West Roxbury Resident Cycles 600 Miles for the Environment

By Tali Smookler
As published on westroxburypatch.com
August 14, 2011

Climate change is the biggest threat to human existence we have ever faced, and according to scientific facts, now is the critical time to act. However, the problems associated with climate change are so large and so diverse that while one may care about working towards a safer environment, it is challenging to get started.

New England Climate Summer, a unique program that sends college students exclusively by bicycle across New England to help build the movement to fight climate change, gave me my start.

I am a resident of West Roxbury, and as one of 10 riders, I traveled more than 600 miles across the state of Massachusetts last summer, visiting towns from Brookline to Williamstown. At each location we worked with existing environmental, social justice, and faith groups, helping them to connect with other individuals and organizations in their communities and around the state, while providing a short burst of new energy in the form of college students on bicycles.

Community groups like these, as part of the larger climate movement, have the power to make changes, both locally and on the larger level.

Although I personally am not participating this year, 31 other students are riding in New England Climate Summer 2011, traveling to 42 communities — hitting every New England State. Locally, the group will be volunteering this month with Bikes Not Bombs, joining First Thursday’s celebration of the arts in Jamaica Plain, learning about the Renew Boston program to retrofit housing for energy efficiency, and connecting with Boston Climate Action Network.

In addition to building a movement and connecting with local community groups throughout the state, the students will be working on writing a “State of the Movement” report to describe all the local actions taking place in the communities they visit, because taken together, communities can and have been making a big difference in New England.

Last summer we organized “Climate Emergency Meeting and Green Forums” to discuss climate change and provide an opportunity for community members to talk about their ideas and goals. Additionally, we presented Marshall Ganz’s theory of community organizing, which helped organizations evaluate their strategies, attended farmers markets, worked at community gardens, went to meetings, and spoke at church and synagogue services.

Working with New England Climate Summer opened my eyes to the reality in which we currently find ourselves. Climate change threatens to exacerbate many of the world’s problems — including hunger, poverty, and war — because it shrinks the supply of food and water and increases the likelihood of natural disasters. Melting glaciers and rising sea levels will force more and more people to leave their homes.

Furthermore, climate change is a social justice issue that poorer communities in particular — who have little to do with causing the problem — don’t have the resources to deal with.

While on New England Climate Summer, I was struck by the enormity of climate change, but I was also inspired by what Massachusetts’ communities are doing in response. All over the state, in every town we visited, communities are taking action. Before the summer I did not realize how crucial community groups are to fighting climate change. By working for the needs of their own neighbors, they provide a way for community members to become involved in taking action.

Thus, it was to my delight when I learned about the great work that West Roxbury Saves Energy is doing in my hometown.

If you or any organization you know would like to be involved with the program by hosting an event in your community, attending a community meeting, or simply getting in touch with the program, please visit climatesummer.net. Additionally, you can follow their summer adventures on the blog, climatesummer.wordpress.com.

Article author Tali Smookler (far left) and her fellow Climate Summer riders on the road to help the environment.