GrassRoutes trek celebrates change and hopeful environmentalism

grassroutes bow valley parkway.jpeg
Photo: courtesy of GrassRoutes Biking

Graham May, Cello Mizumoto, Louie Plottel and Georgia Williams decided to cross Canada on their bicycles to promote positive environmental initiatives.

There is an ever-increasing list of environmental worries that pop up everywhere we look. Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, the ravages created by the exploitation of Alberta’s tar sands, the Keystone pipeline, the shale gas industry and its hazardous fracking techniques, global warming, mysterious deaths in bee colonies all around the world, intensified use of pesticides in agriculture, rising distances traveled by food products between the field and the plate, nuclear disasters in Japan and the list goes on. Everywhere we look, we are made to think either that the world is coming to pieces or alternatively, that all of this is nonsense and that we should very well keep on doing what we are doing. In this debate between alarmism and denial, we often overlook these more nuanced people who, while being aware of the factual unsustainability of our present social organization, go beyond criticism and alarmism and actually get their hands dirty trying to find alternative ways of doing things.

Graham May, Cello Mizumoto, Louie Plottel and Georgia Williams are four such people. They have come to believe that the best way to overcome the environmental crisis is to act rather than to criticise, to show that different ways of doing things are not only possible, but are often already happening.

Together, they created an organization named GrassRoutes Biking. Their take on positive action has led them to bike from British Columbia to New Brunswick to raise awareness about environmental issues while inciting everyone to search for real, day-to-day, easily applicable solutions. As the four merry cyclists were passing through Québec City this week, I had the chance of chatting with them and getting to know a little more about their fundamentally positive take on environmentalism.

Taking the long way back. The idea for the cross-country bike trek originally came when Graham, a native British-Columbian, began wondering how he could head back to his east coast university without taking the plane.

Being an Environmental Studies major at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, Graham was only too aware that the aviation industry is a major greenhouse gas producer. He thus decided that the most ecological way to head back to his university would be to bike there. He formed a team of fellow ecologically-minded cyclists and together they decided that not only would they ride across the country, but they would also publicize and promote their journey. So, they have been stopping in summer schools, summer camps and youth groups everywhere in Canada to present conferences and workshops dealing with environmental issues.

The workshops they have been holding are based on a simple yet powerful premise: celebrating change at the community level. GrassRoutes Biking and its eager founders ask their youthful audiences to list their skills, to realize that there are many actions and projects which are accessible to them if only they become aware of their own multiple talents. The ideas that stem out of the workshops are inspiring to our four cyclists as they hold the promise that positive action based at the community level might be the answer to the ecological dilemma.

Top-down or bottom-up? In the wake of the recent Rio+20 environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro, it seems evermore unlikely that tangible and pragmatic solutions to our environmental problems will come “from above”. Governments, corporations, international organizations and the like seem to be locked in endless debates and discussions. While the planet veritably keeps on warming, while heaps of detritus keep on expanding, while the exploitation of natural resources keeps on intensifying, solutions being offered by our governing institutions don’t seem to match up to the task at hand. For Graham, like for many other hopeful activists, Rio+20 was a bit of a failure. As the name of their organization indicates, GrassRoutes Biking strives to complement the top-down approach of Rio+20 with a “bottom-up approach” that relies on citizen and community initiatives. Grassroots environmentalism not only implies changing our own day-to-day habits, it also calls for the creation of innovative projects that create the change we need right here and right now.

It is one thing to lobby governments and to put pressure on corporations to demand for environmental policies and responsible ecological behaviour. But for our four cyclists, we cannot rely solely on our leaders and remain dissatisfied and cynical while we wait. We need to act here and now. For them, this meant saving up on carbon emissions by biking across the country rather than flying there. It also meant spreading their message of entrepreneurial optimism : in the search for solutions and real change, our best asset remains our ability to come together and to construct the foundations of tomorrow through direct human interactions rather than top-down institutional mediation.

You can follow the group of cyclists and learn more about their project and journey by visiting their website at http://www.grassroutesbiking.com.