Bicycling is climate action for peace
My bike commute to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) office in Ephrata, Pennsylvania is delightful. The rolling Lancaster County farmland offers expansive views and curly-haired baby cows. The paved rails-to-trails path is tranquil, tree-lined and offers cool relief on hot days. I love greeting the same trail users every morning. I feel a special kind of joy and belonging when I commute by bike (or bus) with other MCC colleagues. When I arrive at the office, 15 miles later, I am a better version of myself.
I grew up in the U.S. Mennonite tradition and value the way that Anabaptists emphasize peace and nonviolence, community and reconciliation. As Jesus’ disciples, we are called to live constructively, peacefully and in interdependence with the natural world (see Genesis 1:26; Genesis 2:15). I believe that my commitment to Anabaptist peacebuilding must extend to all areas of my life, including something as quotidian as transportation.
Bicycling and building right relationships
When I think about building peace, I think of right relationships. As MCC we envision communities worldwide in right relationship with God, one another and creation. Bicycling is the thing that puts me in right relationship with God, people and the land around me. It’s the action behind my words that brings credibility and integrity to my climate advocacy.
When I bicycle, I have greater awareness and appreciation for God’s creation around me. My steady and spinning legs put me in a state of calm and reflection. Bicycling puts me in direct contact with God’s creation, and it is a form of fellowship with God. I feel grateful for my body that God gave me and for all that it can do. I especially feel God’s presence when birds fly alongside me or when a fox darts across the path ahead of me at dusk.
Bicycling helps me be in right relationship with other people. When I bicycle, I feel softer and more connected to the people and communities around me. I enjoy exchanging greetings with Amish passengers inside buggies when I pedal through the countryside. When I ride in the city, I can quickly and easily pull over to greet a dear friend who is walking their dog on the sidewalk.
When I bicycle, my spirit feels open, curious and vibrant. When I drive my car, I feel rushed, impatient, self-important and competitive with other road users. I become too easily offended when someone cuts me off or doesn’t use their turn signal. I become a person who I don’t wish to be. Does this sound familiar? Researchers have coined the term “car brain” to explain this social and psychological phenomenon. I experience car brain as a feeling of isolation and indifference towards my fellow road users. I become a version of myself who I don’t wish to be.
Bicycling also helps me be in right relationship with creation. It is a gentle way to move across the land. It does not emit gases that harm the environment or pollute the air or water. It does not shed harmful and unregulated brake and tire particulates that contain carcinogens and cause heart and lung disease. My bicycling is fueled by snacks and water instead of fossil fuels that extract and exploit.
Over the years I’ve come to realize that bicycling can be a form of ministry to the world around us. A study published in the November 2023 issue of Journal for Environmental Psychology  analyzed the way people chose to get around and found that people who chose bicycling were more likely to choose other behaviors that contribute to the common good: political participation, social participation in various organizations, neighborhood solidarity and neighborly helpfulness. The study suggests that bicycling supports commitment to the well-being of the community.
Bicycling puts wheels on my advocacy
Bicycling is my “lived witness” that gives integrity to my climate advocacy. Six years into my professional career, I’m known in my community as someone who is knowledgeable and speaks passionately about climate justice. I’ve attended marches and demonstrations, visited my elected officials, written letters to the editor and more. But on a daily basis, what proves my commitment to climate justice to my community and my elected officials is my dedication to bicycling as a humble but direct climate action – even when it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable.
In 2021, I had the opportunity to join a group of young people for the last five days of their cross-country bicycle trip, the climate ride, organized by the Center for Sustainable Solutions (now known as the Anabaptist Climate Collaborative). I vividly remember being with the Climate Riders when they arrived in Washington D.C. These climate advocates and I met with our elected officials on Capitol Hill the same afternoon we completed our journey. We advocated for environmental justice measures as part of the bipartisan infrastructure package, which passed.
I guarantee that a group of sweaty, dust-covered young cyclists advocating for climate-related legislation was memorable and compelling for those lawmakers and their staff. These young people rode over 3,700 miles from Seattle to be there and have that conversation.
Our faith and advocacy witness as Anabaptists is formed by our actions – not by what we say or preach. Our actions and decisions, including simple things like a daily commute, give integrity to what we believe, preach and advocate for. They are what puts “wheels” on our ministry of reconciliation.
I certainly don’t expect every person to become a hardcore bicycle commuter. But I believe every person can find something in their daily life that puts credibility behind their climate advocacy work. Maybe that ‘something’ is supporting your local MCC Thrift shop, preaching, gardening or raising children to love God’s earth and practice creation care. The stories, insights and memories you gain from those regular, small actions are fodder for compelling tales to share during advocacy meetings with elected officials or conversations with your neighbors.
Around the world, MCC’s partners work to support people in adapting to the challenges of climate change. Climate change is making difficult situations even worse. It will take all of us, each with our own unique interests and skill sets, to address the climate crisis, and there are just as many unique ways to get make a positive difference. Both individual and collective action is important. I bicycle and take public transit as often as I can, and I also join with others in taking advocacy action to address the root causes of our changing climate.
MCC’s Climate Action for Peace campaign works for just and durable peace that dismantles and transforms structures and legacies of injustice, including those that contribute to differential impacts of climate change around the world. Visit ClimateActionForPeace.com to take advocacy action. You can contact your representatives, sign up for the newsletter, take the Climate Action pledge and learn more about how MCC is taking climate action for peace.
Laura Pauls-Thomas serves as communications director of Mennonite Central Committee’s East Coast region. She resides in Lancaster, Pa. with her spouse, Andrew, and spends her free time advocating for safe and accessible bicycling and active transportation options in her community. Laura is a member of East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church (ECSMC), a congregation which is part of the Atlantic Coast Conference of Mennonite Church USA, where she is a member of the Creation Care Committee. Laura coordinates a “Creation Care Commute” program to encourage her congregation to walk, bicycle or carpool to church on the third Sunday of each month. One of Laura’s favorite creation care involvements at ECSMC is leading a monthly intergenerational Bike Bus, where several households bike to church together.