Battery park hosts global warming rally

On a picturesque cloudy, crisp autumn Saturday morning, a diverse crowd found themselves unified by a similar interest in the environment.

In front of a stage in the middle of Battery Park in downtown Burlington, a spirit of hope loomed in the air: people lounging on the grass were chattering anxiously, children were running about and tables were set up to bring awareness for political figures and environmental organizations.

“Register to Vote!” signs lined the perimeter of the park, with people campaigning for Vermont gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina and the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Organizations such as the Global Warming Education Network and 350 VT had tables swarming with curious attendees asking questions and finding out more information.

On this day, 350 VT, the Vermont chapter of a “global organization to raise awareness of the number 350 – the safe upper limit for atmospheric carbon dioxide in parts per million that we must return to in order to maintain a stable climate for the future,” according to the 350vt.org Web site – held an event in the spirit of a political rally to bring awareness to the climate movement and make a call for green jobs.

Bill McKibben, the founder of 350 and an environmentalist and writer who spoke to the Honors College on Sept. 17 about global warming and global action, led the speakers with a description of how his organization seeks to enact change.

“We can’t get [the carbon emissions lowered] by one life at a time, one college campus at a time. We can only make changes if changes are made at the top of leadership – with leaders who enact state, national and international policies to aid usage of alternative energy sources,” McKibben said.

After putting the crowd on their feet, McKibben continued by explaining how 350 can bring these changes.

“These policy changes will not be enacted by leaders unless groups of people demonstrate their want for change,” he said. “350 helps give these groups of people ways to demonstrate their feelings.”

He continued by telling stories of churches ringing their bells 350 times and a farmer in Cameroon planting 350 trees in solidarity.

McKibben invited Vermont political figures to sign the “350 pledge,” a statement endorsing actions to reduce carbon emissions. After signing, Anthony Pollina and Gaye Symington explained their viewpoints.

In an attempted persuasive speech, Pollina stated that, “Vermont needs to regain leadership roles in environmental policies that we once had” and we have to “stand up against all of the people who wish we would be quiet.”

Gay Symington, the Democratic candidate for Vermont governor and the current Vermont Speaker of the House, also signed and argued that “nuclear power is not emission free,” and we ought “to get skills to help out” by producing more environmental engineers who can build solar panels and other renewable energies.

Then, two students from the University of Vermont, junior Jared Alvard and freshman Jean Stolts spoke. Alvard, the president of the UVM Campus Energy Group, spoke about the ‘Power Vote’ campaign.

In unity with other colleges across the country, the campaign hopes to mobilize 1 million young voters to vote in support of green initiatives and green jobs.

Stolts, a freshman Environmental Engineering major, mentioned that she was glad that green jobs were being supported by events like these.

In culmination, the crowd of supporters stood on their heads in a circle for climate change, a symbolic gesture to denote their support and call for change. As the day came to a close, the No Name Band played politically tinged Bob Dylan-esque songs and people ate free Ben and Jerry’s cones with an “If it’s melted, it’s ruined” wrapper in the spirit of the cause.

While the crowd varied from young to old, a common bond brought them together. An older lady walked out of the park with a polar bear on her back and a “Stop global warming, save the polar bears” shirt on.

A college student ran out with a “Join the American Energy Revolution” shirt on. A young child, wearing a “For a Brighter Planet” shirt, clung to his mother. And each left, more informed than when they arrived.