Cycle Away: Ride from Brockton to Fall River

Written by Jordan Mlsna, Team Eastern Massachusetts, Outreach Coordinator 

Doleful streets
Where cars move fast
But nothing else moves at all
Give way to a breezy seaside lane

Thousands of reeds
Tap each other, whisper
Sunlight overflows

The only affront to the senses
Trash day
A trail of pungent liquid
Following the truck

A man appears.
As if gathered up from dust,
Stands at the entrance of some long driveway
Quietly offers a beaming toothless grin
Crooked thumbs giving two v-shapes of encouragement
Knowing nothing more than that we sweat for our cause
He draws the cross
“God bless you”

I stand up,
Force pedal down
Force pedal down
Against resistance climbing the bridge
That when I raise my stare
With renewed focus
I meet another face

Coal plant
Backdrop of blue sky

Welcome to Fall River.

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Keep US Tar Sands Free!

Written by J. Salvatoriello, Team Leader, Team Vermont/New Hampshire
On August 4, 2013


On Saturday, the 27th of July, the VT/NH team conducted a Fake Oil Spill next to the Newport Farmers’ Market in Gardner Park. We fliered the week before, having spent more time in the lakeside town of Newport, VT than any other town before it, and conducted our activist performance art on our final full day in the town.

It was a hot day to wear all black.

The awesome flyer Brendan made for our Fake Oil Spill event.

The awesome flyer Brendan made for our Fake Oil Spill event.

The fliers were vague on how our group of climate riders was going to proceed, but the plan was to line up like a snake with black trash-bags to add some length, and to march through the area. The area quickly grew to the Farmers’ Market and the park across the bridge, and we sang over and over again what little we had memorized from Melodeego’s “Digging Us a Hole”. And then we spilled all over the bit of field left next to the Farmers’ Market and laid out in the grass as reporters took pictures and asked us our names.

It was fun.

Making our way through the Farmer's Market parking lot at the beginning of our performance.

Making our way through the Farmer’s Market parking lot at the beginning of our performance.

It was a little nerve-wracking because from Pam from the Tar Sands Free VT Kingdom Walk  asked the local Farmers’ Market band to stop playing for a minute so we walked right through the Farmers’ Market repeating the chorus of ‘Digging Us a Hole’ over and over again with no other noise to distract us. But all in all I do recall it as fun. It felt important. We were not letting people ignore us, and in a town that seemed to worry so much about being political, it felt good to make them listen to an issue that very much affects them: the Montreal/Portland pipeline.

Reporters snapped pictures of us as we lay motionless in the grass like spilled tar sands.

Reporters snapped pictures of us as we lay motionless in the grass like spilled tar sands.

The pipeline has already contaminated Lake Memphremagog (which is a large part of Newport’s tourist industry) when it leaked back in 1977 according to the ‘Valley Reporter’. A leak of tars sands would be practically impossible to clean up, as demonstrated by the tar sands leak into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 that still isn’t clean three years later. When it comes to protecting the very symbol of your town, the word I would use for Climate Summer’s Fake Oil Spill demonstration isn’t “Political”. I would call it “necessary”.

What would you call it? Please comment what you think.



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Bike Safety Rap

A collaborative effort by Team Western Massachusetts  on August 6th, 2013.

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A New Perspective

Written by Alex Hogan, Outreach Coordinator for Team Western Massachusetts on August 4th, 2013. 

Two Tuesdays ago, it was my turn to get groceries.  Matt and I set out from our church in Holyoke for the local Stop & Shop just a few miles down the road.  While locking our bikes to the rack outside the store, we met a soft-spoken homeless man sitting on a nearby bench.  As Matt and him got to talking, I heard the man mention he was with his brother, whose bicycle was stolen just the day before.

Before I could jump into the conversation, another nice man walked up to us.  He introduced himself to me as Tony, complimented me on my bike, and sadly told me his had just been stolen.  “You must be the brother we’re hearing about!  I’m so sorry about your bike,” I said to him.  He told me they were brothers in a way, but his real brother had died of AIDS from an infected needle in 2002.  That just blew me away.  I’ve grown up with a very privileged life; AIDS has always been something foreign, something I never thought would come up in a casual conversation.


Alex’s sighting on the way home from the store.

I wanted to know more of Tony’s story, and he seemed more than happy to share.  He told me about his new brother Billy, Matt’s friend on the bench, and how Billy took in Tony after his brother died.  The two lived together in an apartment for a few years until Tony was the victim of a hit and run in 2006.  He barely escaped with his life, having to get immediate surgery to correct four fractures in his spine and change out his hip for a stronger, titanium one.  The hospital bills left Billy and Tony on the streets.  They now slept in a tent a few blocks from the store, he told me, where he sleeps on that hip of his, on the ground.

