Our opinion: Passing the baton on climate change

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It seems every time there is a public demonstration about an important issue, the critics jump on the bandwagon to discredit those who are doing the protesting. More often than not, their criticism of the issue itself falls flat, so they resort to name-calling and making generalizations about people they don't even know, all in an effort to deflect attention away from the topic at hand.

A case in point is last Friday's Global Climate Strike, a worldwide movement that has garnered a lot of support here in Bennington County. Countless people of all ages, from all walks of life, in communities large and small took to the streets to draw attention to the dire consequences of climate change — from severe flooding in some areas and drought in others, to melting ice caps that could release poisonous methane gas into our atmosphere. Many of the protesters were youth who are too young to cast a vote for or against the leaders making decisions that will affect their future. They are frustrated with the inaction of these leaders — especially the current occupant of the White House, who seems intent on not only ignoring environmental issues but rolling back regulations on hard-won protections.

So their only recourse is to protest publicly and loudly. And now they are being attacked on social media — not so much for the message itself but for the way they presented it.

Climate change deniers are ridiculing the protesters on multiple fronts. They offer no real scientific evidence to support their denial, so they make personal attacks and try to deflect the conversation away from the central issue. They accuse protesters of being brainwashed by liberal politicians, teachers and the media, while ignoring the fact that the majority of scientists are the ones warning of climate change.

The critics say most students don't truly care about or understand the issue, that they only joined in to skip class. And they make these assumptions without even knowing any of the students. They say students should stay in school and get an education. But the climate strike itself was educational. Those who do care about the issue got a great civics lesson on democracy in action, and those who were only looking to get out of class (and we don't deny there were more than a few of those) still got an education in the same, and hopefully absorbed the seriousness of the message itself.The critics also accuse the protesters of being hypocrites because they have electrical gadgets and use fossil fuels to heat their homes and drive their cars. But addressing climate change does not mean we all need to revert back to the days of the caveman. It is possible to scale back on the damage we are inflicting on our one and only planet while still maintaining the conveniences and technology we enjoy. Instead of rolling back environmental protections, the United States should be leading the way toward newer, better and less polluting technology.

As one poster on our Facebook page put so eloquently: "We can teach them to build better cars, plant more trees, protect our drinking water, and build solar and wind energy BUT when you have politicians that destroy the very protections other generations worked hard to put in place, MAYBE the only way left is to protest in mass to say STOP the insanity!"

The fact is, our own history shows that protesting works. As another Facebook poster noted, "It's one of the most effective ways for the small and powerless individuals to demonstrate their collective strength to those in power. It is in itself a form of action, one guaranteed to us by the founders for a reason."

No society progresses and improves by having its citizens sit by on the sidelines and let politicians and the rich elite maintain the status quo that benefits only those in power and ultimately hurts the masses. It is the mass protests that force the hand of our leaders to make the right decisions for better change. The very birth of this nation started with protests, and numerous other examples followed. The Civil War ended slavery, but it was the outspoken abolitionists who brought the issue to the public eye and consciousness. The same holds true for woman's suffrage, the labor moments that gave a multitude of rights to the working class, civil rights demonstrations for minority groups, and even the early days of the environmental movement that gave us laws that have resulted in a marked improvement in our air and water. Remember when we had rivers that would spontaneously combust, or smog that choked our lungs and burned our eyes?

The environmental movement that started decades ago is still going on. Some things have gotten better, but there are still more challenges ahead of us and our children. It's time to pass the baton to the next generation, and it's heartening to see so many willing to pick it up and carry it forward.

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