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Woodstock students petition town to declare climate emergency

Avari Shewmaker, Laura Shands and Eliza Dodson of Change the World Kids, ask for community support in the Petition for a Climate Emergency Declaration.

By Virginia Dean
The 45 members of Woodstock’s Change the World Kids (CTWK) are taking Swedish teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s warning on climate change seriously by galvanizing for more action to combat the impact of global warming.
“I want you to act as if you would in a crisis,” Thunberg said to world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland in January 2019. “I want you to act as if the house was on fire, because it is.”

As a result, CTWK members have joined, in partnership with Sustainable Woodstock, the recent Climate Emergency movement by gathering signatures on a petition that compels local, national and international governments to adopt an emergency response to climate change and the broader ecological crisis.

“CTWK is involved because its members in the Woodstock area see it as a priority but feel that it is not being acted on,” said CTWK facilitator Pieter Bohen. “Now, we’re bringing it to a new level of concern.”
Local residents Anne Macksoud and Richard Schramm were inspired in the late summer to ignite the Climate Emergency petition drive in Woodstock and enlisted CTWK members to actualize it.

By Pieter Bohen
Mateo Bango and June Dodson of Change the World Kids meet with Ana DiNatalie to discuss the Declaration for a Climate Emergency.

“The climate crisis is real, serious, and impacts the world,” said Schramm. “These impacts can be seen in Vermont and hurt many groups unfairly. It’s getting worse, and we have limited time to respond. It is truly a climate emergency.”

When the Climate Mobilization was founded at the People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014, there was no climate group publicly organizing around the need for a WWII-scale emergency action on climate.

Thus, the Climate Emergency campaign was founded in the U.S. (Hoboken, New Jersey) in 2017 and has worked with grassroots activists, political leaders, and organizations around the world to pass local Climate Emergency Declarations. The campaign originated in the city of Darebin, Australia in December 2016.

Over 1,170 local governments in 23 countries have declared a climate emergency as a rallying cry for the next phase of the climate movement. Current strategic priorities for local campaigns include passing declarations of Climate Emergency with a commitment to reach zero emissions and begin carbon drawdown at emergency speed (10 years or less); local elected leaders to become advocates for emergency climate mobilization to the public, other cities, and state and national governments; and to develop and implement a mobilization policy locally after a declaration is passed.

By Pieter Bohen
Aidan Reed and Erica Kurash of Change the World Kids petition in front of the Woodstock Post Office.

With a goal of 500 local signatures, CTWK members had 78 as of the end of last week. Once their target is reached, the petition will be given in early December to the Woodstock Select Board whose members in turn will present the document at Town Meeting in March 2020 for approval.

“This has been a great opportunity for us to get out in public, have discussions and good experiences,” said Bohen. “It’s been great for the kids.”

Of its 45 members, 10 have been stationed at the local post office with a few out and about in town. Members arrive right after school lets out at 2:45 p.m. and stay until 4:30 p.m.

“It is with hope that, as a town, an emergency is declared for a few reasons, one of which is that we are leaders of the conservation movement beginning with (19th Century environmentalist) George Perkins Marsh,” said Woodstock Union High School senior and CTWK member Erica Kurash. “It’s our responsibility to uphold that dedication to conservation by declaring an emergency and putting measures in place to ensure that, as a town, we are climate resilient.”
CTWK member and WUHS freshman Mateo Bango noted that there is much to be done in little time, and that the petition is a good step to slow down CO2 emissions.

“It’s important to cut down on our carbon emissions as much as possible,” said Bango. “The police cars loitering around town all day are putting out a lot, along with most of the town. If we could make sustainability a priority for the town, things like new police cars would be easier on nature.”

Kurash and Bango were part of the student strike last March to demand climate change. Organizer and student activist Kurash was inspired by Thunberg and, when Kurash learned that Thunberg’s movement was going global, she gathered other students to bring it to Vermont. In Woodstock, students walked from the high school into town. Community members were invited and encouraged to participate in the strike.

In mid-September 2019, Woodstock Union Middle and High School Principal Garon Smail and student organizers came up with a different plan for another strike. Instead of leaving campus and facing in-school suspensions, students participated in workshops centered around climate change during a two-hour delay before regularly scheduled class time began.

At the time, Kurash said the alternative plan addressed both safety concerns and engagement issues she witnessed at the March strike.

“With the strike in March,” Kurash said, “people (were) walking out but they didn’t know what they were supporting.”
Thus far, in Vermont, the towns of Norwich and Burlington have passed the Climate Emergency Resolution.
“The idea for a climate emergency declaration came from a member of the community,” said Burlington Select Board member, City Councilor (Ward 6) and certified public accountant Karen Paul.

“I was inspired by his arguments, and we discussed other communities who are issuing (them). The more I learned about a declaration and the reasons for such a resolution, the greater my resolve to bring this about. Burlington is and has been a national leader in energy efficiency, clean renewable energy and being a responsible steward for the environment while also being mindful of keeping our electric rates affordable,”she added.

Burlington is currently working toward net zero energy use in 11 years, Paul said.

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