2019 Rider Profile: Bill Cozzens

Meet Bill Cozzens, twelfth in the 2019 series of rider profiles. Get to know the riders for the PA to DC rides as the series unfolds, then follow the trips!  Learn more.  Donate.

In the year 2100 my two granddaughters will be 86 and 83. Their children (my great grandchildren!) would be middle aged. The forecasts for what life will be like for them in 2100 are dire. Even if we immediately stop the release of greenhouse gases there will be more severe and frequent storms, droughts and serious ocean acidification. If we don’t stop burning fossil fuels and releasing other greenhouse gases, the situation will be even worse. Global average temperature could increase as much as 4 to 6 degrees C (7 to 11 degrees F). Portions of the earth now home to hundreds of millions of people will be uninhabitable. This impending cataclysm is why, since retiring 5 years ago, I have focused my attention on what we can do about climate change.

But now a little bit about me. I was born in New Jersey, part of the early wave of Baby Boomers. My father was a radio corpsman in the US Army in the Pacific during World War II. When I was in the first grade his company transferred him to Dallas from northern New Jersey, so I did most of my growing up in Texas. My two brothers and I attended public schools there in the era when schools were still racially segregated. We lived in the city but in a suburban style neighborhood with fields, creeks and ponds nearby.

I have fond memories of exploring and finding wildlife of all types: lizards, snakes, turtles, frogs, toads, polliwogs, etc. On one small creek my brothers, some other neighborhood kids and I built a dam across the creek using rocks, sticks and other material we found along the bank. It leaked but was holding quite a lot of water and eventually became a nest for water snakes! My Dad was an avid fisherman and when the weather was good, we would spend weekends on nearby lakes fishing, swimming, water skiing and sailing.

I attended Duke University and then graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania where I met Carla Childs, who is still my wife after 42 years! During the late 1970s and 1980s we made several job-related moves but have been back in Philadelphia since 1990 and consider it our home. We have raised three sons, all now adults and supporting themselves (hurrah!!). 

My graduate degrees at Penn were in City Planning. In the early part of my career I worked in state government for a while and then for several firms in Washington, DC that were engaged in government-funded public policy research and analysis, mostly addressing housing and transportation issues in cities. Much of that work dried up in the mid-1980s when Ronald Reagan, with different policy priorities, became President. I was able to shift gears and went to work for one of the early developers of software and systems for computer-based mapping, now referred to as Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The company was selling these systems to state and local governments and to utilities for land and facility mapping. My city planning background was useful; I understood how the users could benefit from these systems. Over the years and through several job changes this work evolved into consulting and working as a project manager for a firm whose clients were primarily electric and gas utilities. This is where and how I first became aware of and began to grow concerned about climate change.

I am a member of Germantown Friends Meeting in Philadelphia. Quakerism is a faith of personal experience and direct communion with God, a faith of continuing revelation; and a faith of living our values in the secular world. I am what is known as a Convinced Friend, meaning I joined the Religious Society of Friends as an adult. Although not officially a Quaker until middle age, I had long been sympathetic to Friends’ testimonies and to the commitment to live their values by acting in the world. Quakers have been widely known for their opposition to war, for their early opposition to slavery and their support for women’s rights. In more modern times Quakers have been active in the civil rights movement, have opposed mass incarceration and have actively supported campaigns for economic, social and racial justice. The campaign for climate justice and for protection and restoration of God’s creation is completely consistent with this Quaker heritage. I am even more comfortable as a Quaker now than when I first joined 35 years ago.

Although I could be described as a climate activist now, I cannot claim to have been a life-long environmentalist. Certainly, as a kid and an adult I enjoyed the outdoors – the environment. Sailing, canoeing, hiking, camping and enjoyment of nature have been a big part of our lives. We participated in some early Earth Day festivities. But like many people, we were busy; we took the environment and the climate for granted. It would always be here, pretty much as it had been; maybe a little more crowded, maybe a little more or a little less polluted. We believed that the EPA and the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were going to take care of any problems.

Then we woke up to climate change. This was something that we, normal citizens – living what we thought were clean, non-polluting, non-littering lives – were doing to the environment, without even being aware of it! My work with utility companies – operators of coal and natural gas power plants – exposed me to the research on greenhouse gases and the emerging scientific consensus that this was going to be a major problem for our environment and for humanity. But I was certainly not an early activist. People like James Hansen had been testifying before Congress on the problem and attempting to raise the alarm decades before I became active.

When I retired 5 years ago, I finally had the time to take this issue more seriously. Since then I have become much better informed and active. In addition to my involvement with Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light (PA IPL), I have attended marches and rallies, prepared and delivered testimony, lobbied my elected representatives at both the Federal and State level, participated in non-violent direct action and helped provide climate-related education. The political headwinds opposing any policies to protect our environment have provided a high degree of frustration over the last 18 months. As a country we are doing less when we need to do so much more!

Now there is a new opportunity – the PA IPL bike ride! I have been to Washington and to Harrisburg to lobby, to testify and to demonstrate for changes in energy and climate policy, going both places by car, bus and train. Going to lobby by bicycle – what a novel idea! No carbon footprint! But this also represents a personal challenge. I have owned bicycles most of my childhood and adult life. I regularly commuted on a bike during graduate school but that was at most 2 miles each way and more than 40 years ago! I have never been a long-distance bike rider. Currently I’m taking practice rides, trying to build my mileage. I’ve invested in some new equipment, supplies and training for bicycle maintenance and dealing with any mishaps that might occur during the ride. We have a great Philadelphia riding team. I’m looking forward to this adventure! And I’m optimistic that the ride and our meetings, both in Washington and on the way, will emphasize the urgent need to address the climate crisis. Think again about our yet unborn descendants. We must act now to provide them with a sustainable planet!

Follow the trips on Instagram and Facebook and with the hashtag #paiplonbikes for lots of photos and videos