[This blog post was written by 350 Vermont’s Divestment Intern, Rose.]
On February 13 and 14, thousands of people from all over the world came together to show their support for fossil fuel divestment. As a Vermont college student of the environment, my peers and I are constantly reminded that we are the generation that will bear the brunt of the environmental destruction and degradation that humanity has been fueling for the last two hundred years. Sometimes, this knowledge can be overwhelming and immobilizing. Thankfully, assisting at the Youth Day of Climate Action in Montpelier reinvigorated me. It gave me hope.
The Youth Day of Action brought over 60 Vermont high school students to the state capitol for a day of learning, lobbying, and civic engagement. This was my first behind-the-scenes experience as an intern at 350VT, and my excitement after that day can’t be contained! As student after student piled into the auditorium, it became obvious that the high school teachers from the schools in attendance stressed the importance of both political engagement and climate science. These teachers, it appeared, had fostered an environment in which students were free to ask questions, state their opinions, and flex their intellectual and political muscles. It was incredible to see so many young people knowledgeable – and curious to know more – about our changing climate.
Maeve, 350VT’s director, began the day with an interactive demonstration of the carbon bubble, and what will happen when it bursts. She asked two students to blow up orange balloons – one large, one small. She explained that fossil fuel companies place value on their estimated stocks (demonstrated by the inflated balloons), yet don’t account for the increasing cost of extraction or the damage their emissions cause. We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground – or, keep the balloon only partially inflated – or we’ll be in trouble when the bubble/balloon bursts.
Students continued grappling with these big concepts in the break-out workshops sessions next. Students opted to attend either a divestment, lobbying, carbon pollution tax, or letter to the editor workshop. I sat in on the carbon pollution tax session, and couldn’t help but smile at the students actively involved in the discussion. I watched facilitator Liz Edsell, Field Director at Vermont Public Interest Group (VPIRG), facilitate a conversation during which students identified their major contributions of carbon emissions on an individual scale, and propose solutions to their carbon footprint. She and the student participants then started a dialogue about what a carbon pollution tax would mean for a diverse array of Vermonters, and how it would affect the state’s political, economic, and environmental landscapes. Students offered push-back and asked questions. These were welcome contributions, as it’s important that youth engage in these discussions, ask tough questions, and contribute their ideas to the table. It’s how we grow as a movement, and craft better policy.
After the workshops, we walked next door to the State House to listen to high schoolers Josie Kennedy (Twinfield) and Liz Greenen (Hartford), University of Vermont student Francesca Hall, and former Vermont State Employees Association president Ed Stanak testify in front of fourteen legislators at the Climate Caucus. Later, other students testified in front of the Senate Committee on Government Operations: Isabelle Francke (Montpelier High) and Nora Hill (Vermont Commons School). Financial experts Matt Patsky (Trillium Asset Management) and Eric Becker (Clean Yield Asset Management) also testified.
I remember standing in a fancy State House room, packed with men and women from Vermont’s legislature, watching high school students stand up to speak their mind on the issue of fossil fuel divestment. I got chills thinking of the amazing things that all of us young people are doing – and will continue to do – in the environmental movement. Oftentimes, the youth of our country forget what a strong voice we can have, despite our ability to vote. At the Senate Committee hearing, Nora Hill spoke to legislators’ hearts when she somberly stated that she is only “18 years old and terrified of how climate change is destroying our planet.” If that doesn’t serve as a call to action for Vermont lawmakers, I don’t know what will!
Check out the full video of Nora testifying here:
The testimonies from students serve as a reminder that policymakers at every level have an obligation to protect our future. More and more often, we are reminded that an enormous shift in our climate is happening: look at the ever-increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters. Or look in your own backyard: what’s with all this freezing weather?! This is only the tip of the iceberg. We need to boldly create the institutional changes that will allow us to slow the rate of our changing climate. We need to move the hearts and minds of our legislators and those of our neighbors. We need high school students to have conversations about climate change and we need them to organize events like the Youth Day of Climate Action.
Vermont has been a leader is so many environmental and social justice struggles, and the youth of this state are here to make sure we don’t forget that. At the Climate Caucus, representative Mary Hooper reminded us that young Vermonters have “so much power in our little legislature.” Representative Chris Pearson implored students to “help push [divestment] over the finish line.” So, even though it’s easy to get pessimistic and overwhelmed about the big climate issues, I am reminded that we need to continue to stand up and speak our truth. Just like the 60+ Vermont high schoolers that came to Montpelier did.
Other Vermonters hosted their own Global Divestment Day events all over the state! Check out the video of the Manchester event here: