Climate Summer cyclists in Manchester, New Hampshire  PHOTOs BY Kristin Jackson
Climate Summer cyclists in Manchester, New Hampshire PHOTOs BY Kristin Jackson
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Last week students from the New England Climate Summer internship program cycled into Rockland to promote the use of alternatives to fossil fuels and to raise public consciousness about the threat of global climate change. Starting in Lowell, Massachusetts, last month, the students have since cycled up through Maine, staying in churches and participating in various projects promoting environmentally sustainable living.

"There are so many different groups working for environmental sustainability in their own way, and we wanted to find a way to connect with them," says Trevor Culane, a rising sophomore at Brown University.

Climate Summer is a program sponsored by the Better Future Project, a nonprofit organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that's dedicated to "building a better world free from the burning of fossil fuels."

During their travels, the students have made community outreach their main focus - volunteering on neighborhood garden projects, working in a community bike center, and circulating petitions calling for action on climate change. Most recently the cyclists took part in a "permablitz" sponsored by the Belfast Transition Towns, an organization focused on building community resilience in the face of climate change, peak oil and economic instability. The term permablitz stems from permaculture, a landscape design technique that aims for sustainable living through agricultural practices modeled on natural ecosystems. The "blitz" came when the interns, along with other volunteers, descended on a local resident's home and planted an edible landscape using permaculture principles.

"The sense of community we've found here is so powerful," says Culane. "In Belfast everyone kind of knew each other and they were working together in a neighbor's garden helping out for hours. I'm from Los Angeles where it's just a giant sprawl and no real community to speak of."

The students have spent a lot of time in gardens this past month, and have been checking farmers' markets along their way to learn more about the local food movements. As part of their aim to promote sustainability, they also live on $5 a day during their trip.

"I've learned that you can live on so much less than what you think you need," says Sara Mitsinikos, a senior at Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

Cycling many miles has also resulted in time for reflection, and the Climate Summer teams share a blog where they post their experiences and musings from the road. Maine team member Amanda Crawford-Staub, a student at Boston University, wrote recently:

I constantly feel as though I am skirting the boundaries of extremes: exhausted, ravenous, overwhelmed, elated, liberated, and fascinated. Up hills and down hills, if you will. I feel more in touch with what my body needs, experiencing more strongly all the things it was meant to do. . . . Living with five other people and touching base with countless community members somehow make conversations seem more purposeful and human stories more meaningful.

The students say that spreading the word about

the threat climate change poses to the earth can be challenging at times. Eckerd College senior Laura Lea Rubino says that, in the face of the government's lack of action on the issue, focusing their energy on building a grassroots movement is the only way change can happen.

"All we can do is to just talk to as many people as we can and try to spread this message," she says. "Doing something about this, for people our age, means just going out and speaking to anyone who will listen to us because that's all we've got at this point."

The students will be staying in Cumberland from July 29 to August 5 and in York the following week. To follow the Climate Summer riders, go to climatesummer.wordpress.com.