Pedalling for a cause

Young adults bike through New England to raise awareness for global climate change

BRATTLEBORO — What would you do to support your cause?

Six young adults concerned about climate change are bicycling more than 1,000 miles around Vermont and New Hampshire to focus attention on the impacts of fossil fuel use on New England.

They arrived in Brattleboro on June 25 and departed on July 1. Between, they held “tabling” sessions at the Brattleboro Bike Shop, Burrow's Specialized Sports, and the Brattleboro Area Farmers' Market; held “climate cafés” at Equilibrium and the Stone Church; and generally made their presence felt around town.

This is the second consecutive year that riders from Climate Summer have stopped in Brattleboro. The program is sponsored by the Better Future Project, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit that says it is dedicated to “building a better world free from the burning of fossil fuels.”

The riders say they recognize the urgency of their cause.

The Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring tar sands oil from the province of Alberta in Canada to refineries in Texas, is just a presidential signature away from being built. Extreme weather events are increasing in number and intensity. Earlier this year, the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide increased to 400 parts per million, the highest this planet has seen in millions of years.

“Communities in this area are definitely aware of the effects of climate change,” said Ben Lilley of Astoria, Ore. “The challenge is to get people more involved and move them into action.”

For example, there have been indications that if TransCanada Corp. is not allowed to build Keystone XL, it may use an existing pipeline that now carries crude oil from Portland, Maine, to Montreal to transport tar sands oil from Quebec to Portland.

The 236-mile pipeline, built in 1941, passes through northern Vermont and New Hampshire on its way to the Sebago Lake watershed, which supplies Portland's drinking water and is a major tourism draw.

Recent oil spills in the United States, including one outside Little Rock, Ark., in March, have drawn attention to the corrosive nature of tar sands oil on existing pipelines.

Climate Summer is focusing on the Portland-Montreal pipeline, Lilley said, but the bigger mission is citizen involvement in crafting energy policy.

“Writing letters to your representatives doesn't sound like a lot, but it's how you start raising awareness,” he said. “And you could start with whatever you're interested in. If renewable energy is what interests you, talk about that. But nothing happens until you reach out.”

Taking small steps in the hope that they lead to bigger things is imbedded in their mission.

Traveling by bicycle reinforces the idea of getting away from cars to get around.

Sleeping at churches and making their own meals reinforces the idea of living simply.

And connecting with individuals at events such as the climate cafés, where participants are asked to share how climate change has affected their lives, reinforces the belief that one-on-one contact is how movements get started.

Twenty-four riders in all are crisscrossing New England as part of the Climate Summer efforts, Lilley said. There is a team in Maine, and two more in Massachusetts. All had a couple of weeks of preparation at Camp Wilmot in New Hampshire before going on their first ride from Wilmot, N.H., to Lowell, Mass., to begin their respective journeys.

“I've done bike tours before, but others didn't have a lot of experience in distance riding,” Lilley said.

The Vermont-New Hampshire team rode from Lowell to Brattleboro, and after their stay in Brattleboro, they saddled up to ride to Middlebury for a week-long residency there.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates