MONTPELIER — Hundreds of students from across Vermont marched to the State House Friday to call for action to combat climate change.
It was a full day of events and a very full Capitol when students arrived to voice concerns and hopes for the future.
More than 150 students from Montpelier High School and about 100 students from U-32 Middle and High School were joined by other student delegations from Harwood Union High School, Stowe High School, Woodstock High School, Mount Abraham Union Middle and High School, and students from Middlebury College, among others.
The day began and ended with public forums among stakeholders to craft a resolution to Congress in support of the Green New Deal for Vermont to address environmental and economic challenges with stimulus packages that reduce carbon emissions, develop renewable energy programs and create jobs.
Students packed into the Cedar Creek Room at the State House to express fears that inaction on climate change would lead to catastrophic flooding, heat waves, fires, droughts and famine within a decade, according the 2018 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Montpelier High School sophomore Maple Perchlik said she walked out of class Friday so that the children of the future would not have to do so.
“This planet will wait for no one, including us,” Perchlik said. “If we want to make a difference in a climate issue of global concern, we have no time left to wait another year.”
Perchlik and others noted that the Legislature was almost halfway through the current session, yet there had been no bills supporting action on climate change, except for two bills, H.462 and H.477, that House and Senate leaders said were too late to be considered.
“The speaker of the House (Mitzi Johnson) has said the House doesn’t have time for a carbon tax,” Perchlik said. “What do they have time for then? We, the youth, are ready to see the solution for this climate crisis, because doing nothing is not an option.”
Max Sabo, a U-32 senior, echoed her concerns, noting that the top five priorities of House Democrats this session did not include any proposed action on climate change.
“In fact, I couldn’t find climate change anywhere on their newly published website,” Sabo said. “This stands out to me because it shows that my representatives don’t care about climate change. We are already many years late in addressing this very important issue and now it appears we’re about to throw away another year.”
Sabo said he was grateful to be standing next to Rep. Diana Gonzales, P-Chittenden-6-7, who co-sponsored H.477, the Vermont Equity and Infrastructure Act, that proposes a fee on fossil fuels that would be reinvested in public transportation and weatherization and returned as tax credits for low income and rural Vermonters.
Libby Brusa, a senior at Harwood Union High School, also took legislators to task for failing to act on climate change, so far, this year.
“It’s their job to have Vermonters’ best interests at heart and always in mind,” Brusa said. “Vermont has the potential to be the leaders in America in terms of going green. And we simply aren’t doing enough.
“The biggest thing Vermont needs to be doing right now is distancing ourselves from fossil fuels,” she added.
Montpelier freshman Gabe Grossman also referenced the United Nations climate report and another report by Oil Change International.
“Just imagine the amount of work we could do with even a quarter of the $20 billion a year we give to gas and oil companies,” Grossman said. “If we work together by taking climate change seriously and passing comprehensive climate legislation then maybe we can save our planet.”
Students also heard from lawmaker Gonzales about her hope that H.477 would still be considered this session, and several students testified on behalf of the bill in the House Committee and Technology.
Student rally organizer Emma Harter said she was encouraged by the reception students received from committee members.
“Representative Michael Yantachka promised that he would prioritize weatherization and electrical vehicles during this session, so that was great that he was willing to take a stand on it,” Harter said.
It was a similar suggestion made by the House Speaker when a student delegation was unexpectedly granted an audience with her late afternoon. Johnson noted that with crossover coming next week, committees were looking at proposals.
“They’re looking at more ways to put more money into not just electric vehicles, but electrical vehicle infrastructure, and putting some additional resources towards weatherization (programs),” Johnson said.
Johnson paid tribute to the tenacity of students, many of whom were present at the State House Friday, who also had been instrumental in successfully lobbying for new gun laws last year. She said the same resolve and effort could yield similar results on climate change initiatives.
Asked to comment on the purpose and intent of the day’s activities, and the next steps forward, Harter replied: “We definitely want this to more than a chance to get out of school for the day.”
Students said they were energized by the nomination Thursday of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, for the Nobel Peace Prize for her global Youth Strike for Climate campaign, calling on students to skip class to lobby lawmakers for action on climate change.
Veteran Vermont climate change campaigner Bill McKibben said in a statement: “Greta should win the Nobel, and so should the millions of kids who came out with her today. On a tired and anxious planet, it was the most hopeful sight in years.”