WINTER TRIKING & POLAR BEAR PLUNGES
The bitter cold limited my riding days in DC, but on the days I managed to get out, I usually made for the National Mall, ready made for bikes, where the excited reactions from tourists to seeing the trike never seemed to end. My favorite DC ride day was when Jo Reyes pedaled his hybrid electric bike down from Takoma Park to ride with me on the bike path to Old Town Alexandria and back (thanks for the lunch, Jo!). Another day, I came across these residential-scale wind turbines on display at the U.S. Botanic Garden, which I later learned were indeed generating electricity for the building:
Strange as it might sound, one of the most enjoyable activities during my stay in DC was the annual Polar Bear Plunge, sponsored by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Along with Sierra Club board member Jim Dougherty, my friend, Charlie Garlow (dressed as a wind turbine), and about 200 other intrepid souls, I plunged into the icy waters of the Potomac River at National Harbor on one of the coldest days of winter. At 22 degrees, the air outside was even colder than the water, which had ice on the shoreline and slush at water’s edge.
The speech by Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) imploring us to protect future generations from the ravages of a heating globe was inspiring enough, but then she outdid herself by plunging into the river with the rest of us. That’s what I call political leadership! She was joined at the event by San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who expressed interested in my ride and support for its goal.
After the speeches, we hurried over to the changing tents to don our swimsuits, then made our way down to the shore. As I waded into the river, I just kept repeating to myself: “This is not a problem. This is not a problem…” before finally diving underwater to fully experience the big chill. After swimming around for a few seconds, with EMTs in waterproof gear hovering nearby (in case of heart attacks or hypothermia, I presume), I began wading back to shore. Still in the water was an elderly woman in a one-piece bathing suit, leaning on a cane, slowly making her way over the rocks. At that moment, I didn’t feel so tough. I gave her a hand, then a big hug of admiration. That is the spirit that’s going to help us turn the tide on the global climate crisis here in America.
DC TELEVISION COVERAGE
There’s probably no tougher media nut to crack than the Washington, DC media market, but you just have to keep at it. My friend and fellow electric vehicle advocate, Charlie Garlow (http://www.evadc.org/about_us.html), had tipped me off to a reporter at ABC News who was new on the environmental beat and was looking for green tech stories. So I pitched him on the ride and he was able to convince his editor to let him cover the story. We spent about an hour together filming, with the story running on the evening of the State of the Union address. You can watch the 2-minute clip here:
With the help of my friend Jon Stout in Boulder, I also connected with the producer of the Thom Hartmann television show, which resulted in this great 6-minute piece. You can watch it here (the interview begins at 37:05 into the show):
OBAMA SPEAKS OUR LANGUAGE IN STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS
On the day of Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) address, I spent the afternoon and early evening circling the Capitol until the hordes of security made it impossible to maneuver. Hand-made signs affixed to the back of the the trike read: “Congress: Renew America with Renewable Energy!!” and “Congress: Coal-Fired or Future-Generation Inspired??”
Our message is clearly getting through to the White House, as evidenced by the President’s remarks during his SOTU address. I’m not suggesting the “Ride for Renewables” was the only inspiration for the President’s “Sputnik moment” speech, but check out how closely these passages from his speech line up with central themes of the “Ride for Renewables,” broadcast widely through the media, and on the internet, in the months prior to his talk:
- We’ve been calling for a modern day, green energy moon shot for America.
- President Obama: “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.”
- We’ve been calling for 100% renewable electricity for the U.S. by 2020
- President Obama: “By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.”
- We said we don’t want America to become a second rate economic power.
- President Obama: “I do not accept second place for the United States of America.”
- We said the American people have a deep hunger to be part of something greater than themselves – and want politicians to set party label aside and put the American people first.
- President Obama: “…each of us is part of something greater – something more consequential than party or political preference.”
- We’ve been calling for quick action to reassert our global economic competitiveness.
- President Obama: “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.”
- We said it’s time to once again unleash America’s unique entrepreneurial, can-do spirit.
- President Obama: “What we can do — what America does better than anyone else – is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.”
- We’ve been calling for shifting tax breaks and subsidies away from fossil fuels and nuclear power to energy efficiency and renewables.
- President Obama: “And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.”
- We said America is about doing great things.
- President Obama: “We do big things.”
The good news is the White House is finally listening to Main Street, America. The bad news is the President did not mention the global climate crisis once in his speech, despite 2010 being tied as the hottest year on record. Ignoring this gravest of threats to America will not magically make it go away. Every leading national scientific academy in the world has concluded that human activity is changing the climate.
Worse yet, he intentionally muddied the waters between dirty energy sources and truly clean energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal by trying to redefine mythical “clean coal,” radioactive nuclear power and polluting natural gas as “clean energy.” The American people have come to expect this kind of subterfuge from polluters afraid of progress, but it should not be emanating from the White House. This is shameless government greenwash and must not stand. We will know the President is serious about meeting the expectations of our children to protect their futures when he declares a global climate emergency and places it at the top of his policy agenda.
PUBLIC TALKS & PLOTTING NEXT STEPS
In addition to a series of individual strategy sessions with Lester Brown, Brock Evans and Brent Blackwelder, I gave a number of public talks while in DC, including a lunch presentation to Lester Brown and his staff at Earth Policy Institute (thanks, Les); a lunch presentation at the Woman’s National Democratic Club (thanks, Alice); an evening reception at The Green Commuter bike shop in Takoma Park (thanks, Charlie & Jo), the annual meeting of the DC Electric Vehicle Association (thanks again, Charlie); a lunch gathering with one of my ride sponsors, Cooper Roark (a star – he raised nearly $2000 for my ride), and some of his classmates at St. Albans Academy; and a well-received community gathering at the Brookmont community church (thanks, Jody).
I want to thank again Alice & Lincoln Day, who generously provided a cozy apartment for me to base out of during my first month in DC. Providence does provide. I also want to extend a special thanks to my friend, Christin Engelhardt, for tolerating me as a houseguest during my final three weeks in Washington. Christin and I first met in 1987 working on Paul Simon’s Iowa presidential campaign and have been close friends ever since. Even better than all the great meals, and the laughter, was her company.
ROLLING HOME ON THE RAILS
After changing my ticket several times to extend my stay in DC, I finally boarded Amtrak’s Capitol Limited – described as an “all-American journey between America’s heartland and the nation’s capital” – for the 36-hour ride home. As fate would have it, the train’s route covered some of the same ground I had pedaled to Washington, DC. As we rolled out of DC, I could see outside my sleeper cab window, mere yards away, the very same C&O Canal bike trail I had pedaled two months ago, now covered in snow.
As the hours drifted by, a host of memories flooded in. I was reminded of an informational plaque I saw in Akron, CO describing how in 1890, “fast trains whisked passengers through Akron on the Chicago and Denver route” at speeds as high as 112.5 mph. Don’t get me wrong. Rolling home at 75 mph definitely beats pedaling as far as making time, but what happened to America? We’ve gone backwards, while the Europeans and Asians are racing to the future on high-speed bullet trains. One can only hope the President really meant it when he said during the SOTU, “There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains…our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.”
As I finished a hearty breakfast in the dining car, the train rolled into Denver’s Union Station, right on time.
From there, I caught the bus up to Boulder.
Then I walked the few blocks from the depot to my friends’ house with just a few things on my back.
The “rocket” has landed. The sacred journey has come full circle.