Constable: Environmentalists putting pedal, mettle toward climate change
In 1979, as Environmental Protection Agency was beefing up the Clean Water and Clean Air acts, environmentally minded college student Mark Ailes, his friend Kay Richards and three other residents of their co-op at Michigan State University pedaled their bicycles from California to Michigan.
"It was a trip of extremes," remembers Ailes, now 63 and living in Lombard. "It was hot. It was cold. We met some nice people, and we met some not-so-nice people."
Forty-one years later, Ailes, who has been married to Richards for 37 years, is embarking on a bicycle trip to Washington, D.C., as part of a Citizens' Climate Lobby call to peddle legislative ideas to address climate change. Ailes will depart at 9:15 a.m. Saturday from the Starbucks across from Chicago's Millennium Park with fellow CCL of Naperville members David Gorman, 52, the assistant public works director for Lombard, and Mike Winter, 63, who lives in Wheaton and runs Sedwall precision tooling company in St. Charles. The trio will meet up with fellow bicyclist Michael Cushion in Michigan before completing their 12-day, 900-mile odyssey, receiving training and spending a day lobbying politicians.
Ailes envisions the bike ride as a way to bring attention to the problem of climate change, which gets bogged down in politics and can be overwhelming.
"It's a monumental problem," Ailes says. "It's hard to visualize what you can do and what effect it will have."
A bipartisan, grass-roots approach to climate issues, the CCL currently promotes the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763).
Ailes says the act would curb America's emissions by charging penalties to polluters, returning money in that Carbon Dividend Trust Fund to consumers, and encouraging new energy innovations. Ailes hopes to raise $5,000 in donations to the Climate Lobby Education effort through a link at donate.citizensclimateeducationcorp.org/fundraiser/2016878.
Gorman, who lives in Downers Grove and also is Lombard's environment sustainability manager, says he certainly wants "to walk the talk."
Winter, who rides his bike 17 miles to work most days, says he, Gorman and Ailes learned about CCL through a presentation at their DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church in Naperville. Instead of waging political battles, the CCL "has a way of making something everyone can get on board with," Winter says.
Coming up with unique ways to tackle problems was part of the job for Ailes, a former physics teacher at Addison Trail High School who usually rode his bike to work.
His teaching methods made him a finalist for Illinois Teacher of the Year in 1996. Showing how liquid nitrogen freezes objects quickly, Ailes not only used a frozen banana to hammer a nail into wood, he also pretended to freeze his finger by sneaking a hot dog inside his surgical glove and then smashed it to bits with a hammer.
Richards, a former physical education teacher and swimming coach, has always been a bicyclist. She and Ailes are members of the Wheaton Pedal Pushers. But this trek will be a challenge, Ailes admits.
With plans to stay mostly at campgrounds in sleeping bags under an uncomfortable-looking lean-to shelter that uses his bike as support, Ailes has mapped out the trip to average about 70 miles a day -- and never pedal more than 97 miles in a day.
This past November, Ailes lobbied local members of Congress and says even the "climate deniers" moved toward acknowledging a problem and wanting to help. After all, the climate affects everyone, from residents and vacationers on both coasts to farmers in the Midwest.
"I have to think that we've got to try," Ailes says. "It's just a question of, 'Will we do enough, soon enough?'"