I wished I had something to offer him other than the advice to put a pillow or soft jacket under his hip at night.  I couldn’t help but smile when he asked me about what we were doing on bikes, and still had it in him to praise our team for what we’ve been doing all summer.  I bid good-bye to Tony as Matt said his goodbyes as well.  Matt’s face was as shocked as mine, and he told me that Billy used to be a small business owner in a nice town we had visited a few weeks earlier when he lost everything he had to his heroin addiction.

He was so happy the Holyoke mayor had implemented a needle exchange program in the city and also had nothing but thanks for what we were doing in Holyoke.  Our grocery trip was filled with silence.  We had just met two men with absolutely nothing but stories to share.  What do you say to a man whose bad luck started with the death of his brother and is continuing with life in a tent?

Sometimes all you can do is lend an ear for his story, give him your empathy, and tell him you hope his day turns around.  As Matt and I left the store 20 minutes later, we stared in awe at the most vibrant rainbow to ever touch the city of Holyoke, and our unusual grocery trip had come full circle.

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Food for Thought

Written by Elena Franco, Events Coordinator, Team Maine
August 4th, 2013

Picnic dinner in Belfast

Picnic dinner in Belfast (and apparently naptime for Garrett)

This summer, I have done something that I never thought I would do: become a vegetarian (and eat amazingly well off of six dollars a day)!

Before Climate Summer, I was what Craig Altemose, a director of Better Future Project, calls a meat minimalist. I rarely ate meat, and when I did I always made sure it was grass-fed and local. However, even though it was a relatively small part of my diet, I never felt that I could give up meat completely. I had tried to be a vegetarian several times, but was never able to make it past the first week.

This summer, however, has taught me that it is very possible to live healthily and happily without eating meat. Being completely responsible for my own food has made me more aware of what goes into each meal, and it’s been fun coming up with different ways to use the ingredients that we have. I’ve been eating vegetarian for the past month and a half, and have largely forgotten what meat tastes like. As the program comes to a close, I have been wondering whether I will even go back to eating meat again.

This summer has taught me not only how easy it is to be a vegetarian, but also how to live off much less. People often seem shocked by the fact that we each have only six dollars per day, but in truth I have never eaten so well. We buy few processed ingredients, and make most of our food from scratch. The fresh bread and hummus we make tastes so much better than anything I can buy in a store. I’m sure that I’ll continue to make my own food long after this program ends.

I have also been amazed by people’s generosity when it comes to food. We’ve been graced with fresh food from people’s gardens, as well as being invited to many potlucks. People may think I have made a lot of sacrifices this summer by biking everywhere, living off six dollars a day, and giving up meat, but in reality it has helped change my views on my diet and living simply. Even though this program will be over in less than two weeks, I will be taking these experiences and lessons with me for the rest of my life.

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As a Pilot’s Daughter

Written by A. McDevitt, New Media Coordinator, Team Vermont/New Hampshire
On July 29, 2013

I almost didn’t apply for Climate Summer because I knew it would require me getting on an airplane. I don’t like planes. Not because at hundred of tons they soar miles above the ground or because the adrenaline rush I experience as they land is equivalent to that of a rogue roller coaster, but because I despise the excess carbon emissions of air travel, and I find it incredibly unfair that the wealthy nations who do all the flying aren’t the nations that bear the immediate brunt of climate change. As Ben mentioned in his recent blog post, the IPCC estimates that 3.5% of climate change is due to the aviation industry. That terrifies me, and having had the privilege of traveling the world with my family throughout my childhood, it makes me feel very guilty.

And then there’s the fact that my dad is a pilot. He flies Boeing 777s internationally for FedEx and his usual routes between Memphis, Paris, Dubai, New Delhi, and Beijing sometimes amount to 20,000 miles. It’s worth considering that the Boeing 777 is one of the most fuel efficient airplanes with the least carbon emissions, but then again that only sounds appealing because it is relative. Planes emit millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year. According to the FedEx’s 2012 Global Citizenship Report, the company alone contributed almost 15 million metric tons of carbon to global carbon emissions in 2011. My dad is a pilot, and I am a climate activist. Consequently, I can’t ignore the fact that the individual planes he pilots emit several tons of carbon each week as they carry cargo around the world.

