a similar loss.
“My political career ended up with an election defeat, which isn’t the worst thing in the world,” he said. “Life goes on. Perhaps somebody ought to tell (U.S. Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell that.”
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