At UVM Summit, Vermont Students Take Climate Change To School

Dec 5, 2014

Much of the rhetoric around climate change centers on the world today's children will inherit, but this week at UVM those kids started taking things into their own hands.

In Burlington Friday, 200 high school students from across Vermont gathered at the University of Vermont for a Youth Climate Summit. 

The students were tasked with forming a climate action plan for their own schools.

And the UVM faculty and students who put it on weren't toning it down and giving the high schoolers the "climate change junior" speech.

UVM Provost David Rosowsky kicked off the event with a bit of a homework assignment.

“You are the future,” he said. “You will discover and you will innovate. You will mitigate, you will obviate, you will enlighten, you will untangle. You will solve solutions to some of the grand challenges that we face as a nation and as a planet.”

The summit's keynote speaker was Sen. Bernie Sanders, who's been working on some of those issues in his role on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Sanders says in many ways that battle isn't going so well in Washington. Senator Jim Inhofe, for example, published a book last year calling climate change a hoax.

“He will now be the chairman of the environmental committee, the committee which has oversight over the issue of climate change,” Sanders said. “How did that happen?”

Sanders suggested financial contributions from the fossil fuel industry to Inhofe were to blame for his views on climate change and for the false sense of two-sidedness some politicians try to give climate change.

Sanders told the students not to fall for those claims.

“So when you hear people talking, ‘Well, there’s a debate going on about whether climate change is real,’ there is no debate,” he said. “The scientific community is overwhelmingly in agreement.”

Despite frustrations in Washington, the UVM undergrad class that put on the summit is optimistic.

Amelia Fontein, a UVM junior majoring in environmental studies, says part of the point of the summit is to make the students realize that despite the sometimes daunting challenges of climate change, they can make a difference.

“I think there already is kind of a broad interest base out there,” she said, “but at the same time I think introducing something that can be super tangible and really empowering for students is also a really interesting thing for kids to check out.”

So Fontein's break-out group learns about the basics of electricity conservation. How an electric grid works, what a kilowatt hour is and how to calculate it, and where the students could find savings back at their schools.

And with 26 high schools across the state represented at the summit, making each school even a little bit more energy efficient could make a difference.