Climate Ride: Affecting change from the top down and the bottom up

This post was first published at www.mnn.com on 24.05.11
 
As exciting as the first five days of this year’s Brita Climate Ride were, it may have been day six that was the most exciting and new for many Climate Riders (including yours truly, Mr. Happy). After five days on a bike, pedaling through four states and the District of Columbia, we shed our spandex for more socially acceptable attire on day six to attempt a different kind of climate advocacy — direct, top-down political action.
 
As part of Climate Ride, members of 350.org arranged meetings with our respective congressional representatives on day 6 to advocate for three specific and direct actions related to our 300-mile cycle:
  1. Defend the Clean Air Act from attempts to gut or weaken its regulatory power
  2. End government subsidies for big oil companies currently enjoying record profits
  3. Support bike infrastructure as part of the larger effort to fight climate change and transition the U.S. to a more livable post-carbon future.
Climate Ride was much more than a five- or six-day experience. As an awareness- and fund-raising effort, it spanned several months leading up to the actual ride. And with every one of the 120 or so riders required to raise a minimum of $2,400, we collectively reached hundreds, if not thousands, of people with our message about positive and innovative solutions to climate change.
 
This is what made day six — our direct political action day — that much more powerful and meaningful. Each one of us represented not one, but hundreds of people concerned about climate change and the health of our communities.
 
As a resident of purple state Pennsylvania, I got to meet with an ideologically diverse bunch on Congressmen: a staunch Republican (and climate change skeptic) in Senator Patrick Toomey, a somewhat conservative Democrat in Senator Bob Casey and a moderately liberal Democrat in House Representative Mike Doyle. Thanks to what I learned from the Climate Ride Expert Speaker Series and some brief training provided by 350.org riders, I was confident in delivering a powerful and coherent message, even to a conservative not expected to support these initiatives.
 
What I found was that riding 300 miles on a bike can indeed be a powerful symbol that gets attention, even from our elected officials. And bicycles, when presented as part of a holistic vision of a healthier, cleaner and more economically vibrant society, can serve as common ground in an often divisive political environment.
 
 
That’s not to say that bike infrastructure has not become a politicized issue (what isn’t these days?). But I found all representatives (or the legislative aides I actually met with) to be far more amenable to this issue in particular. Climate change still remains too intangible and politically-charged for some people, despite near unanimous and increasingly dire concern from the international scientific community.
 
But while it’s harder for some to acknowledge or perceive the personal effects of climate change, nearly everyone has had a personal connection with a bicycle.
 
As gas prices continue to rise, our aging energy infrastructure becomes increasingly untenable and extreme weather events become more frequent close to home, things will undoubtedly change in one way or another. Increased and improved bicycle infrastructure represents one of the most systemic and politically feasible ways of bringing about change gracefully — from the top down and the grassroots up.
 
Just as ecosystems function from both directions, social change agents much embrace both approaches as well. Climate Ride is one of the most tangible and exciting ways of doing this that I know of.
 
To view photos and read day-by-day recaps of the 2011 Brita Climate Ride, visit www.climateridelive.org.