BRATTLEBORO -- Paul Cameron from Brattleboro Climate Protection spoke candidly with students about the effects of climate change, saying that it would be an issue that their generation would likely have to deal with this century.

"I think it's important you learn about this and learn about ways to deal with this issue and it doesn't become something overwhelming," he shared. "If you can take action at the local level, you can really make a difference. There's no reason to feel powerless. You can make a difference."

On Nov. 12, students from the Hilltop Montessori Middle School hosted a roundtable discussion focused on environmental topics such as climate change and energy efficiency.

Former Program Director of the MBA in Managing Sustainabity at the Marlboro College Graduate Center Dr. Ralph Meima said that economics but also science had always inspired him to follow his line of work. Although he has been involved in management and business practices, he currently serves as a consultant with Project Atlantic, which is a collaborative program with Brattleboro Union High School. The program is based on exploring strategies that are being employed in European communities to lower their carbon footprint.

"I'm just interested in what happens that gives everyone a better life," he said. "The course of human events can lead to better or worse conditions."

Climate change, the end of humanity's reliance on fossil fuels and the disappearance of the middle class in America were topics that Meima has been reading up on.

"These are huge things that are like rivers carrying us along," he said.

Katherine Gillespie from Food Connects told the students that she's been pondering ways to leave the world a more beautiful place ever since reading a children's book where a character is completely focused on that task.

"That was a hard question for me," she said. "I wanted to do everything."

Improving people's lives at the local level is part of the goal at Food Connects. Gillespie stated that one in five children in Windham County are food insecure.

One of the latest initiatives includes offering farm to table options to schools as well as to the parents who drop their children off the facilities.

"We're trying to come up with innovative strategies to get that food to more members of our community," she added.

Guy Payne from the Sustainable Energy Outreach Network talked about having a sense of connectedness and urged the children to remember that every decision they make is an energy related decision.

"Climate change is not an ‘issue.' It's not a thing to turn to on a spare moment," Tim Stevenson from Post Oil Solutions added to that thought. "It's a way of life we need to address now."

When the panel was asked about when oil may run out, Meima discussed how it wouldn't necessarily run out, but it would become more expensive to access.

"When it takes more energy than you actually get out of it, you've kind of reached a point of no return," he said.

Conversation shifted to how the students and others can actively participate in addressing climate change. Making conscious decisions to turn off lights and ride bicycles rather than driving in cars were mentioned by the students. Writing letters to the editors of local newspapers and legislators was another suggestion by panel members.

"I always get on my brother's case. He never turns lights out," said one student. "He leaves a trail of lights on."

Other students spoke of their composting efforts, while others' families raised chickens for eggs. Using reusable bags at stores was another idea. Approximately five students have solar panels on their families' homes.

This discussion followed the Youth Environmental Summit in Barre, which the Hilltop Montessori students attended on Nov. 6. It was an annual conference where middle and high school students have the opportunity to learn about climate change and how to get involved at the local level.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.