A fleet of FedEx freight planes at the Memphis International Airport. Photo courtesy of Google.

A fleet of FedEx freight planes at the Memphis International Airport. Photo courtesy of Google.

If you think about it, this should be a source of tension in our relationship. I’m not at all angry with him though—it’s not his fault. The pervasiveness of globalization today demands that people like my dad exist to facilitate material exchanges across oceans and continents. Like all of us, my dad is a product of society, and as a pilot he is simply providing a service to that society.

The question, then, is whether or not he is frustrated with me. As a part of the climate movement, I want our nation’s excessive carbon emissions to significantly decrease, meaning a rapid shift away from the burning of oil, coal, and natural gas. I want to see the end of oil. This idea doesn’t scare me because I know we have the technology to responsibly transition to renewable energy sources and still live comfortably. I know that everything is going to be okay, and it’s this logic that I have been sharing with Vermonters and New Hampshirites all summer long.

Anna getting the attention of passersby in downtown Lancaster with an anti-tar sands sign.

Anna getting the attention of passersby in downtown Lancaster with an anti-tar sands sign.

What I’ve forgotten, though, is that aviation technology is not as advanced as the rest of the market for renewables. As Ben mentioned in his recent blog, given current technology, the aviation industry cannot continue to function if we are to address climate change seriously. While FedEx currently aims to use alternative fuel for 30 percent of its operations by 2030, the company will still depend on oil to fuel hundreds of transnational flights a day. Unless the end of oil is accompanied by an alternative and renewable fuel that can power a Boeing 777 around the world, my work to end the era of fossil fuels jeopardizes the careers of anyone within the aviation industry. Realistically the end of oil will probably happen after my dad’s retirement. But how much can that possibly mollify the fact that my work this summer seeks to terminate the pursuit of a resource that his job as a pilot currently depends on?

Yet, as counter intuitive as it may seem, this reality doesn’t seem to affect our relationship either. In fact, at the end of the summer I will be marching 70 miles in the Energy Exodus: March from Coal to Cape Wind for a transition from fossil fuels to local, renewable energy, and guess who is joining on the last day of the march to walk alongside me? Yep, you guessed it: my dad! :)

Join us for the Energy Exodus: March from Coal to Cape Wind!

Join us for the Energy Exodus: March from Coal to Cape Wind!

So, as we continue building the climate action movement, I remember to avoid making assumptions about people based on their careers, their interests, or their ties to industry. I remember to invite anyone and everyone to join me as I push for climate action, because you never know who may be willing to march next to you for a better future.

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Off the Record

Written by Sarah Foster, Team Leader on Western Massachusetts, on August 1, 2013. 

 I am usually a quiet person. Upon first meeting me you may think I am shy, but I am not one to let my voice go unheard. When I feel passionately about something, take climate change for instance, I can’t help but be more vocal than usual.

            Being a quieter person I understand when others are not quick to share their opinions. However, when we were in Holyoke last week, it shocked me that so many of the people we talked to were not ready to let their voices be heard on the very real and pressing issue of the coal plant situated just on the outskirts of town. This coal plant, the Mt. Tom Coal Plant, is owned by a company based in France called GDF Suez. The plant has been in Holyoke for 50 years and the pollution it emits is correlated to the high rates of asthma in Holyoke (1 in 4 Holyoke residents suffer from asthma).


WeMA at the Mt. Tom coal plant.

            So when I asked a resident if Lydia and I could video tape him telling us his vision for Holyoke beyond the coal plant, I was confused when he said no. Off the record, he was ready and willing to explain how the coal plant is dirty and should be shut down immediately, but once we asked to get a record of his thoughts, he shut down. He claimed that he did not want to seem ignorant and that he really did not know much about the matter.

            Understandable I guess, but he did know a lot. He knew people who suffer from asthma and he knew that the coal plant is polluting his city’s air. This was not the time to be shy about your opinions, I thought, this is the time to stand up and shout them.

            Walking away from that interview, an eerie feeling fell over me as I began to wonder why so many people in Holyoke were scared to be “too political.” Was everyone running for office? Surely not, but it seemed that way.

            The pervasiveness of silence in Holyoke reminded me that a lot of people around the world who are directly feeling the effects of deadly fossil fuels do not feel that they have a loud enough voice to stand up for themselves. I don’t know how to alleviate this problem and I am not sure that there is a solution. For me, these examples of silence remind me that the “environmental movement” reaches far beyond just saving the polar ice caps from melting, it delves into issues of social justice and human rights. Essentially, this movement has the power to draw in people from all walks of life, the challenge is to present it as something that doesn’t just stop with tree-hugging.

