Yes, they’ve made changes
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, speaks at the European Parliament about the urgency of global climate change.

Yes, they’ve made changes

Given a penny for their thoughts, passers-by at a July 4 parade describe how climate change has inspired them to adjust their lives and livelihoods

ROCKINGHAM — At the July 4th parade in Saxtons River, I spent the morning as a member of the local 350 Vermont Mountain Valley Climate Action group handing pennies to 60 people.

I asked each the question, “Have you made changes in your life because of the climate crisis?”

If they answered affirmatively, they put their penny in the jar marked “yes” and then got to tell about the changes they have made. I listened to folks from near and far, ranging in age from preschoolers to elders. The explanations varied, yet everyone said, “Yes, I have made changes in my life because of the climate crisis.”

Many people mentioned limiting the use of plastic, reusing plastic, composting and recycling. A woman from Grafton said, “One small thing is that I now make sun tea in a glass jar to drink instead of seltzer. I used to drink a lot of seltzer and, even though I bought it in large bottles and recycled, they contributed to the waste stream.”

It is important to remember even the smallest steps matter in reversing the effects of global warming.

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Some folks also mentioned reading and learning more about the climate crisis and the many solutions that are already in place.

One young adult mentioned a TED Talk by Greta Thunberg, a teenage activist from Sweden, who really inspired her to take action.

Another person, a parent of young children, told me that he is writing a play about climate issues because he believes we have to educate the public about climate through the arts. “We need to show where we are now in order to prevent a crash,” he said.

A change of diet was also a common theme.

A retired professional woman from Putney simply said, “The change I made was to become a vegetarian.” Others said “we eat less meat at home” or “I stopped buying meat.”

One older man reported that he used to be a vegetarian but now, though he has to eat meat for health reasons, he buys only locally-grown, pasture-raised meat.

A local teenager told me that she'd stopped eating dairy products. When I asked why, she said “If cows were a nation, they'd be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.”

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More than 10 percent of the comments related to people's homes.

Three older women made similar comments: “I stay in the house more because it is so hot,” one said. “I use fans a lot in the house and always wear a hat when I go outside in order to keep cool,” said another. Sure enough, she had a straw hat on while she said it!

The third woman said, “Because of the heat related to climate change I can't and don't work so hard anymore.”

Several people have weatherized their homes, have stopped air leakage, and have taken care of water issues by creating better drainage around the house and lining the basement floor. A few said they learned about cold-climate heat pumps and had them installed along with solar panels so they could use renewable energy to heat their homes.

One family described how they use less energy in general and have worked to lower their carbon footprint. They live in a city where the power company collaborated with the town council to conduct an “energy challenge.”

The idea was to use aggregated data from the community about electrical use and compare each home's data to the city's average, creating friendly competition to lower energy use. Approximately 100 households participated.

Annual reports have shown that the average electric usage had gone down citywide since the challenge began. Good idea! Maybe we could try that here, too.

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A popular topic with young people was the school strike happening each Friday in countries around the world.

One rising fifth grader told me that he participated in the strikes. A boy who'll start seventh grade in the fall said, “I've sporadically participated in the Friday Strike for Climate. Now, I want to do it every Friday.”

A teen from Chester said she is motivated because “I feel like my whole entire life has been changed because of climate change.”

Another teenage girl said she has followed her family's lead in climate action. She mentioned that at the strikes she feels so inspired to see lots of other young people as passionate as she is about the same issues.

When asked about next steps, she answered, “My next step would be to take direct action without my family - something like a strike, a blockade, or boycott.”

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Not many people talked about their feelings, though it seems important to express them.

One person asked, “What can you do when the Arctic is melting and Alaska has a heat wave? It's scary.” She went on to describe how she recycles and gardens without chemicals.

Long-term commitment to the environment was also a common theme, especially with elders. Comments included: “I've been doing a lot since the 1970s” and “I learned about climate issues 49 years ago.”

“Before the situation was a crisis I did my part,” another said. “For example, we always set our thermostat for 60 degrees in the winter and bundled up in heavy sweaters.”

A parent from Chester said, “Everything I do has something to do with combating climate change.”

Some people have made big changes in their lives.

One person said she never uses a clothes dryer any more and hangs her wash to dry year-round.

A couple said they decided to have only one child.

A young adult reported, “I have changed my whole life course because of climate change. It was a career change to do sustainable agriculture.”

A middle-aged woman looked to the root causes of the climate crisis.

“The biggest thing is to stop war and the military,” she said. “One military jet test run uses more fuel than you and me carpooling to the food co-op in Brattleboro every week for a year. Then the military targets oil stocks and oil fields in the Middle East. That's the real driver of the climate crisis, and people refuse to talk about it.”

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Speaking up was mentioned a few times.

One elder from Westminster said, “I'm bugging people all the time to take action and I share what I'm doing.”

The mother of a teenager complained that her daughter is always nagging her to use resources wisely.

A woman from Putney said, “I don't pull punches any more. I speak up with family. For example, they believe advertisements that promote loud, oil-burning things that do not make life better.” She talks with them about making choices that don't consume fossil fuels.

So many good conversations were started by asking a simple question. There was such a range of topics we talked about. Other big ones were transportation and lawns and gardens.

It seems people are eager to have more conversations about the effects of the climate crisis here in southern Vermont.

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