Caption: The cross-country riders left Seattle on May 31. Photo courtesy of CSCS
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) staff members Laura Pauls-Thomas and Juan Sebastian Pacheco Lozano will ride two legs of a cross-country bike tour in July to raise awareness about climate change.
They will join the core team of 18 bicyclists who are making their way across the country from Seattle, Washington, to Washington, D.C. The team began riding on May 31 and will cover nearly 4,000 miles, learning about the impacts of climate change on different communities along the way.
They are sharing what they have learned through the riders’ blogs, social media and town halls with people across the country. The riders also are drawing attention to climate change resources on the web site of the ride organizer, the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions (CSCS)—a partnership between MCC, Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) and Goshen College.
Photo courtesy of Lizzy Diaz
Juan will join the cyclists at the Indiana Dunes on July 12 and will ride for 7 days covering 300 miles to Fredericktown, Ohio. He is peace and justice coordinator for MCC Great Lakes and lives in Goshen, Indiana.
Photo courtesy of Heike Martin Photography.
Laura will join the group for the last five days of their ride, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. The route covers 326 miles along the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath. She will join riders on july 28 as they advocate to members of Congress on climate-related legislation. From Lancaster, Pennsylvania, she is communications and donor relations associate for MCC East Coast.
Why did you want to be part of this bike ride?
Juan: I grew up in Bogotá, Colombia. Biking was a way of transportation but also entertainment with family and friends. Along with my dad and brother, we used to watch all the big cycling races in the world.
Climate change has been a crucial topic in the last years. During the Climate Ride I will be interacting with folks who have different experiences and more expertise on the issue. Cycling always brings me joy, but this will be a good way to become more aware as well.
Laura: I wanted to be part of this bike ride because it’s the perfect intersection of my passions – riding bicycles and advocating for climate justice. I believe that bicycles can be a tool for healing ourselves, our communities and our planet. I’m delighted to ride and dialogue about climate change with like-minded young people.
How are you preparing for the ride?
Juan: I have been riding my bike on local bike paths for the last three years. Once I was given the opportunity to be part of the CSCS Climate Ride, I started a more intense training program, mainly indoors because of winter in Goshen. I had hand surgery earlier in the year. It’s mostly healed, so I hope to be ready for the challenge!
Laura: I’ve been spending a lot more time on my bike, following the same training plan as the cross-country riders. My solo rides around rural Lancaster County provide ample time and space for reflection on issues of climate change. I’m closely following the riders’ journey at @cscs_climate on Instagram, which motivates me to stick to the training plan.
What aspect of climate change do you feel really passionate about?
Juan: As peace and justice coordinator, part of my role is to learn about climate change and how the issue is affecting communities, so that I can educate others. Understanding that climate change directly affects us and advocating for a more sustainable approach is important. We are obligated to take care of our environment and find ways to reduce the negative impact of our presence in this world for generations to come.
Laura: I’m most passionate about the relationship humans have with the land and with each other. We’ve become disconnected from the land. We’re largely reliant on systems that extract and exploit. Climate injustice disproportionately hurts the people whom our society has already marginalized. If we care about other people, we have to care about our common planet as well.
What is a common misconception people have about climate change that you wish you could change?
Juan: Our individual actions do matter in the long run. Bringing awareness of this is important. It is not just pollution related to the big industries, but also how we, individually, can daily contribute to reducing the negative impact on the environment.
Laura: First, I hope that people realize that climate change is threatening the lives and livelihoods of people around the world right now, and that it disproportionately affects the people whom our societies are already putting at the margin. We need bold policy and actions by our leaders to put us on a path toward healing the planet and ourselves.
How does participating in this ride connect to your faith?
Juan: I believe it is part of the Christian mandate to have a sustainable relationship with the environment, as we should have with our neighbors, churches, community members and others.
Laura: God calls us to love our neighbor. If we are to love our neighbor, we must care for the land that holds and sustains all of us. The well-being of the land is deeply connected to our well-being as humans. God yearns to see humans and creation flourishing, in right relationship with one another (Col. 1:20; Rev. 21:5).
At the CSCS website, you can sign up to follow along with the climate riders by signing up for the weekly email newsletter. You can also join the riders for a series of virtual and in-person community townhall meetings.