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Judith Schwartz on art as a vessel for localized environmental justice

The desire to take action against climate change is becoming increasingly important as the effects of global warming are becoming more detrimental. Hurricanes are increasingly violent, temperatures rise and disrupt the natural homeostasis of the planet, and many species and habitats are at risk of extinction. The nature of the issue is overwhelming, and can leave many people to look outwards for ways to advocate for environmental justice.

Organizations like the Climate Advocates of Bennington give everyday people a community to engage together about ideas and initiatives to help preserve our planet and create a better, more sustainable tomorrow. 

The Climate Advocates of Bennington is a branch of 350Vermont, a statewide, independent, non-profit organization committed to climate action across Vermont. Both of these organizations are local sectors of 350.org, an international organization working towards climate justice and renewable energy through community collaboration. 

This stratification across the local, state, and national level may seem bureaucratic at first glance, an environmental version of the federalist nature of America. However, the localization of 350.org’s services provides intimate educational opportunities for their members. 

Such services include a talk with Bennington resident and author of multiple books concerning our climate, Judith Schwartz.

On Tuesday, October 16th Climate Advocates of Bennington hosted Judith Schwartz over Zoom. She is originally from Schenectady, NY but has resided in Bennington for the last few decades. 

Scwartz began her career in writing through journalism, contributing to local newspapers and taking work wherever it was available. When the writing scene in Bennington was not offering, she looked further into the international scope.

For Schwartz, the nature of journalism is to write about what is relevant in the world we live in. What has become increasingly relevant and vital is addressing climate change to create environmental justice. Thus, she was drawn to this subject with great fervor. 

Her first foray into environmental writing was Water in Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World, a nonfiction piece that acts as a “reminder that fixing the future of our dying planet involves understanding what makes natural systems thrive.” 

The book describes the cycle of water and how it is changing as a direct result of the destructive faculties of global warming through stories from around the world meant to inspire the resuscitation and growth of lush landscapes. 

She is not trying to imitate “zero-sum” logic which aims to balance losses and gains, to create a state of neutrality as opposed to the current system of degradation on an environmental level. Instead, she attempts to transcend that with the belief that we can alter the earth for the better through intentional agricultural action. Essentially, with the right practices, we do not have to settle for the middle-ground; we can create positive, long lasting change for a better tomorrow. 

After Judith talked about her work, she took suggestions for discussion from the virtual crowd. The Climate Advocates of Bennington have been working on a reforestation initiative that aligns with the ethos of Judith’s writing. They aim to plant approximately a thousand trees in the Bennington area to sequester carbon. In doing so, they are replenishing the habitat for the purpose of reversing the detriments of mass amounts of carbon emissions on our environment. 

At the moment, the project is still in its early stages; the Advocates are figuring out what kind of trees would be most beneficial to plant here and what area they will be planting in. Reg, an active member of the local organization, wanted to know what non-farming initiatives they could do as none of the members of the organization are farmers by trade. Judith’s suggestion was to involve more permaculture, which involves a set of principles for ecological design that emulates and utilizes patterns already found in natural ecosystems. Permaculture is a wide field that the Climate Advocates of Bennington seemed eager to further explore on their own.

As a whole, Schwartz encapsulates a very common goal through her art; to create a better tomorrow. By engaging with the community in this way, she bridges the gap COVID creates in order to expand her voice. She gives vocalizations to her writing, promotes her art while taking her findings to the local level to create positive change for a better environment, and a better world. 

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