Sustainability coordinator to be hired

Django Grace, 13, a seventh-grader at Brattleboro Area Middle School, stands in front of the entrance of Brattleboro Union High School to protest climate change as part of a global effort on Friday, March 15, 2019.

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BRATTLEBORO — Strong action on climate change is being proposed in a ballot question the Windham Southeast School District Climate Crisis Task Force wants to bring to voters.

“It’s a crisis,” Thomas Nolan, WSESD School Board member and task force chairman, said in an interview Wednesday. “I think everyone at this point deep down understands that, but it’s a question of if people will take the necessary steps: It’s either we change or the climate changes — it’s nonnegotiable — and I think we should change.”

On Tuesday, the task force voted to bring a ballot question to the School Board in hopes of the district presenting it at the same time as the budget. The proposed ballot would ask voters to make the climate crisis “the top priority” by becoming a carbon-neutral district by Jan. 1, 2025; immediately adopting a plant-based food system; devoting one school day each month to a Climate Emergency Day where education is focused solely on mitigating climate change and living with its consequences; immediately having one day each month for staff development on current climate emergency reports with a focus on how to present findings to students on Climate Emergency Days and creating action plans for responding to the emergency; and making climate costs a higher priority than financial costs.

Nolan hopes the board will discuss the proposal soon. He said it comes after about two years of studying and debate, with the task force coming up with a long list of policy changes and ways to implement them.

“It was rejected by the board, public and staff,” he said of previous efforts.

Nolan said the latest proposal has some similarities to previous pitches but leaves the action items more open ended, whereas earlier ideas were very specific. Some people say the proposal is “extremely bold” and “doomed to failure,” he said, but he hopes voters will get behind it and see climate issues as a crisis that needs immediate action.

“This is not to make a point,” he said. “This is hopefully to get it passed.”

On carbon neutrality, he said the task force wants to see deductions not offsetting.

“We’re talking about reduction and we’re talking about what options do we have and what we can do that is bold and give our children hope for the future,” he said. “Right now, kids are really scared about inaction from adults.”

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Task force members include Nolan and fellow board member Tim Maciel, community members, a faculty member and a high school student. Maciel led efforts that brought about a plastic bag ban in Brattleboro.

Brattleboro Common Sense Director Kurt Daims also is on the task force. BCS has pitched similar initiatives on the municipal level.

Daims said he brought what he called the Greta Thunberg Resolution, named after the young Swedish climate activist, to the task force about a year ago with the intent of stating the purpose of education is to survive the climate crisis. Inspired by Thunberg’s decision to stop attending school to urge leaders to take immediate action, the idea was to have students take a day off each week for climate activism.

The task force discussed the resolution again in May and “they were ready to talk about it,” Daims said. He viewed modifications and an addition proposed by Nolan and Maciel as wise.

“They didn’t want to declare the purpose of education was to survive climate crisis but they added a day a month for teachers to educate themselves on climate crisis and the students should take a day off from their regular studies and have a climate study day,” Daims said. “They also added that everyone in the schools should convert to vegetarianism because [meat consumption] is one of the biggest causes of climate crisis.”

Unhappy about the timeline, Daims would want to hold a vote sooner.

Before going to voters, the School Board would need to approve warning the ballot question. The district spans schools in Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford and Putney.

Nolan described being cautiously optimistic about the task force’s goal of convincing people the climate crisis requires this level of action. Vermont may be the most sustainable states and the Brattleboro area may be one the pockets most attuned to climate issues, he said, but the district might give courage to others and spark inspiration elsewhere if the proposal is adopted.

“We’re getting to the point of no return for the planet,” Nolan said. “We need to take some action. I’m sure it will be a lively debate.”