BBA senior has leadership role in youth climate fight

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MANCHESTER — When student delegates from across Vermont converge on the Statehouse on Sunday for a Youth Climate Congress aimed at urging state government to enact more aggressive environmental policies, a Burr and Burton Academy senior will be serving in a leadership role.

Evelyn Seidner, a senior from Middletown Springs, is co-chair of the event, at which students ranging from middle-schoolers to college post-graduates will craft a resolution calling for immediate climate action by Vermont's elected leaders. It's being put together by the Vermont Youth Lobby, a student organization dedicated to advocating for political action on climate change. Several of her fellow BBA students may be joining her Sunday when the group meets at 12:30 p.m. in the state House of Representatives chamber.

"The goal is to show the Legislature there's an entire generation of people in Vermont who are nearing the voting the age, people who are not OK with what's going on and will not sit quietly by and wait for things to get better," Seidner said. "We'll take a stand now. We won't sit quietly by. That's the main goal of this day."

Organizers are expecting 150 delegates from schools across the state will attend.

Seidner has taken part in the Governor's Institute of Vermont, a summer learning program, so she's met peers from across the Green Mountain State before. "But this is a much more directed and very specific way to get to know people who have the exact same passion you do, people who are fighting for the same things, and that's a very motivating thing," she said.

"When you're out there trying so hard to fight for something that is very very difficult and has a time limit, and has catastrophic implications for my future and my generation's future, it can become a scary thing doing it all alone," she said. "Being part of the Youth Lobby, knowing kids all over Vermont who have the same goals and who are as passionate as you — that's definitely a calming presence for sure."

The objective is a resolution "demanding our state government take serious action to be free from fossil fuels and achieve carbon neutrality," Seidner said. (A commentary by Seidner and fellow Youth Climate Congress co-chair Lili Platt of Harwood Union High School is on page A4.)

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Seidner became aware of the opportunity from BBA teacher Jillian Joyce, her adviser for an independent study program in climate leadership.

"I went and really enjoyed it and met a ton of awesome people," Seidner said of meeting the group and its members. "The things they were talking about were exactly what I wanted to be doing."

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Joyce, who described Seidner as "focused and purposeful" and a good listener, said her work in climate leadership started with her engaging more than 100 students in the Global Student Climate Strike in September.

"In advance of this event, Evelyn has worked tremendously hard to understand Vermont's complex energy system," Joyce said. "She is helping to craft and communicate the changes that Vermonters should ask for and expect from leaders in the Statehouse."

Joyce said Seidner is "grappling with real world problems that she believes will only be solved with inclusive solutions. Each time that we meet she expresses hope but also a deepening understanding of the challenges in the way of the change she seeks."

As an elementary school student, Seidner learned the importance of protecting the environment from her parents. But it was when she got to Burr and Burton that she recognized a need to do something about climate change. Last year, as a supporter of a bill banning single-use plastic bags, she was among a group of BBA students who testified before the Senate Natural Resources Committee in favor of the proposal.

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"There's an important difference between knowing there's a problem and feeling like you can do something about that problem," she said. "I have friends who are worried about the climate crisis but don't feel they have any way to make change. They don't feel like they have agency. So they crawl into a shell and don't fight. I think that's an important thing. Anyone in this country and this world ... if we're going to do anything about [climate change] people need to realize they can do something, and they must do something."

"I had that moment when I joined the environment club [at BBA] and realized there were things I could do in my community that were simple and would enact change," Seidner added. "As a junior working on the plastic bag ban, that showed me when it passed — when I got an email from Governor [Phil] Scott saying thank you for your hard work — it was an important thing for me to see."

Sunday's congress will be a success, Seidner said, if the delegates learn about the legislative process and realize they have the power to get involved and work for the change they want to see.

"We really do have a lot of power as youth, and I know that a lot of kids don't really know how to go about it. They feel like their voices aren't being heard," Seidner said. "I think the congress will help them be able to channel what their goals are and gain some skills from it. It would be really amazing for 150 kids to walk away feeling like they made a difference, feeling like they have steps they can take for the future."

As for her own future, Seidner is considering majoring in international studies, environmental policy or environmental law. While she's intrigued by the prospect of working as a diplomat, or in government as a policy-maker or adviser, she's hesitant to imagine not advocating for causes in which she believes.

"I can't see the future but I don't foresee my advocacy work stopping," she said.


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