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What one high school senior has learned from climate activism in Vermont

A young man with curly hair and a tie dye t-shirt with Snoopy lying on top of a globe stands on the Vermont Statehouse steps next to a podium that reads Rally for the Planet!
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
Django Grace of Brattleboro has been a climate activist since middle school. He reflected on what he's learned from activism in Vermont.

Last week, middle and high school students with the Vermont Youth Lobby marched to the Statehouse to call for climate action. Kids from all over the state — from Brattleboro, St. Johnsbury, Essex and other communities — urged adults to do more to fight climate change in Vermont.

Vermont Public's Abagael Giles spoke to Brattleboro senior Django Grace. This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Abagael Giles: Django, I'm curious, just given your experience with activism around climate issues in Vermont, now that you're a senior, what are some of the things that are on your mind? Like, what have you learned from your years of doing this work here?

Django Grace: I've learned that Vermont is incredible. And it has its problems. But the thing that sticks out to me is that Vermont has very direct ways to get involved with those problems. You can pretty directly go and like, change the way things are working, which is something that I really like about Vermont. And I'm pretty sure that's pretty unique in the rest of the country.

Abagael Giles: Django, I'm curious: I know at the governor's press conference, he expressed his intent to veto several major climate bills that were spoken about today. You know, the Flood Safety Act, Climate Superfund Act, the update to the Renewable Energy Standard. And a lot of, I think, what we heard from him was concern about cost. And I just wanted to sort of put to you: As a young person, what do you make of hearing people in positions of power raise that concern about climate action in Vermont?

More from Vermont Public: Gov. Scott vetoes major electricity bill, legislative leadership pledges to override

Django Grace: There's no cost I wouldn't pay to have the experience of showing my grandchildren what skiing is. Like that, I understand that there are very fragile networks that we have, having to do with economics, that are supporting people in the state and it's very hard to change those things. That said, we, again, we can't be following the puck. We can't be looking right at our feet. I mean, we have to look up.

Pretty much every scientific consensus across the world is telling us that we need to do more than what we're doing. And it's going to hit us with extreme costs. We're going to have to pay extreme upfront costs. But those costs down the line are only going to magnify exponentially as we keep letting these things pile up.

Abagael Giles: I was really struck by what you said about what it would mean for you to be able to take your grandkids skiing. And I'm curious, you know, as a young person, do you think that the weight of that question, the uncertainty of that being possible, is felt as heavily as people who are older in our state than you are?

Django Grace: Absolutely not. I think it's felt in a very different way. One thing that I've come to understand is that people who are in older generations have a fundamentally different perspective of this crisis than we do. And it's not something that I think we'll ever be able to change.

Just because, like, I've grown up in this reality. A lot of us are growing up in this reality. Like, it can feel like you're growing up in an apocalypse, which is a terrible thing. And I know that previous generations have experienced similar things. But I mean, this is like, this is a scientific apocalypse that's happening globally. And that is unprecedented.

And I just think that I have witnessed a lot of, like, elders and people being so motivated to support us. But then beyond saying, “Thank you for fighting this fight, thank you for being here. Thank you for coming to this meeting,” there's nothing there. Which is something very dangerous.

You know, it's one of the social ills that people talk about, but there's no urgency. And that is really terrifying to me.

A white posterboard sign sits in the grass outside. The sign reads "We shall overcome" in block letters, with the letter O forming a red no symbol with a line through the middle over CO2.
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
A student's sign from the Vermont Youth Lobby's climate action rally at the Statehouse on May 23.

Abagael Giles: What is helpful? Like, what would you like from older generations in this moment? What do you feel is useful to you, as a young person growing up at this sort of point of climate change?

Django Grace: I mean, what it comes down to, really I think, is like, consistency. I mean, what I want to see is people who are advocating for this, people who are in the mass of people that care about it, but aren't, like, on the front lines of action. I want those people to bring a higher level of consistency to their actions.

Abagael Giles: I feel like what I'm hearing from you is like, skin in the game, especially from older people. 

Django Grace: 100% 100%. I mean, it's like — I hate to use this argument, but older generations have put us in this position. And that doesn't mean that it's not our job to fight it, to fight climate change. I think it's every single person on this globe’s [job], especially those in wealthy nations, and especially those in affluent parts of the country.

More from Vermont Public: Here are the bills vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott

Abagael Giles: I'm also curious: I heard you speak today about the need for youth activists in particular to think about the long game which can be hard because you talked about how, you know, you graduate from your local high school.

Django Grace: One of the main things is that it can feel really, like, unappealing. Like, it is so grossly weird feeling when you're, like, walking, holding a sign, everyone's looking at you and then you're like, about to start a chant. And everyone's just like, “What the hell are these guys doing?”

Like, you know, it can feel — it's embarrassing, is what it is, a lot of the time.

So I would tell people just to, like, lose your embarrassment. Because once you make the first step, people will get behind you. I mean, everyone knows that this is the thing that we're going to be dealing with for the rest of our lives.

Abagael Giles: What gives you hope? And like, what keeps you going? Like, how do you take care of yourself in the moments when you feel like this, this feels insurmountable to you?

Django Grace: Yeah, I mean, two things. One is, like, go outside. I have a river behind my house. I'm super lucky. And I go to the river and I sit by the river. And at like, the worst low points in my life, I've gone to the river and I've just, like, chilled there. And it always reminds me, like, why I'm doing this.

Like, like, I hate to say this, but like, I'm gonna go down fighting no matter what. And that's hope.

Everyone's like, “Oh, like, how are you such an optimist?” Like, “Why [and] how do you keep your head up?”

And it's like, "Dude, I don't. I'm not an optimist. I'm a scientist." The data is what brings me back, like the actual, like, scientific consensus that there is a hope. And the only way to literally survive for generations in the future is to do this work, to engage with climate change, to bring these radical changes about, to maybe shoulder a bunch of really rough costs, maybe take a very large upfront step, maybe make a lot of mistakes on the way. But the only way that we're going to get there is by going for it.

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Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.

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