Trails help us combat climate change

BY HERB HILLER

Bicycles and trails have been godsends of relief during these times of COVID uncertainty. This has primed bicyclists and trail users, including the many more of us now in Volusia, to consider our role in the epoch of climate change already upon us.

Climate change defies postponement. Different from COVID-19, no vaccine will eliminate this threat that calls for national determination almost beyond grasp. 

Climate change is nothing we can grow our way out of. A world hellbent on growth is what got us here.

We need a new consensus that rejects economic determinism. It’s unacceptable that GDP rises when cattle ranching replaces rainforests and that we fail altogether to account for volunteer hours to clean up air and water.

As David Brooks writes in The New York Times, “I’ve found that about a third of the people I encounter in this work get the power of culture and the importance of culture change, and [the rest] focus exclusively on what can be quantified. And yet changing the national mind-set, the values, the norms, is the difficult and necessary work.”

We need an alternative index that measures our growing assurance that life on Earth will continue to be manageable. 

This index needs to include how we measure up to new standards of energy conservation, transportation efficiency, recycling, growing our own food, community-based enterprise and cultural inclusivity. 

What’s the aggregate measure of our relief that by climate action among family, workplaces, clubs, community centers and religious organizations we’re all in this together?

Except in wartime, we have never before as a nation awakened each morning imbued by public purpose ahead of private gain. This is no wartime when soldiers fight enemies at front lines while families left behind knit sweaters and bake cookies. 

We are all on the front lines to subdue our own inner enemy.

Some may at first find the shift in mind-set paralyzing. 

Will our new national administration show us that our work together will be endlessly creative? That every imaginable resource can be harnessed?

Some cyclists and trail users know that in 1983 Congress authorized “railbanking” to preserve inactive corridors for future rail reactivation, while providing for interim trail use; that in 1985 the Americans Outdoors Act for the first time qualified greenways for federal funding; that in 1986 the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy formed to convert abandoned rail corridors to rail-trails.

This refocus gained significantly with the passage of the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 that allowed new funding for trails to benefit multimodal transportation.

Most cyclists and trail users will have done little directly to influence these decisions that we received as investments made for us in multimodal mobility that get people out of cars, which goes to the heart of individual climate action.

The next steps are to make sure that every cyclist and trail user becomes fluent about our inheritance, about how shared fluency will empower others, and about how as the growing millions of us become informed the more secure our future appears and the better we feel.

Adoption of our inheritance will let us gain, implement and broadcast this fluency through social media and through our affiliations. 

Many familiar partners can enable us. 

I think of the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop Alliance, the Florida Bicycle Association, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and East Coast Greenway Alliance.

Also, ReThink Energy Florida, the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation, Climate Network International and the Climate Reality Project that educate, engage, and empower through adult outreach and community organizing that’s positive, civic-minded and solutions-focused.

The new national administration will almost surely call for an infrastructure bill framed by climate change and by incentives for active and multimodal transportation. 

The prospect will likely include countless grants for exploring how to accelerate our moving forward. Volusia is positioned to lead.

— Herb Hiller initiated the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop. He lives in DeLand