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Growing a Community

Written by Janice Gan, New Media Coordinator, Team Maine
August 1st, 2013

A garden in Belfast

Today is our fourth day in Belfast and 39th day on the road, but it’s still hard to believe that this will be our last full week in any city. We’ve been hearing enthusiastic reviews of this area ever since we entered Maine, so it’s a relief being able to say it has so far exceeded our expectations. 

After a hot day of traveling on Monday, we were welcomed by the sea breeze, picturesque views, and a wonderful potluck at the Unitarian Universalist Church (our home for the week). We’ve been able to buy greens at the Belfast Co-op, get our bikes some well-deserved attention, and hike across Sears Island, the largest uninhabited island north of the Carolinas. Trail maintenance hardly feels like work when you’ve entered what seems like a set from Jurassic Park (sans dinosaurs), with ocean views to boot.

The warm reception we received upon arriving continued with an invitation to come along on a permaculture garden tour sponsored by the Belfast Area Transition Initiative, starting just a few blocks from the church. A group of twenty-some gardeners, two children, and one very adorable dog greeted us when we rode up at 8 o’clock this morning – almost half of the group had brought their bikes, and the air buzzed with the warm chatter of friends. It felt less like a formal tour than a gathering of people who shared an enthusiasm for fresh food and sustainability.

First stop: Sasha Kutsy’s garden

The first garden we visited seemed to be a microcosm unto itself – edible and flowering plants rubbed shoulders with each other in raised beds, and a moveable coop (“chicken tractor”) kept the grasses trimmed and soil enriched with manure. Companion plants attracted pollinators while keeping pests away from the vegetables; many plants were allowed to reseed or were worked back into the soil after they died. Every decision seemed to be made with an overarching goal in mind: creating a healthier and more self-sustaining garden that would grow with, rather than in spite of, its natural surroundings.

The three other gardens we visited followed a similar principle of treading lightly upon the earth. Even though we had only one hour per garden, I feel like I could write pages about the intricacies and delights of each one. We tasted “the best cucumbers in the world” (Boothby Blondes, saved from an old farm in Maine) fresh from the plot at Troy Howard Middle School; we visited a family that relied on their goats for weeding, fertilizer, cheeses, and general amusement; we wandered through a forest garden filled with native berries and shade-loving plants. At each turn, there was something new to be intrigued by.
One thing that struck us as the tour continued was the amazing focus on community – even though most of these gardens were created by a single household, each of the hosts expressed a genuine desire to share their bounty with as many of their neighbors as possible.

Very happy plants in the garden at Troy Howard Middle School

Very happy plants in the garden at Troy Howard Middle School

Sasha Kutsy, our first host, talked about adding an outdoor oven for community pizza nights and building a plank walkway to provide a shortcut to school through the marshy woods behind their house. The middle school program provides food for soup kitchens throughout summer and early fall, in addition to allowing dozens of kids to experience the rewards of eating vegetables they tended from start to finish. The Clemetson family garden is also the site of the neighborhood play area, and Maria Gail sells homemade arbors and offers massages in exchange for mulch. There is a tangible sense of pride in their work and community that I’ve rarely felt elsewhere.

I believe this sense of connection is crucial to any movement – it’s something that brings people together not only for a cause, but also because they care about each other and the land they live on. Though it’s only been around for five years, the Transition movement for sustainable living has already taken root in Belfast and hundreds of cities around the world, in large part due to their model of community training, interaction, and support.

I feel that Climate Summer is trying to do something similar on a smaller scale, although with more focus on breadth than depth – we’re building support by raising awareness, by speaking to as many people as possible, by connecting those people with each other through community events and partner organizations. Even though it’s hard knowing that our country is far from being on the same page about climate change, movements like the ones we’ve seen in Belfast give me some measure of hope. If we can help build the first steps toward such communities or strengthen existing ones, our efforts will have formed a small part of something vitally important.

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What are you fighting for?

Written by Aaron Karp, Team Eastern Massachusetts, Team Leader

As a member of Climate Summer, my mission is to convey the explicit urgency of the climate crisis and encourage those I meet to join the climate movement. But as I deliver this message to new people each day, I have a fear that lingers in the back of my mind. I am afraid that this message will become routine for me. I am afraid that as I speak about the urgency of the crisis, and about the reality that everything we care about in our own lives is at stake, the message will lose its impact on me. I don’t want that to happen. I can recall last year when I learned about the time frame and the magnitude of the crisis that we are dealing with. You don’t see anything on the news that will tell you carbon emissions must peak in 3 years in order to avoid crossing the threshold between ‘dangerous’ and ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change. It felt like a bomb went off in my mind when I learned about the time frame. It’s why I’m here today, doing Climate Summer, because everyone that I care about and everything that I could hope to do with my future is at stake. And I don’t ever want to forget that.

