2019 Bike Blog: Day 6 – Hill Visits

Bloggers: Ben Wideman, Janet Swim, and Cricket Hunter

Something is shifting in Washington DC.

Four years ago when we rode from State College to DC, our Hill visits were almost guaranteed to go one of two ways. If it was a Democrat they would thank us for our time but admit that anything having to do with climate change was challenging due to partisan divide. Republicans would admire our efforts to ride our bikes so far, but almost always deny that the climate was changing and, if it was, it was not a result of human activities.

Although there are certain Republican offices that are still resistant to stating that climate change is worthy of attention, several times during our Hill visits we heard staffers share that that there is increasing recognition of the need to address climate change. There were times when younger staff members would admit that they were personally concerned about climate change, even if it wasn’t something that was as urgent for their boss. It feels like we’re watching a generational shift happen in a short moment in time.  [Watch this blog for a sermon on this theme… it’s in our “to post” folder!]

A unique aspect of our lobbying is to note that there is a moral imperative to address climate change grounded in a range of faith perspectives.  Rider Chris Antal  (an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister serving as a VA chaplain) made the explicit point during meetings that this imperative was grounded in Unitarian Universalist principles of “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part” and “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations,” and of course we know that all faith traditions call us to care for the most vulnerable, and care for our Common Home.   It was heartening to learn that there are an increasing number of health organizations raising concerns about people most vulnerable to the serious health impacts of climate change.

We know from our conversations that our Representatives need to hear more about climate change from their constituents — and many have already noticed an increase in climate-related concerns. On our ride we heard more community members from Pennsylvania’s “red” districts talk about the way they are experiencing climate instability: difficulty farmers are having this spring to get the crops into the ground;  the increasing change in animals, plants, or tree pollen. We rode our bikes beside fields flooded with too much water, and heard that a local fly fishing shop was shifting the flies they sold because insects are emerging at different times than they used to. People who live in rural America are intimately tuned in to how the climate is shifting.

Concerns about policies to address climate change remain for many fiscal conservatives and legislators for whom small government is a core priority.  The message that we carried was to urge those legislators to really examine the options, and to find committed, creative, and bold alternatives – or join the work that others are already doing.   

Our voices are perhaps uniquely situated to ask our legislators to exercise moral imagination, to craft a moonshot vision, to share it and celebrate it, and then to go back to do the very real work of building the steps to get us there without leaving folks behind – not communities that have sacrificed a great deal to light our homes for generations, not those who have lived downwind of our power plants and our highways, downstream of the vast, toxic refuse of each stage of our fossil fuel addiction.  We are far less concerned about the title of any proposal than that, in total, it meets the principles laid out in the document we shared in each office, signed by over 100 national and regional faith organizations.  These are principles we can all stand behind. 

We were proud to be able to visit one office, that of Representative Fitzgerald, where meaningful bipartisan climate action is a centerpiece of his work.   Representative Thompson and Representative Cartwright have collaborated across the aisle as original cosponsors of the RECLAIM Act of 2019, which would release monies from an existing fund created for the purpose to clean up coal waste in impacted communities, which is clearly part of a just transition to the energy systems we know we need.  We spoke with legislators on both sides of the aisle who are proud of clean energy technologies in their own districts.  And we heard concerns, including keeping electricity affordable for Pennsylvanians, and avoiding layers of regulations.  In our visit with Congressman Doyle, we learned of a bill he introduced, H.R. 2096 to support energy storage development, and since our visit, we learned that a Republican colleague from another state has now signed on, making this a bipartisan effort.

Our post-visit debriefing made it clear that each visit group shared the sense that change is happening and there is hope for future action in Congress.  We also heard that — even with the mix of new Representatives and legislators further along in their service – riders could tell that our years of respectful and challenging conversations, years of tilling the ground, years of inviting legislators into bold, creative, and courageous response is making a difference.  Aides know who we are.  They appreciate that we listen.  They share what would be helpful.  They are moving around the table to join us, facing the challenge.

Riders expressed pride in their efforts, hope for the future, that we are doing the “right work,” and feels like we are part of a destiny that will eventually lead to solutions.

Words of the day from riders:

Ben—pride; Casey—power; Dean—incredible; Dorothy—pollinators; Janet—team; Jason—destiny; Marali—payoff; Noah—opportunity; Bill—supplicants; Eric K.—relationship; Eric P.— receptivity; Jess—skating; Mike—hopeful; Nathan— right work; Jim—joy; Alison—beauty; Cricket—tilling

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