University of Vermont

University Communications

Through the Night for Climate

bus trip to D.C. climate rally
Climate crisis? Likely. Energized for change? Definitely. Making their voices heard, more than 50 UVM students traveled by bus to the nation's capital to join a climate change rally. (photo courtesy Jon Erickson)

For some UVM students, pulling an all-nighter doesn’t mean finishing a term paper.

Close to midnight on February 16, forty-eight UVM students boarded a bus at the Davis Center circle -- along with Jon Erickson, the interim dean of UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and a professor in the school’s Environmental Program, Amy Seidl.

The students and faculty drove though the night to join about 40,000 other protesters at the “Forward on Climate” rally in Washington, D.C., the next day.

Described as the “largest climate change rally in U.S. history” by the Sierra Club, one of the event’s organizers, a main aim of the rally was to urge President Obama to reject the controversial Keystone XL pipeline expansion that would carry crude oil from Canadian tar sands across the United States to refineries in Texas.

“Obama owes it to his voters to uphold his promises about responding to climate change,” said UVM environmental sciences major Ruth Shafer '13, “Obviously there are many, many battles beyond Keyston XL, but this is a symbolic one.”

UVM junior Rachel Markey decided to attend the rally “because of the possibility of massive change,” she said. “Finally, there was one cohesive event to gain attention of not only the government, but America.”

Climate signs

They joined other UVM students in Washington, and another UVM professor, Cami Davis, some of whom had traveled on buses organized by the climate change activism group, 350.org. More than fifty UVM students in total attended the rally.

On a cold and blustery day, the protesters gathered near the Washington Monument and marched past the White House, carrying banners that read “stop climate chaos,” “the rich get richer and the poor get warmer,” and “green power to the people.”

One sign read “Support Sanders/Boxer climate change bill,” showing support for comprehensive climate change legislation introduced into the U.S. Senate on Valentine’s Day by Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and California’s Barbara Boxer.

One of the rally’s main organizers, Vermont writer and climate activist Bill McKibben, described the pipeline as “the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.”

Unconventional crude

Many climate experts are worried about tar sands because the difficult task of extracting and refining them emits substantially more greenhouse gases than conventional oil extraction.

NASA climate scientist James Hansen, writing in the New York Times, argues that if people extract and burn the oil contained in Canadian tar sands “it will be game over for the climate.”

These vast underground oil fields “contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies,” Hansen wrote, “global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction.”

Forerunners

The students felt uplifted by their fellow protesters, “not just college kids, but parents with their children, grandparents, all kinds of people,” said Ruth Shafer. “The energy was so positive, despite how dire the situation is.”

Erickson and the UVM students again drove into the night, returning to Vermont at 3 a.m. on Monday, President’s Day.

“My decision to attend the rally was backed strongly by (the Rubenstein School's) goal to help their students become forerunners and leaders on environmental issues,' said Rachel Markey. "I felt very supported by the school community and all of those who I attended the event with.”