TOWARDS THE END of 2009, Tom Weis was a man growing weary, watching the pre-Obama promises of a cleaner, more sustainable future slip away, bit by bit. As the enthusiasm brought on by the idea of a quick U-turn in energy policy was replaced by ever-deepening despair over the realization that even the most minimal environmental changes could be decades away, Weis’ life work as an activist and political organizer was beginning to look like grains of sand in a desert sea of apathy and opposition.
“I’ve been a professional environmental and political organizer for the past two and a half decades,” says Weis. “I’ve worked in the halls of Congress as a congressional aide. I’ve worked on presidential campaigns as a field director. I’ve led organizations. I’ve gotten arrested trying to shut down Boulder’s coal-fired power plant. And I had just devoted the past five years of my life unsuccessfully trying to galvanize the wind industry to step up and lead the green industrial revolution. I was sickened by the sorry excuses for climate bills coming out of Congress, with their ridiculous 2050 timelines. And I was feeling overall a deep sense of despair over the fate of the world and what kind of future we’re leaving our children.”
It was then that a vague, life-long dream returned to him. Instead of feeling sorry for himself and for the movement he’d nursed along like a sick friend, Weis was reinvigorated to get off his ass and do something, even something a little crazy, to get the people of the United States as invigorated about renewable energy as he was.
“I decided I could not spend one more day sitting in front of my computer with everything collapsing around us,” says Weis. “We’re in a crisis, but we’re not acting like it. We’re out of time, and I just can’t sit still anymore. So I shut down my consulting gigs, moved out of my apartment, put what little I own in storage and walked out my front door to ride across the country and tell the American people what’s going on.”
Weis, an avid but by no means extraordinary cyclist, decided he would put his money where his mouth is and pedal around the country showing everyone he could, friend and foe, that there are other options than the status quo of hydrocarbon-based fuels.
“I truly believe once they understand the true extent of this crisis, they will demand bold action from our so-called political leaders in Washington, D.C.,” says Weis. “I’ve always thought the environmental movement spends too much time talking to themselves. The same goes with the two major political parties. This isn’t about whether you consider yourself an environmentalist, or a Republican or a Democrat. We all need clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, healthy food to eat and a stable planet to live on.”
To a lesser extent Weis is also out to confront what he sees as a political system hijacked by special interests and cash-induced apathy.
“This is about taking back our power from unaccountable corporations who are running the show in D.C.,” says Weis. “Why President Obama himself hasn’t used the bully pulpit of the presidency to rally the American people around this issue utterly astounds me, but he still has time. The way to get this country back on track is by rallying Main Street America with a bold, exciting vision of what America can be.” Weis’ message is a simple one: 100 percent renewable energy for the United States by 2020. The realities of that goal are a bit murkier, especially considering some of the people who are supposed to be pushing Weis’ agenda are the ones muddying up the water. Weis calls Congress’s goal of 2050 too little too late. He wants to make ambition a bigger part of the discussion and says it’s exactly the kind of thing America is known for.
“One-hundred percent by 2020 is an ambitious goal, to be sure, but no more audacious than Obama’s presidential campaign, and he’s now the president,” says Weis. “We have the technology. What’s lacking is the political will.
The good news is there are precedents in the U.S. for this kind of massive and rapid economic conversion. During World War II, we initially resisted joining the war effort, but once we embraced our role, we turned the tide of that war in three and a half short years. This is America. We can do this.”
Since he’s riding across the country to promote a slightly futuristic idea of energy production, Weis thought it best to make the trip in something a little more eye-catching than an ordinary bicycle. Enter the German-built Go-One Rocket Trike, a stable, three-wheeled bicycle with an electrical assist motor contained inside a hand-crafted, carbon fiber shell that looks like the cockpit of a fighter jet. It’s not the cheapest way to pedal cross-country (Weis said his cost about what you’d expect to pay for a nice used car), but it does the job Weis needs it to do.
“The reason I picked this particular trike, even though I had to liquidate my retirement fund to buy it, is I needed something that was going to capture people’s imaginations to build interest in the 100 Percent By 2020 goal,” says Weis. “It represents human ingenuity, it’s a conversation starter, it’s cool, and it’s fun. People smile when they see it. Saving civilization is going to be a big job, but there’s no reason why it can’t also be fun. Who wants to be part of a depressing cause? It’s time to bring some joy back into the planetary protection movement.”
That movement, Weis says, needs more than just the usual suspects to succeed. Ordinary Americans, he says, can make a big difference in the energy debate, and getting them on board is a critical part of his trip.
“That’s why I’m riding through Middle America and Appalachia to push this 100 percent by 2020 goal,” says Weis. “I’ll be visiting major wind projects, solar projects, coal plants, nuclear plants and lending my support to the brave activists fighting mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. I’m riding across the country so I can connect with the American people one-on-one.”
Weis is the first to admit that his chosen path is one wrought with adversity. Along with the conversion of the car-loving masses and the monumental task of reorienting energy policy, there is also the small matter of actually pedaling about 2,000 miles through 10 states. Boulder, of course, is filled with people that could make such a trip with, if not ease, minor difficulty. Weis, by his own admission, is not one of those people.
“I’m no Boulder elite athlete,” says Weis. “I’m just a middle-aged guy who’s had it with Washington, D.C., and wants to see real change. I biked through most of the winter and trained this spring and early summer, … but focused training ultimately gave way to planning and preparations, as I’m doing this project without any organizational support. So I honestly don’t know how well I’ll do.”
Still, he’s confident he’ll be able to hit his goal of riding 60 to 80 miles each day, through sheer force of will if necessary.
“In addition to the internal visioning I do, I just try to keep my eyes on the prize,” says Weis. “Whenever things get tough, and there have been plenty of difficult moments over the past seven months, I just remind myself of the urgency of the situation. Ideally, I could have used another six months to adequately prepare, but we’re running out of time to address this crisis.”
And address the crisis he will. Once he arrives in Washington, D.C., Weis plans to meet with any and every political figure he can to spread his mantra of renewable energy. He also has an online petition he hopes to present to anyone who can make a difference.
“I try not to have expectations, because they can limit outcomes, but I want the online petition to make the social media rounds and go viral,” says Weis. “I don’t have a specific number of signers in mind. I just want to show Congress and the White House that we, the people, mean business and demand and expect action from them on a huge scale. When I get to Washington, D.C., I plan to invite as many supporters as want to join me for a press conference at the White House, and the U.S. House and Senate office buildings, to deliver our petition.”
Weis says he hopes to meet with as many members of Congress as possible and even President Obama. After that he’ll return to Colorado by train, with no solid plans.
“I have no idea what I will do when this is all over,” says Weis. “I just know it’s something I need to do, so I’m going for it.”
To sign the online petition and to follow Weis’ travels visit http://rideforrenewables.com. You can also visit his cross-country ride blog at www.boulderweekly.com.