2013-07-12 / Front Page

Group spreads awareness through bike trip

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

The Climate Summer team of Janice Gan, Rebecca Newman, Garret Blad and Elena Franco has caught the attention of many people on their journey including Rob Sellin, of Concerned Citizens of South Portland (left) and David Massen, of the Citizens Climate Lobby (right). (Courtesy photo) The Climate Summer team of Janice Gan, Rebecca Newman, Garret Blad and Elena Franco has caught the attention of many people on their journey including Rob Sellin, of Concerned Citizens of South Portland (left) and David Massen, of the Citizens Climate Lobby (right). (Courtesy photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – In the first days of a bicycle trip that will span eight weeks and hundreds of miles, the biggest problem for the Climate Summer Maine team was the weather.

Climate Summer is a summer internship program that spreads college students throughout New England to fight environmental issues like hydraulic fracking, natural gas pipelines and tar sands oil pipelines.

However, as the Maine team began their trip from Lowell, Mass. to Maine Tuesday, June 25, the six college students were faced with a much more basic problem: riding on metal bikes into an oncoming thunderstorm.

Luckily, in the middle of the storm, the group encountered Ruth Abelmann, a University of New Hampshire employee from Durham, N.H. Abelmann and her husband Michael welcomed the team into their home, offering food, coffee, dry clothes and a covered roof while the storm passed.

The Climate Summer team is in Maine for two primary reasons: to learn about the efforts individuals are making to stop pipeline companies from bringing tar sands oil through the state, and to help those individuals spread the word about their cause. But in a blog post chronicling the team’s journey, video coordinator and Barnard College student Mariah Chen wrote the Abelmanns’ kindness provided a different education.

“If there’s one thing Ruth reminds me of, it’s that true kindness cannot be quantified, tallied, or articulated. It’s a sensation – inherently decentralized – a strong grounding for a movement,” Chen wrote.

Once the team safely arrived in Maine, they made their way to the South Portland area to learn about community members’ efforts to fight tar sands oil transportation to Casco Bay. Robert Sellin, a member of the Concerned Citizens of South Portland, took the team on a bicycle tour of the city that included Bug Light Park and Southern Maine Community College.

The Concerned Citizens of South Portland hope to block the transportation of tar sands oil to Maine because of the risk the substance has of spilling.

The Portland Pipe Line Corp. has no plans to transport tar sands oil, but representatives have said they would be open to the opportunity. Company representatives say Portland Pipe Line Corp. has maintained a high standard of safety for more than 70 years and should be allowed to pursue interests that benefit business.

After their South Portland tour, the Climate Summer team set up an exhibit Friday, July 5 on Congress Street at Portland’s First Friday Art Walk. The group displayed a mosaic board asking residents about their vision of a healthy Maine, as well as a video petition in which residents were filmed holding signs explaining their opposition to tar sands.

Garrett Blad, the media coordinator for the Maine team, is a rising junior at the Univertsity of Notre Dame, where he is majoring in sustainable policy and environmental science. Blad said he was interested in the program because it was unconventional and offered something different than simply sitting behind a desk all summer.

“When you learn about climate change you learn the science is not lacking. We’re not waiting for our scientists to understand what’s happening, because we know what’s happening. The problem is we’re not acting. I felt like I needed to get out there.”

After spending a week in Portland, the Maine team will make their way north, spending a week in Windham, Lewiston, Waterville and Belfast before turning around and making their way south through the state. At the end of the summer, all Climate Summer teams will meet on Cape Cod to promote Cape Wind, the proposed offshore wind farm.

Throughout the summer, the team hopes to connect with municipal representatives, concerned citizens and community leaders Blad said are often overlooked, but vitally important in causing environmental change.

“The whole thought is to grow this grassroots movement by connecting with the values of the community,” Blad said.

While achieving that goal, the team has to rely on the kindness of strangers such as the Abelmanns, survive on a $36 total food budget for day, and learn to work closely together as a group to overcome challenges, which have not all been weather-related.

For example, the team ran into a physical obstacle when they approached the Maine-New Hampshire border. One of the bridges in Portsmouth leading to Maine was closed, so they approached a bridge along the freeway without a bike path. A policeman noticed the six bikers, asked what they were doing, and, after they explained, escorted them to the bridge.

Once the team lifted their supplies and bikes over a barrier away from traffic, they saw lights flashing. Panicked, thinking the bridge was being opened while the six were crossing, Blad rushed to the bridge operator, who explained the bridge was being closed to allow the bikers to cross.

“‘Y’all were a bunch of fish left in a frying pan,’” the bridge operator told Blad, according to a blog post from outreach coordinator Shaun Carland of Portland, the only Mainer on the team.

The experience was “absolutely dreadful,” Carland wrote, but the stressful situation brought out the best in the six individuals. For the next month, the team will continue to receive their unusual education – about the environment and about themselves. 

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