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Weis: Beyond Paris

Abraham Lincoln – a favorite of current day Republicans, Democrats, and even Independent Socialists – once spoke these words: “(L)et it be remembered” our great sixteenth President said, “that… the exultations and mortifications of the present, are but temporary; that the victor shall soon be the vanquished… and that the vanquished this year, may be victor the next.”

It’s a quote I’ve found helpful in trying to account for the Trump administration’s announcement that the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

When called upon to describe my work these days, I usually say I specialize in Triple E. Not Early Essential Education, as the acronym usually signifies, but Education, English, and the Environment, since these are the subjects I’ve taught for years now to various classes of college students – most of them at Johnson State’s idyllic hilltop campus.

So you can well imagine how alarmed I’ve been to think that America is willing to relinquish its global leadership role in meeting the threat that climate change poses to our environment, our economy, and our national security.

Then I remembered something Senator Sanders said just a few weeks ago at our college’s commencement. He strongly emphasized the importance of supporting higher education in Vermont as a means of ensuring the ongoing existence of our democratic system, not to mention our entire planet.

For the sake of future generations, he urged our latest graduates to get involved in the political process. And this in turn, reminded me of something another famous Vermonter once said. Educator John Dewey observed that “Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.”

And therein lies hope.

Surely, regardless of our individual political leanings, we all see the essential role education plays in creating an informed electorate. Without studying seminal events in our past, for instance, we can’t possibly make wise decisions about the critical issues of our own time, including those associated with climate change.

In the meantime, history also teaches us that “This, too, shall pass” - something else President Lincoln knew well. So instead of giving in to despair about the daunting challenges ahead, it’s important to remain engaged, educate ourselves and our children, and continue to look for solutions, no matter what setbacks we may encounter.

Russ Weis advises first-year students at Northern Vermont University in Johnson, where he also teaches writing and works closely with two student environmental groups.
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