Greg Dennis: The kids say, 'Strike for climate'

It’s said that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.

The second-best time to plant a tree? Today.

So it is with climate change. If our society had decided 20 years ago to do something substantial about climate change, we would be much safer now. The transitions required today would not be so massive nor the timetable so short.

But it’s not 1999. So while the opportunities are bigger, so too are the challenges.

So big that the latest U.N. reports warn we have just 10 years to cut the entire planet’s emissions of greenhouse gases in half.

And if we don’t? We’re facing a world of transitions we won’t be able to choose or control. Among them: vast food shortages and rising seas levels that will dislocate up to a billion people and turn them into climate refugees. Indeed, climate change is already one driver behind the mass migration crisis at our southern border.

So what’s to be done?

We all can and should make individual changes. Drive less, consume less, conserve more. Offset our travel and other personal carbon emissions through nonprofits such as cooleffect.org.

Better yet, we need to let our political and business leaders know we expect them to act quickly to achieve deep and lasting reductions in carbon pollution.

And for those who are at all inclined to become more active, now is the time. A few years from now it may be too late.

Getting more involved is also good for one’s own well-being. It’s depressing to read and hear about climate change and just worry about it. Getting active and involved is the antidote to despair.

One inspiration comes from schoolchildren around the world, starting with Greta Thunberg. The Swedish teenager started refusing to go to school on Fridays, instead staging a one-girl sit-in on the steps of the Swedish Parliament.

Greta is a very smart person and a bit on the spectrum — so she has the laser-like focus that most people lack.

Once she learned about how climate change is altering the very basis for life on earth, she reasoned that she had been wasting her time. What sense did it make to go to school every day if she and her peers wouldn’t have a livable planet on which to use their education?

So she went on strike every Friday. Soon she was joined by other Swedish students and eventually by youth in many other lands, including the U.S.

Now she’s coming to America on a solar-powered sailboat. (Like a growing number of people, she refuses to fly due to the carbon pollution caused by planes.) Her speaking tour includes a United Nations climate conference in New York on Sept. 23.

But we shouldn’t have to rely on high school students for the rest of us to get off fossil fuels and save the planet. So youth activists are emphatically urging adults to join them in a global climate strike on Friday, Sept. 20, calling on leaders in every sector of society to act on climate. A week of actions in Vermont and around the U.S. will follow that, Sept. 21-28.

(For info on events in our state, see vermontclimatestrike.org. For general info go here and here.)

Ideally the climate strike would be a general strike around the world. Actions like that are relatively common in many countries.

But a general strike is a strange concept to most Americans. So organizers are asking adults to do even just a little bit to join students who will leave school on Sept. 20.

The hope is that adults who can’t strike for the entire Friday will at least symbolically walk out of their workplaces for a portion of the day. Even if it’s just for 30 minutes to send an email to political leaders calling on them to do something to slow global warming.

For many adults who choose to stick to business-as-usual on Sept. 20, it will be a message to our young people that we’re very sorry — but they’re now on their own to clean up the mess we helped to create.

The biggest climate strike event in Vermont will be a gathering in Burlington at noon on Sept. 20 at City Hall, 149 Church St.

That event and many others over the next seven days are being organized by a coalition of Vermont organizations including 350vermont.org, VPIRG, Extinction Vermont, and the Climate Economy Action Center of Addison County.

There’s plenty of room for supportive businesses to be part of Climate Week, too. Here in Addison County, for example, the Climate Economy Action Center is working with Green Mountain Power to organize electric vehicle events. GMP — one of the nation’s leading utilities when it comes to achieving cleaner electricity — is also planning other events around the state, including free EV rides.

It’s true that there’s little reason for optimism right now at the federal level. Fueled by millions of dollars in dark money from fossil fuel companies, the Trump Administration is rolling back legitimate scientific studies and weakening regulations that slow global heating.

That means it’s even more important for us to act on the local and state level. It’s there that the people have power, and it’s there that we can take back our democracy and begin to make America green again.

Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: gregdennisft@yahoo.com. Twitter: @greengregdennis.

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