When I learned through the book Seasick that the oceans are dying, I was almost paralyzed. How can something as huge, as boundless, as essential to my perception of the Earth be in such grave danger? I get climate change, I get forests, I get rivers, I get polar bears – but the ocean? The crises our Earth is living through hits different people in different ways. This was my ‘wake-up’ moment.

All I could think of doing in response was: ‘Pack up and go talk to people. You have to get moving.’ An idea formed – what if I travelled the East Coast of the US, from the south of Florida to the north of Maine? Could I find a way to communicate, with all kinds of people, about what is happening to the oceans? This was my biggest question: how best to speak to people? Alarmism often gets instant push-back. Just throwing facts at people seems to be equally unproductive. Activism itself seems to have a bad rep.

Maybe human beings would respond better to hope, to positive solutions, to clear goals? But why would anyone want to speak with me? Did I need a solution or solutions to direct people to? Did it make sense to do this by myself? With whom could I collaborate?

The Elf

Enter the Elf. When I first caught a glimpse of this new, electrically assisted tricycle in Washington DC, I was hooked – it was just so cool! The idea of owning such a vehicle got me excited like a kid before Christmas. When I googled it to find out more, I discovered that not far from my home in Lee, MA, a teenager was running a kick-starter campaign to build a very similar trike, fit for our northern climate.

His model was called a PEBL, and when I took it for a ride, not only was I hooked on the fun of riding it, a number of other things fell into place.

The PEBL would be a perfect conversation starter in any kind of outreach effort. Such a fun vehicle could break the ice and make it easier to talk to people about global warming. Also, it was a good example of a creative and uplifting solution to one aspect of the issue. And in a case of amazing synchronicity, I had just been given money by a wealthy and very generous Pilates client, who wanted to support my climate work. This allowed me to have a PEBL built.

I also joined Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a national climate action group that is working with every member of congress toward carbon fee and dividend legislation, a solution to the climate crisis that effects the whole economy and has the potential to get bipartisan support. CCL inspired me because of the focus on building trusting relationships with members of Congress over time; on listening, learning and engaging in thorough and rigorous research and education.

It took the makers of the PEBL much longer than expected to get all the details right, but finally, on a frosty morning in late January, I left the Berkshires, the PEBL on trailer, to drive down to Miami Beach. From there, I’d start the journey north to Cape Canaveral and, as it turned out, across Florida and back south to St. Petersburg. Those 500+ miles would be an experiment to test my idea of using the PEBL as an outreach tool. And maybe it would be the first leg of my dream journey up the entire East Coast.

The PEBL in Florida

Five weeks later, I can say that the PEBL really did prove itself to be a perfect conversation starter. From sun-hardened road-workers to retired residents of fancy golf-communities, from scientists and elected officials to ice-cream vendors, from kids to 85 year olds, I got to speak with people from all walks of life.

In the next issue of Fired Up! I will write about some of the many memorable encounters and stories I was lucky enough to experience. 


Uli Nagel is a German-born long-time resident of the Berkshires. A Pilates instructor by trade, she spends most of her time working on climate change: running the ener-G-save energy efficiency project in Pioneer Valley, volunteering for Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the Lee Greener Gateway Committee and co-organizing the yearly “Earth Expo” in the Berkshires. The blog of her recent trip to Florida, riding a velo-mobile across the state for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, is called “Pebling for a Carbon Free Future.”  You can also find out more about her trip on Facebook.