Over the past few months, eleven students at the Vermont Commons School, an independent school for grades 6-12 in South Burlington, took a course entitled Climate Change and Journalism. They covered topics related to contemporary journalism, such as the impact of bias, how to spot fake news, and how to conduct effective interviews. As part of the class, they toured the studio of Vermont Public Radio and the office of Seven Days. The students learned about the science and impact of climate change, visiting 350VT, and attending the Youth Rally for the Planet in Montpelier. Their studies culminated in the creation of final media projects. Students were required to pitch their story topic, conduct research, and interview community members. The following articles about climate change activism were written by two groups of 7th, 9th, and 11th graders. Articles have been shortened for length.

Vermonters on the Climate Path

by Zoe Hecht, Ethan Osgood, Ana Kusserow Lair

Students from Sun Common hold their school sign at the Youth Lobby Day in Montpelier

Students from Vermont Commons School hold their school sign at the Youth Lobby Day in Montpelier

    With the current administration’s push towards measures that many fear will destroy the planet, Vermont leaders involved with climate activism have begun the long process of retaliating, rallying, and bringing hope. One local Vermonter is Julie Elfin. She works as an intern at 350VT, a local climate action organization. Julie believes that climate change is stoppable, but we will “never get Earth to be the same as before.” Her theory is that because we have already emitted carbon into the atmosphere, it cannot be reversed and will stay in effect until a solution is found. We will only be able to stabilize climate change if we give up what’s causing it. “This needs to be a global effort.” She says. “If we don’t all work together, climate change will not be helped. All of us are responsible, and borders only set boundaries. These boundaries do not exist in the atmosphere.”

Elfin also brings up the point that our global economy is one of the largest factors to contribute to climate change. She says, “So many things are made and then shipped and then shipped again and then sold, and it takes so many fuels to do so.” She stresses just how important local businesses are to this movement. Having more of them would cut carbon emissions just by eliminating some of the extensive world travel that takes place to bring commodities from one place to another. Elfin also stresses how important it will be to “give up the lines between what we consider different states and nations” with the goal of becoming one united front. She thinks that global communication and cooperation is essential to the climate change movement perhaps above anything else.

In Goff’s early teaching days, he was told that educating kids about climate change would only dishearten and depress them, and that he should wait until they were in college. The realization now is that we should be taught as early as possible, so everyone can work on solutions. As an evolutionary biologist, Goff also talks about how climate change is even affecting his own work, which usually focuses on millions of years in the past. “I work a lot around biodiversity (the number of different types of species, what is a species, species definition) and what we are finding is that species are moving around to where they would not usually travel, and simply going away because they are melding with other species. For me, this is where climate change and research intersect.” He brings to light that the evolutionary biologist community has begun “looking forward” instead of into the past, because of the somewhat alarming way species are morphing and moving in ways they have never done before. When asked what people will have to be willing to give up in light of climate change, Goff responds, “To me it is not necessarily giving up, but reevaluating what is most important/valuable to us. I do think that unless money starts getting affected nothing will happen. The global economy plays such a huge role in this issue.”

Often when talking about climate change it becomes easy for young people to begin to feel somewhat hopeless, or as if the climate issue is just too much for them to bear. Yes, the issue of climate change is almost as enormous as the planet itself, but that does not mean that it is an issue without hope. Peter Goff’s story about not even talking about the issue of climate change until kids were older is cut with the overwhelming opinion that we should be talking about the issues facing the planet we call home.  It is essential to remember that even conversations about these issues are helping to educate and motivate young people towards the cause. The overall message from Vermonters who care deeply about our environment is that this is not an issue without hope or solution, and it should not be presented as such.

Climate Marches

by Seth Fisher-Olvera, Quinn Lansbury, Beckett Richardson, Jordan Townsend

Students carry their signs while marching at the Vermont Youth Lobby Day in Montpelier

Students carry their signs while marching at the Vermont Youth Lobby Day in Montpelier

On a grey April day, hundreds of passionate young environmental activists took to the streets of Montpelier to march to the Capitol Building and make their voices heard on climate change. They assembled at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in moderate rain, and then organized into columns at the direction of the Youth Lobby Day’s student organizers. As they marched down State Street to the Capitol building, the weather cleared, and they eagerly tried to get a chance to talk to representatives and the various organizations that had set up tents on the lawn. Many legislators were in agreement with the students, and some walked around the lawn to talk with school groups about policy and their work to try to address environmental concerns.

Katherine Quaid, the Assistant Director of 350VT, a local climate action organization, told us over the phone that getting young people to speak to legislators is critical to influencing their decisions, “All those voices and those issues are represented physically through a march and it is really powerful.” This sentiment was echoed by the keynote speakers at the Youth Lobby Day who all took the majority of their short allotted speaking times to stress the importance of continued activism.

Two weeks later, on April 29th in our capital, Washington DC, hundreds of thousands of motivated individuals marched to raise awareness for the looming threat of climate change. The “People’s Climate March,”  was a movement of like minded people who want to see a monumental shift in our approach to slowing and stopping climate change. Organizers had said they were marching for a multitude of reasons, as the full title of the march is the People’s March. According to the organizers of the march, some of the most important reasons for marching were to “protect our right to clean air, water, land, healthy communities and a world at peace” (People’s Climate March Website). All across the country there were also major sister marches, meant to bring pressure to capitol hill in the hopes that the legislature and our new president will prioritize this country’s future and the environment.  These marches happened all over the globe, from New Zealand to Vermont and Washington State. Bill McKibben noted at the Youth Lobby Day that the only country that will not be seeing any of its citizens march in support of action on climate change will be North Korea.

Bill McKibben was one of the most high profile speakers at the event, which also included David Zuckerman, Peter Welch and a spokeswoman for Bernie Sanders. McKibben’s role as a leading voice for environmental justice stems from his book, The End of Nature (1989) which detailed the threats and possibilities of unchecked climate change, and which have become realities. At Youth Lobby Day he urgently articulated the need for immediate action, but more achievable, the need for passionate activism. He said enthusiastically, “I am glad you are here as students but I am really flattered that you are here as Vermonters and activists,” at the opening of his speech. He made a point of stressing that students think of themselves as citizens, rather than attaching the label of ‘young activists’ to themselves, which might diminish the importance of their actions. Later he noted, “Everybody’s scared and everybody should be scared, we have screwed up the world in a big way.” McKibben’s words stood out to the crowd because it of their frightening directness and honesty. Bill Mckibben’s speech inspired everyone to look more into climate change and how to do something about it.