On July 28, Laura Pauls-Thomas, along with other 18 cyclists, rode into Washington, D.C., to advocate for legislation addressing climate change.
Pauls-Thomas, 26, of Lancaster, joined the core group of 18 cyclists — calling themselves the Climate Riders — for the final five days of a nearly two-month cross-country ride that spanned 3,737 miles from Seattle, Washington, to Washington, D.C. Pauls-Thomas was the only Lancaster rider to join the group.
“I think riding bicycles spark an appreciation for what’s around us that will lead us to want to care for the earth and the people that are sustained by it,” says Pauls-Thomas, a communications and donor relations associate with the Mennonite Central Committee.
The ride was organized by the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions, partnering with Mennonite Central Committee, Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College.
“What sticks with me the most is the parallel between riding your bicycle across the country and the enormous issue of climate change,” Pauls-Thomas says. “Climate change can feel overwhelming. It’s a big problem, and it’s very urgent. Riding your bicycle across the country is also a daunting thing, but what the riders told me is that you can accomplish daunting things when you have the support of other people around you.”
Pauls-Thomas says the riders told her stories about passing through forests devastated by wildfires in eastern Washington state and their meeting a Wyoming farmer whose crops were failing due to extreme waves of heat and drought. The riders also recounted how they were trying to fill up their water bottles from a spigot in Nebraska only to be told the water wasn’t clean enough to drink.
Pauls-Thomas rode her bike from her home in Lancaster city to the Amtrak station and put her gray-green 2020 Kona Sutra bike onto the train to Pittsburgh, where she met up with the Climate Riders. She rode 326 miles with them from Pittsburgh to the finish line in Washington, D.C., and completed the entire trip without setting foot in a car.
In Washington, D.C., Pauls-Thomas joined the riders in advocating for legislation addressing climate change.
Still wearing her sweaty, dust-covered cycling clothes, Pauls-Thomas participated in a Zoom meeting with a member of Sen. Bob Casey’s staff to share stories from her experience on the ride and talk about domestic legislation prioritizing climate action and environmental justice.
“It seemed like (Casey’s) office was really on board with a lot of the environmental justice aspects of climate action particularly thinking about how climate action should prioritize the well-being of BIPOC communities who are disproportionately affected by climate change and environmental injustice,” Pauls-Thomas says.
We’re not experiencing the most devastating aspects of climate change in Lancaster County, says Pauls-Thomas, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be advocating for change. Pauls-Thomas notes the MCC works with 45 countries across the globe and their partners in those countries urge them to help share their stores of how climate change is affecting them.
“For these global neighbors, climate change can mean many things, it can mean fewer harvest, loss of livestock, stress on resources, reduced income, food insecurity, the need to migrate to find employment,” Pauls-Thomas says. “So I think it’s really important for people in Lancaster County to know that climate change is already having devastating effects on our global neighbors. We want to hear and amplify these voices and tell people what is going on.”
Visit mcc.org to learn more about how the organization is advocating for climate change.