According to a recent Washington Post poll, more than 70 percent of teenagers and young adults believe their generation will be moderately or greatly harmed by climate change. One in four reported having taken some kind of action to express their views on the issue.
The zeal of Vermont's youth was on display Friday when thousands of people flooded the streets of Burlington and other Vermont towns and cities to demand action against climate change. Speakers at the rally at Burlington's City Hall expounded hope and, in a few cases, called for an overhaul of the country's economic and agricultural systems.
The climate strikes in Vermont were organized by more than a dozen groups, including climate activist organizations from high schools and colleges. Many Vermont businesses closed their doors so employees could participate in the strike, including Burton, Ben & Jerry's and Seventh Generation.
Seven Days spoke to several strike attendees of all ages about their feelings around the climate future and whether they think climate change will affect them personally. Many reported feeling anxious or even terrified, but some also expressed hope.
Their remarks have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
I have a really hard time accepting that so many people are in positions where the only logical choice for them is to look out for No. 1. It’s really sad that so many people are suffering and so many people are deprived of opportunities and deprived of the ability to provide for themselves and their families.
In my opinion, if business needs to go on and people need to continue to turn the wheel that makes money flow, let’s change the wheel. Change business so that it doesn’t have to negatively impact our environment. Break down whatever barriers there are holding us to fossil fuels as our only viable energy source. Make demands that any business that transacts with human beings needs to consider human beings’ well-being. All of that can be done while still making money.
Matthew Fortenberry, 16, and Sierra Crist, 15 Fortenberry: We live in a ski resort [Stowe], so it’s gonna change a lot. Probably a lot more people coming up from warmer regions, but also losing more snow and stuff. Crist: A few years ago we didn’t even really have a winter. I was walking in shorts on Christmas Eve. Fortenberry: It would cause a lot of economic troubles if there were no tourists coming up to ski. So there’s gonna be a lot of people without jobs. [I’m] scared for our future. We’re all out here at these rallies, but I haven’t seen a lot change so far. I feel like in big groups we have a lot of power, but as an individual it’s very difficult to make an impact.
Caitlin Roth, 18
For me personally, I don’t think I would want to have a kid, bring a kid into this world. Because I just feel like it’s unethical, I guess. You’re basically giving birth for them to not live a nice clean life. I actually just had this conversation with my roommate. I’d rather adopt a kid than bring a new kid into this world.
I’m kind of mad, because I didn’t do this. I just want to live my life, and I don’t think I’ll be able to, because people would rather not change the world, to make money, than change so other people can have a good life. Which doesn’t make any sense to me.
Myrto Murphy (left) and Elizabeth Jameson are friends who attended together.
Elizabeth Jameson and Myrto Murphy:
Jameson: We grow food. And we snowboard. And we like fresh air and clean water and peace on earth. So those are all concerns of ours. I worry, but I am an optimist, and believe that the heart and compassion that I see starting with [my daughter] and other 4-year-olds, all the way up to the 10- and 11-year-olds that I know, and the kids who are here today. It’s all heart, and I think heart is what we need to move forward.
The reason why I’m here is I’m showing them that this is our ability in this country, and our responsibility, to stand together. And to show her that if there’s something that we’re opposed to and something that we believe in, we have this. We have strength in our community.
Murphy: It’s the most important subject that affects all of us. So when it comes to my daughter, I’m concerned that she will not be able to do things that I take for granted. I think soon she won’t be able to go swimming. And I think we are lucky to live on this part of the planet, because this is a good state. Because it’s not a big city, we won’t be, I hope, affected as soon as everyone else.
Isabel Suarez, 19
Absolutely I think climate change is going to affect me. I am a person of color, a woman, and I am in school to be a social worker right now. My aim is to work with communities of color in the United States, and other marginalized communities. It’s no secret that climate change disproportionately affects people of color in marginalized communities, especially poor communities. And I am going to be working with those communities and taking on a lot of their pain and a lot of their struggle.
It makes me very driven at school. I love all my social work classes and we talk about this a lot, because climate justice and environmental justice is a huge factor of equity in the United States, and getting to a more equitable location as a country. I do have hope. I don’t think I would be going into social work if I didn’t have hope. I know people can help people, and I’m so scared, but we’ve got to try. We’ve got to work our hardest, and we’ve got to bring down the capitalist elite and bring the working class up.
I’ve stopped having any hopes or aspirations for retirement. I think we’re going to have a situation in which climate catastrophe is going to impact lots of populations across the world. There’s going to be massive amounts of chaos as people are displaced by rising sea levels. We’re going to have massive needs for migration, and everything is going to be really really difficult.
I’m fortunate to work for a company that shares my values and is allowing me to be here today, and I just do the most that I personally can. I think it can [turn around]. But I think it’s really contingent on getting the current system out.