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Teo Scheltema of Guilford, left, and Galen Fogarty of Brattleboro were among the more than 100 people who were in Pliny Park in Brattleboro for a noontime Climate Change vigil on March 15.

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Worldwide climate protest hits home

Area students leave school and take to the streets on a 60-degree day in mid-March to press for urgent action on climate change

BRATTLEBORO—The March 15 School Strike for Climate, an international walkout to demand immediate action to deal with climate change, saw area students joining with more than 1.5 million youths in more than 100 countries in one of the largest-ever global climate demonstrations.

The youth-led strike was inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who last August helped start a movement that evolved from her solitary vigil outside the Swedish Parliament every Friday into the recent massive global walkout.

Students participated in a morning event in front of Brattleboro Union High School, as well as noontime and late-afternoon rush hour events downtown at Pliny Park.

Two participants in the Pliny Park vigils, Teo and Oliver Scheltema of Guilford, have stood at the corner of Main and High streets each Friday at noon since December.

Oliver, 14, was also at the morning rally at BUHS, where “there weren’t as many people at the morning rally as there are now,” he said, referring to the more than 100 vigilgoers of all ages at Pliny Park.

His younger brother, Teo, said the brothers were in this for the long haul.

“We’re the generation that’s going to have to deal with it,” he said.

That it was in the low 60s in mid-March after a winter that saw wild swings in temperature “just proves our point that there’s something wrong,” said Django Grace of Brattleboro, who said this was his first climate vigil.

More people showed up for the rush-hour event, chanting “our house in on fire” at the backed-up traffic on Main Street. Horns honked support, while others revved the engines of their cars to drown out the vigilers.

A walk to the Statehouse

Elsewhere in Vermont, high school students from Montpelier and Union-32 walked out of their respective schools and to the Statehouse, where they were joined by students from Harwood, Hazen, Stowe, and Mount Abraham high schools for an afternoon rally.

The March 15 strike happened to coincide with crossover day at the Legislature — the final day of the session for legislation to be considered and voted upon by the House or Senate so it can be considered by the other chamber.

Several students testified before the House Committee on Energy and Technology in support of H.447, the Vermont Equity and Infrastructure Act, introduced by state Rep. Diana Gonzalez, P-Winooski.

This legislation would place a fee on fossil fuels that would be used to pay for public transportation and infrastructure projects, and it would provide tax credits for low-income and rural Vermonters. Called a “carbon tax” by opponents, it has garnered little support from lawmakers.

In prepared remarks for the committee, Montpelier High School student Emma Harter called climate change “the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment. Currently, the United States, and the world, faces a future of irreversible environmental, economic, and humanitarian catastrophe.

“This is the truth that we, as a nation and as a state, have neglected to recognize in policy for years. This is also the truth that the youth of our world have been born into, that we have uncovered over time through education.

“It is truth that if we do not take drastic action today, adapting to the impacts of climate change will be more difficult and costly. Vermont youth know that these truths are irrefutable.”

Climate change spurs more action

The March 15 student strike marks the start of several actions in Vermont to push for immediate action on climate change.

In Brattleboro, voters at the Annual Representative Town Meeting on Saturday, March 23 will take up a non-binding article regarding the issue.

The group 350Vermont is sponsoring what it calls “Next Steps: A Climate Solutions Walk from Friday, April 5 to Tuesday, April 9.

Over the five days, activists will walk from Middlebury to Montpelier, ending at the Statehouse with what 350Vermont describes as “a mass action calling on the Legislature to take immediate, meaningful, action on climate change.”

On Thursday, May 2, the Vermont Youth Lobby is planing a “Rally for the Planet” at the Statehouse, where ggoup members have been regulars this session, meeting with lawmakers to advocate for action on climate change as well as other issues, such as lowering the voting age in Vermont to 16.

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