Doing what it takes.

Doing what it takes.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m not living enough in the present. That’s why I think it’s important for those within the movement to take time to step back and reflect. I want to feel the urgency that guides my actions in my bones. But since daunting statistics and unimaginable scenarios are routine parts of my message, that visceral feeling is not always easy to recreate.

However, today, out of nowhere, I felt that elusive, clear sense of urgency again. We gave a presentation to a group of high school students in a small aquarium called the Ocean Explorium, and afterward we walked around to look at the different types of fish. We got to touch rays and sharks, and I marveled at one tank that was home to dozens of fish, all with different, brilliant, vibrant colors, all with distinctive features. Some were a deep blue like ripe blueberries, others were bright pink like a summer dress—it seemed like every color was represented. To look upon the diversity of life behind that glass was incredible.

Vibrant habitats, like this one, are in danger of being lost due to climate change.

Vibrant habitats, like this one, are in danger of being lost due to climate change.

But it wasn’t until I stood alone before a small tank of tiny jellyfish that I felt a sense of wonder that I hadn’t for as long as I could recall. They looked like thin white cloth, animated by an unseen force, folding their bodies like an umbrella to move gracefully through the water. As I looked closer I saw strands of silk flesh that came together in the center of their body, pulsing with light like an alien spaceship. I thought about all the kinds of fish we had seen. Unique in their color and shape, each marvelous in its movements—these were treasures of the natural world. The environment had shaped each of these creatures differently to produce a divine bouquet of life. It was awe-inspiring to stop and think about how beautiful and intricate life is in its many forms.

And then I realized that this diversity was in peril. As we burn coal, oil, and gas, much of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere is reabsorbed by the ocean and acidifies the water. In acidic water many ocean habitats that allow for marine diversity, like coral reefs, will die away. It was painful to think of the mural painted by the colors of these fish fading like the side of a crumbling building, condemned to become a relic of the past.

I felt shocked and appalled. I couldn’t believe that this beauty, millions of years in the making, was poised to decay into nothing. I felt a gripping sense of purpose. This is what urgency feels like.

I need to work harder.

Want to feel urgency? Think about the parts of this amazing world that you love most—that’s what you’re fighting for. Take a walk outside. Breathe the air deeply. Visit places that display the intricacies of this world, from the simple to the complex. When you get a chance to speak with your loved ones, savor it. Because when you fight climate change, you’re fighting for what you love. I am fighting for my niece and my nephew, for my girlfriend, for my friends, for myself, and for everyone who has yet to fulfill the promise of their future. I am fighting for my parents, who work so hard to make sure that I can fight for what is meaningful. I am fighting for the beautiful forms of life that we only appreciate when we stop and think.

What are you fighting for?

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Behind the Scenes: Brayton Point

Written by Alexis Russell, Team Eastern Massachusetts, Media Coordinator 

I’ve been to protests before. I remember walking through the streets of San Francisco with my dad at my first protest when I was ten, protesting the war in Afghanistan. I was young, but I thought it was incredible to see the sheer number of people showing up and marching for a cause they all agreed on and needed to fight for. It took me until this summer to realize I had always been to protests to learn more about a given movement, not necessarily to fight for it.

On Sunday, July 28th, I attended the march on the Brayton Point Coal Plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, the largest carbon emitter in New England. My experience was completely different from that first protest – I was in the thicket of men and women, young and old, coming together in song and chant to march down the hill to the coal plant. The speeches before the march moved me to tears; they made the uphill battle of this summer completely worth it. To see the number of people who understand and will drop everything to fight (nonviolently) for the future of our civilization is inspiring to say the least. Unlike protests in my past, I knew what we were fighting for and the urgency of climate change. Rather than learning about the issue from other protesters I was able to connect with complete strangers simply by being there.


A vision of hope for the future.

The added benefit for me was to play a small role in helping things run smoothly. Our Climate Summer team helped organize people as they parked their cars and got on the busses. I got to meet many new people and see some familiar faces as they climbed out of their cars in the overcast early hours of the morning. Even though we didn’t necessarily have a big part in making things run smoothly for the protest itself, I was ecstatic to help out in any way I could.

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