The University of Vermont brought high school students from across Vermont and northern New York to its campus today for its third annual youth climate summit.
More than 130 students from 16 high schools participated in the climate summit, set against a backdrop of probable changes in federal environmental policy following the federal elections.
It was the first summit for students at the Bellows Falls Academy-Fairfax table. One of sophomore Elias Davis’ motivations to attend was the election of President-elect Donald Trump. “I think that his belief that climate was constructed by the Chinese against our economy is kind of outrageous. And I think it’s really important that the youth have their own beliefs and don’t just follow what they see on the internet and you actually get instructions and learn from teachers who have been in the field and know what they’re talking about.”
Senior Richard Rosten is among seven students who came from Oxbow High School in Bradford, VT and has participated all three years that the summit has been held. “I like talking with other people from around the state to see what they’re doing with their environmental groups at their school. Because I think it’s a pretty big issue, climate change, and the sooner we can start preventing it the better. And this gives us a lot of ideas about what we can do on the smaller side, like in schools, to help prevent climate change.”
One of the first items on the agenda had students who previously participated in the UVM youth summit provide quick overviews of what climate actions their schools have started.
“Hi my name is Sophie and I’m representing the Putney School. Right now we have a goal of our campus becoming net zero. Our field house is the first net zero building on a high school campus in the U.S. and we’re designing two new net zero dorms as well as making the existing buildings as energy efficient as possible.”
“Hello I’m Nava from Montpelier High School. We have a greenhouse and a hoop house and chickens. And we’ve raised fish. And what we produce goes to our cafeteria and the food pantry and other schools in Montpelier.”
“My name is Rachael Pietman. I’m speaking on behalf of BFA Fairfax. Every Friday the kindergartners go outside and they walk the trails in our woods and I really think that we’re creating a generation that cares deeply about the environment.”
Energy and Environmental Policy Advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders Katie Thomas had just returned from the Marrakech Climate Change Conference in Morocco where the second meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement was held. “One of the biggest anecdotes we got from the international community was that encouragement to stay active at the state and local level. So it’s very encouraging to me today to see our young people, so many young people here, who are really engaging now right away on solutions they can implement now.”
UVM junior Gina Fiorile attended COP 21 in Paris and was named by the White House as a Champion of Change for Climate Education and Literacy. She helped organize this youth summit. “Young people recognize that climate change is an issue that impacts everyone. And young people have grown up knowing that and seeing that because we’re already seeing the impacts of climate change. It’s not a future issue. It’s a current issue and it’s happening right now. Young people recognize that and I think they see that as motivation for taking action now.”
Keynote speaker Mamie Parker, the former assistant director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the students that in a divided world their inspiration and encouragement will be needed.