Students Cycle to Save Arctic Ice

By Joe Flaherty

Students pumped up their bicycle tires to participate in a social-media-focused campaign by Greenpeace encouraging bike-riding to raise awareness for the plight of the Arctic on Sunday, Sept. 15. The main objective of the event was to bring attention to oil companies who plan to drill for oil made newly available by the melting of Arctic sea ice.  Simultaneously, the student organizers made connections to the Addison Natural Gas Project pipeline underway locally.

The group of 10 biked 1.5 miles to the Apple Fest at Shoreham Town Green. Event organizer Ellie Ng ’14 said it was also a day for students from disparate environmental groups to connect with others.

At the start of the bike ride, event organizer Adrian Leong ’16 explained how in 116 cities in 33 countries, Greenpeace Ice Rides are springing up everywhere. Middlebury’s was the only one in the Northeastern United States.

The Ice Ride event is somewhat of a departure from Greenpeace’s norm of nonviolent direct action.

“Recently Greenpeace has been trying to occupy more of the dialogue surrounding this issue,” said Leong.

According to Leong, the goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of the risks associated with arctic drilling through the use of social media. To this end, Leong and Ng were sharing photos of Middlebury’s official Ice Ride event on Facebook and Twitter.

Some students walking by Adirondack Circle commented on the cyclists’ send-off.

“I think it’s good initiative, the fact that they’re using popular media to get people to know about it and I think it’s a very smart way to go about issues like this,” said Joanne Wu ’15.

Jeannie Bartlett ’15, who cycled in the event, heard about the event from an email sent to the Middlebury climate campaign list.

“I wanted to come because it’s a beautiful bike ride and a fun thing to do on a Sunday, but also because these collective actions that take place across the country or across the world at separate locations can be really powerful because of the power of digital media now,” said Bartlett, citing 350.org as another organization that connects local events to a national movement.

Bartlett also said the day was an opportunity to remember the implications of melting polar ice caps.

“I think we need to remember that the melting of the Arctic isn’t just the melting of the Arctic, it’s also the rising and warming of the seas and many other things that will really directly affect humans,” said Bartlett. “Even though I think the Arctic as an ecosystem is important in and of itself I also think it’s really important for the impact it has on people.”

While several students on the bicycle route were veterans of campus environmental groups such as Sunday Night Group and Divest Middlebury, others were just there to ride.

“I heard about the event through an email,” Nathalia Gonzalez ’17 said. “I didn’t hear about a lot of people that said they were going but I figured, why not? It would be a really fun ride to go to an Apple Fest.”

Gonzalez said she had heard about Greenpeace before but did not know much about the organization or this particular campaign.

Ng said the problem with energy sources like oil and natural gas is that the power is concentrated in large companies and governments.

“With renewable energy like solar panels, wind farms, or biomass, it is more local and people have more power,” she said. The bike ride symbolizes this power to the people.”

The cyclists also encountered signs of another environmental policy playing out right in their backyard.  Leong said they saw signs that read “Keep Cornwall Safe” and “Keep Shoreham Safe” on their route, referring to the plan by company Vermont Gas to run a natural gas pipeline through several Vermont towns.

“Along the road to Shoreham there were a few signs about the [Addison Natural Gas Project] pipeline,” said Ng. “As with the gas pipeline and energy issues around the world, in that sense, when we passed by those signs we felt connected to this global movement.”

Leong said that the argument in favor of drilling for oil in the Arctic, like the argument in favor of Vermont natural gas, does not make much sense.

“Drilling in the arctic is what we call a false climate change solution,” he said. “A lot of governments or companies say that drilling for gas or drilling for oil are transitional fuels and that’s the reason why they are drilling in the arctic, buying time for others to develop renewable energy. But we’re saying the transition period has gone already. We don’t have any capital to burn any more fossil fuels. We have to switch from fossil fuels to renewables now.’”

Leong said making a last stand for an unspoiled natural Arctic is what makes the issue so urgent.

“The arctic ice is melting and that is what is allowing the drilling and fishing fleets to go in,” said Leong. “[Ice Ride] is about people standing up and saying, ‘There are enough pristine environments being exploited in the world. The Arctic is the last one we want to preserve.’”