Bikers promote efficient energy sources

VERGENNES — Efforts to increase awareness of climate change have taken to the open road. A group of young environmentalists are biking through the state, acting as partners with the organization Climate Summer, a program aimed at connecting with local leaders to address issues pertaining to efficient energy sources.
Climate Summer is a internship program for college-age students run by Better Future Project, a nonprofit organization founded in January 2011 that promotes leadership development and heads initiatives in environmental issues.
While Climate Summer has been running in many of the New England states, this summer is the first time representatives have come to the Green Mountain State. The new Vermont trip aims to visit seven towns in seven weeks. Starting in Royalton and ending in Brattleboro, the route takes them to Bradford, Montpelier, Vergennes, Burlington and Rutland along the way. The five group members last week rolled into Vergennes, where they set up shop at the Congregational church.
The group aims to educate and promote sustainable actions in each area through a combination of conversation and connection. Monique Gallant, 23, believes their actions will help to shift the way people look at sustainability.
“We try to encourage individual sustainability on a personal level, whether it’s riding your bike more often or using solar power in your home,” said Gallant. “But we also are trying to change societal views on energy. We want people to realize we’re reaching the end of peak oil and we need to transition now while we still have a chance to effect climate change at this stage of the game.”
The members of this summer’s Vermont team have traveled from all over the world, including the Netherlands and Scotland, to pursue their interests in environmental studies in Vermont. The group has forgone many luxuries to be as sustainable as possible by sleeping on church floors and living on $5 a day.
Despite the hardships, each student appreciates the Climate Summer program as a way to gain a first-hand experience on environmental issues.
“I was originally interested in participating in Climate Summer because it gives you the ability to go out and be involved in the world and meet people to make connections,” said group member Emma John, 21. “You get to live your values rather than sitting in an office.”
On an average day, the team schedules and meets with local residents to build a connection for future programs. They then compile a spreadsheet and write a report to reflect on how the overall project is going. They said that the most rewarding part of the program is having the ability to connect people who normally would not have met. For example, they recently connected a conservation group in Bradford with a woman attempting to start her own group in Vergennes.
Overall, Climate Summer Vermont believes that people in the state have been responding well to their efforts, despite their youth and inexperience with the program.
“Some people take us more seriously because we are traveling on bicycle,” said Gallant. “We could be doing other things like doing an internship where we get paid, but we all understand that this is the most important thing we could be doing with our summers.”
The blogger for the group, Lily Gutterman, 20, said that while most people have been responsive, there have been certain obstacles along the way.
“We’ve had a couple people tell us that we’re idealists, but I think that because we are young we can say that this is going to affect us, so it’s especially pertinent,” said Gutterman. “It gives us authority.”
In one side trip last week, the Climate Summer crew pedaled from Vergennes to Monkton to check out what was going on at the Willowell Foundation’s 230-acre spread. Gutterman wrote about how her group was impressed with the 30 elementary school age children from Middsummer Camp in Middlebury, who weeded and mulched butternut squash fields, in the process learning more about local foods and sustainability. The youngsters were rewarded for their work with pizzas made from ingredients harvested from the Willowell gardens.
At the end of the seven weeks, the team will meet back at the project’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., where they will catalogue and review their experiences on the road.
Until then, the group is spending time connecting with the Vergennes energy committee and reaching out to the general public via farmers’ markets. The next stop for Climate Summer is Burlington, where they will hold a potluck discussion at the Vermont Workers Center.
While the group appreciates the local communities that have welcomed them, they do acknowledge that there is still much work to be done in Vermont and around the country.
“It’s important to remember that even though Vermont is very progressive, even if every state in the country was doing what Vermont is doing, it’s still not enough,” said Shae Rieste, 21. “We’re here to see what amazing work people are doing, but also to push people further.”

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