By HARRIETTE BRAINARD
ADDISON COUNTY — What could be America’s largest demonstration calling attention to global warming is scheduled to kick off in Addison County on Labor Day Weekend.
A concerned group of citizens covering the spectrum from farmers, hikers, hunters, birdwatchers, students, businesses, scholars and sugar-makers from across the Champlain Valley have signed up to walk from Ripton to Burlington in a five-day event dubbed “The Road Less Traveled: Vermonters Walking Toward A Clean Energy Future.”
Participants will gather at noon Thursday, Aug. 31, at Robert Frost’s writing cabin off Route 125 in Ripton. The hope is that by leaving from Frost’s cabin, participants will “find strength within Vermont’s Yankee heritage, which addressed problems forthrightly and figured out how to solve them,” said Will Bates, a recent Middlebury College graduate who organized the walk along with a half dozen other local people.
“This is not a partisan event, nor is concern about global warming confined to ‘environmentalists,’” Bates said. “We are parents and grandparents, and young people facing lifetimes on a warming planet. We are people of faith, and secular people devoted to the common good.”
Participants will walk first to Middlebury on Thursday, then on Friday morning, Sept. 1, the walk will head to Vergennes, and on to Charlotte on that Saturday. From there walkers will head to Shelburne Farms on Sunday.
Each daily journey will culminate in an evening featuring talks, music, and town meeting-style open forums. There will also be a special church service Sunday morning at 10 a.m. at the Charlotte Congregational Church.
Organizers encourage people to join them for the entire walk, but if they are unable to do that they are welcome to join any individual part of the five-day journey. So far about 20 people have signed up to participate in the entire walk. They will be camping each night and will be fed by area residents, volunteers and various organizations, all of whom have offered donations.
Only those who have signed up will be able to camp with the group each night, except on Sunday night when those who bring their own gear are invited to camp overnight at Shelburne Farms.
It is hoped that the largest crowd will be on Labor Day when participants will leave from Shelburne Farms at 9 a.m. to march together into downtown Burlington and gather for a rally at 2 p.m. on the Burlington Public Library steps where they will be addressed by U.S. Sen. James Jeffords. Many Vermont political candidates have also been invited to speak. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has been invited to speak in Middlebury.
One goal is to get Vermont politicians to take a stand on a national stage in favor of taking action to stem global warming. It is also hoped that those who are being affected by global warming — snowmobilers, skiers, farmers and sugarmakers, to name a few — will also step up and make their voices heard.
Bates noted that Jeffords, the independent senator who is retiring at the end of this term, “has introduced legislation on global warming that goes further than any previous effort to really grapple with this problem. One of our aims is to make sure that his principles — an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, 20 percent renewable power by 2020, and cars that get at least 40 miles per gallon — prevail on Capital Hill.”
Walk organizers, including Addison County Relocalization Network, said that Vermont has long been a harbinger of important issues facing the nation and that confronting global warming is no different.
Although, members of this group recognize that many in Vermont have taken steps to cut fossil fuels and make changes in their own lives — such as by changing light bulbs, adjusting thermostats, insulating homes and eating locally — organizers know that those actions are still not enough given the magnitude of the problem posed by global warming.
Global problems also demand leadership from the federal government, and that leadership has fallen far short, Bates said. “The Congress has decided that all legislation addressing this issue must pass through a committee chaired by a man, James Imhofe (Republican senator from Oklahoma), who calls global warming ‘a hoax,’” Bates said.
BIRTH OF AN IDEA
The idea for the walk came from Bill McKibben, a Middlebury College scholar in residence and author of “The End of Nature,” a wake-up call on global warming. In the third week of July, he put out a general call to friends and associates floating the idea of the walk on global warming. The idea caught on with much of the organizing carried out by Bates, Johanna Miller, and Becca Sobel, a Greenpeace representative.
“By now most people understand it’s for real, but it’s rarely anyone’s top issue,” McKibben said. “But that has to change — global warming is threatening … to get totally out of control.”
McKibben has added his considerable prestige to garner some media attention and other community leaders, including John Elder, have helped make the walk a reality.
Elder, a Middlebury College English professor, stressed that this event will not look at the doom and gloom aspects of global warming, but to celebrate what we have and make it fun.
“We love what we have in this state, and we will use it as a base of strength to take action,” he said. “The beauty is our strength, and we will use it to bring pressure on politicians to act on the most important issue of our time. It is a chance to do something on the defining issue of our day. It’s not enough, but it’s a start of something.”