Protesters demand action on climate change

Rallies held Friday in Bennington and Manchester

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BENNINGTON — Over 100 protesters stood out in a rally at People's Park on Friday, part of a global effort to force action before climate change becomes fully beyond human control.

The protesters, which included many Bennington College students, rallied at the park at 1 p.m., after the students marched to the location, carrying signs reading things like "Our House is On Fire," Science is Real," and "Climate Justice," and a large white "Declare Climate Emergency!" banner.

"We're running out of time," said Walter Klinger, who worked in air pollution meteorology for many years. "The situation is urgent and dire."

Klinger said he's worried that his grandchildren won't experience the world the same way.

"They're not going to be able to do the things in life [I did]," he said. "Glacier National Park — the glaciers don't exist anymore. I want them to be able to have a future and a life, and enjoy the world the way I did."

Led by a diverse coalition of both youth and adult organizations, Sept. 20 represents an intergenerational day of striking that will launch a week of climate action across the world, according to the national strike website, strikewithus.org. Strikes, rallies and protests were planned in major cities and smaller communities across the globe Friday, including Boston, New York, San Francisco, Dublin, London, Berlin, Brussels, Tokyo and New Delhi. Millions were expected to participate.

For the first about-20 minutes of the rally in Bennington, participants like first-term Bennington College students Oliver Wessels, Zachary Lay and Trini Secunda listened to live, climate-themed music.

"I want to see something done about what's happening to our planet," Lay said. Events like this are a good way to start, he said.

"We can't fix any of the big social issues facing us if we're all dead," Wessels said. Secunda agreed.

"I am very frustrated with the climate situation and want to get my voice heard as much as I can," she said.

Rosa Van Wie, a fourth-grade teacher at Molly Stark Elementary School, said her students are concerned about climate change — they know it's going to have a big impact on their lives.

"To hear you can take it one day at a time and that there's things you can do it helps them," she said.

She said she came to the event, "to make sure that there's a future for myself, any family that I might have, and my students."

Speakers at the rally acknowledged the fear and frustration engendered by climate change, particularly fear of the future, but refused to give in to it.

"I am deeply anxious about the crisis my generation is facing — the climate crisis," said Karlyn Ellis. "I don't see the point in studying for a future we may not have."

But, she said, people should stand up for a future they could still have, if they act now.

"Today, we declare a climate emergency," she said. "Tomorrow, we take on the climate crisis."

Enthusiastic cheers followed Ellis' remarks.

Liz Putnam, founder of the Student Conservation Association, which aims to build the next generation of conservation leaders, told the crowd the important thing is to work as a team in fighting climate change — "and never, ever give up."

"As a team, it's amazing what can happen," she said.

Before his remarks, Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, acknowledged Putnam once more for her decades of environmental efforts.

"Everybody here is also committed," he said. "I know I'm looking out at a committed group of people."

He said he knows those in attendance are ready to push back, and vote out a governor who continues to protect corporations over Vermonters.

"There is no sitting on the sidelines in this fight," he said. "Climate change can be fought, and we must win."

Before the group marched to the Four Corners to demonstrate, organizer Barbara True-Weber of Climate Advocates of Bennington addressed those participating.

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"My friends, we have in front of us a hard and frightening future," she said. "It invites despair and cynicism."

But, she said, it's not too late.

"We will keep fighting," she said. "So let's move forward."

After she spoke, the crowd marched to the Four Corners, where they chanted, held signs and cheered as passing drivers honked in support.

Rally in Manchester

Besides the Bennington protest, a strike, march and rally in Manchester was also scheduled to start at 11 a.m. at Factory Point Town Green, with a march along Depot Street and back to the roundabout.

After the initial climate strike action, the Earth Matters Manchester Climate Strike committee also has a busy week of events planned, part of the week of action.

These events include: an EV Cruise In and family-friendly bike rally, a climate strike worship service at the Congregational Church of Rupert; a tree planting ceremony; a reading of a new play by Jason Odell Williams, "The Whole Shebang;" a film at the Manchester Community Library; and events supporting local regenerative agriculture farms, organizer Anne Dolivo previously said. More information can be found at vermontclimatestrike.org.

Climate Advocates of Bennington began to organize the Bennington strike about a month ago, True-Weber previously said.

"Our house is on fire," True-Weber previously said, quoting Greta Thunberg, a well-known teenage climate activist. "Over the last couple of years, the urgency of the issue has become so important, and so visible, that it seems imperative to do everything we can — everybody needs to do everything they can — to limit climate change."

And that means Bennington, too, she said.

The planet's average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere, according to NASA. Other evidence of rapid climate change includes warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, decreased snow cover, sea level rise, declining arctic ice and increased "extreme events" like record high and low temperatures and intense rainfall events.

At the rally, True-Weber described Climate Advocates of Bennington's planned request for the Bennington Select Board to declare a climate emergency.

In a declaration True-Weber read at the rally, the town would commit to reducing fossil fuel use, support a transition to renewable energy sources, address transportation issues to increase the use of public transportation and educate citizens about the climate emergency, among other suggestions.

True-Weber said organizers have not yet determined when, but they plan to present their request to the Select Board at one of its meetings.

"Climate change impacts at the local level," she said. "And the people where its happening are the ones that are affected. The focus on local makes sense in that context."

A similar effort recently failed in Brattleboro, when a request for the town to declare a climate emergency was rejected Tuesday by the Select Board in a 3-2 vote.

Brattleboro Common Sense had pitched the declaration at two previous meetings, where board members suggested revisions.

The declaration sought to have Brattleboro strive for zero emissions across all sectors of the economy by 2030 with regular reports from the town's sustainability coordinator. It also would have had the Select Board warning monthly hearings to hear ideas for "remedies" with the potential for "emergency ordinances."

The board does have limited authority, so, True-Weber said, organizers also plan to ask the state to take action on climate change as well.

College organizers also have several demands, primarily 90 percent fossil fuel reduction in Bennington and Bennington College by 2025, said co-organizer Ethan Koss-Smith, a student at the college. They're also calling for more accountability on renewable energy in the state and no more fossil fuel infrastructure in Vermont.

This is also the first step in urging divestment from fossil fuels — "no trace" of fossil fuel investments — at Bennington College, he said.

Students at Bennington College are also planning a Bennington Litter Cleanup event on Saturday from noon until 2 p.m., followed by a sorting session afterward on campus, to separate out plastic for the purpose of identifying the brands of the plastic products found. They'll send that data to an international movement, Break Free From Plastic, to include in their October report. That movement aims to put an end to plastic pollution.

Material from the Brattleboro Reformer was incorporated in this story.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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