Students at the University Of Vermont held a “Rally For Climate Action” on Monday. They heard from political leaders including Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch about what is happening, or not, in the halls of power — and what is at risk for the younger generation from climate change.
For the past four, years UVM has hosted a Vermont Youth Climate Summit, busing in high school students to join with campus students to discuss climate action. Environmental Studies major Jillian Scannell, a junior and the lead organizer, says this year it was re-vamped to reenergize students on the UVM campus. “I think especially with UVM students the past two years after the election have just been a lot. It’s been a lot of resistance, a lot of sadness, just a lot of like a lot of emotions. And I think that by having this rally is maybe just putting it back on people’s radar. ‘Cause I know even myself I’m a student of the environment but it’s hard sometimes to just keep resisting. So I think kind of reenergizing and looking back on UVM was good.”
Speakers at the rally told students they must take control of their future now. Congressman Peter Welch, an at-large Democrat, says climate change poses catastrophic consequences for the world and green advocates must reach out to those who are fearful of changing from a carbon economy. “If they’re fearful then they’re going to resist and one of the ways of resistance is to deny that there’s even a problem out there at all. We know in this room how threatened the planet is. We know individually we can take action. But if we are going to get the political support we need in this country to move ahead then we’ve got to also be reaching out to folks who are fearful.”
The packed room erupted with cheers when Independent Senator Bernie Sanders entered the room. Sanders began by apologizing to students for climate change. “Let me in a sense apologize to all of you because my generation for a variety of reasons has left you and your kids to come a planet which is increasingly unhealthy and uninhabitable.”
Sanders, who has supported the student summit over the past four years, slammed President Trump and Republicans for denying scientists who overwhelmingly warn climate change is occurring and getting worse. “Your generation will bear the damage done by what is going on right now. So I urge you to get involved and make sure that the people who are elected are going to stand with you to help transform our energy system. You know there are a lot of issues out there but at the end of the day clearly there is nothing more important than saving the planet.”
Scannell says Sanders’ message echoes what she hears from fellow students. “Even in my own classes, as an environmental studies student and a political science minor, I hear people all the time are just like I can’t wait for us to be in charge. Like when we’re all in charge everything’s going to get better. So it’s just the idea I think of waiting until we are the ones in charge versus realizing that we can still do stuff now. We don’t have to wait until that baton is passed and try to get ahead of it.”
Between 400 and 500 students attended the rally. Videos are posted on the Vermont Youth Climate Summit Facebook page.