Uli Nagel continues her journey through Florida by PEBL, seeking to raise awareness about climate change, and to learn more about the impact of climate change in southern Florida.

My first stop in Florida is Miami Beach. The high-rises across the bay seem to float. Islands are connected by causeways a foot above sea level. The air is so soft, with pelicans gliding above the beach and an abundance of flowering plants everywhere. I can see why people want to spend winters here. A road I am walking on is being raised ten inches: a city buying time. I ride on and wonder, which will be the mayor who has to tell their constituents: guys, it’s time to move. We should make a plan to relocate.

Bike paths are everywhere, even on eight-lane-highways. I ride right into downtown Miami, past the cruise ships and over to the CLEO Conference on Climate Change. I’m greeted by sobering facts, along with inspiring determined people. There are many presentations of local and global attempts to mitigate, slow down and reverse climate change.

The PEBL feels tiny among the high-rises and SUVs as I ride back to my airbnb in the dusk and rain. I have to pay a lot of attention, especially at crossings. A few times I get stranded on a footpath that looked like a refuge but turned out to be a dead-end.

The next day it’s sunny, and I am tabling at Lincoln Mall, where the PEBL again proves itself as a great conversation starter. We collect our first 50 constituent letters, asking members of Congress to do more for climate change.

The following day, my friend Judy Fox and I treat ourselves to a day in the Everglades, a place of astonishing beauty. Timelessness shines in the alligators’ eyes. We take a boat trip with a member of a local tribe, who shows us a village abandoned not that long ago. The life lived there, full of resources and wisdom, is still tangible.

Then I start my trip up north. Judy will be somewhere close by in the car. We want to focus on talking to people, more than worrying about specific distances to ride. Nova University students invite us to their Recylemania Event, a competition among universities to reduce waste. I later learn that Berkshire Community College back at home in Massachusetts has ranked among the top 5 colleges nationwide in each of the past 3 years!

Further north, we meet up with a conservation group in Delray, trying to protect local endangered plants. They are wonderful, thoughtful and humorous people and we talk about the futility of their cause if sea level rise is not stopped. I learn that 50% of Florida lands are protected. Mostly wetlands, which, I am also learning, are less bio-diverse.

Clients who winter in Florida invite me to stay with them in Palm Beach and Palm Beach Garden. I get to know the comforts of a golf community. It really is a community, with members engaged in all kinds of activities and projects together.

Soon, space begins to open up. I am passing state parks, conservation areas, wildlife habitats. Everywhere I stop, I am stopped. “What’s this (the PEBL)? How adorable! How far are you going? How fast does it go?”

I am learning to answer all questions, asking some myself, dropping my agenda for a while, connecting to whoever is in front of me: well-meaning, sensible people from all over the United States. People who are relieved to hear that bi-partisan work is happening in Congress. I realize just how lucky it is to be connected to Citizens’ Climate Lobby – I feel free to speak to anyone, regardless of whether they might be Republicans, Democrats or something else.  A couple invites me to spend the night in their home and I do.

At the ‘Party in the Park,’ a sustainability event in Fort Pierce, we gather another 50 letters. My husband Rod takes over from Judy and heads to St. Petersburg, where we will meet up again. I will be travelling 270 miles on my own. I now have some luggage in the PEBL, enough for a three or four day trip. First stop: Cape Canaveral. It’s stunning to stand at the site where people leave for space. We humans are so smart. What couldn’t we accomplish if we made climate change our number 1 priority?

One late afternoon I pass two men who are directing traffic around roadwork. They shout and jump at the sight of the PEBL. I get out and we talk for a while, about their work in the sun all day and about my German accent. One of them surprises me by mentioning the term carbon footprint; I had not expected them to be so well-informed.

They both write letters to their congressman, as do, in the coming days: a retired fishermen, an auto-worker, two middle class ladies on an afternoon walk, a teenager on a motor bike, who hates politics, a popcorn seller at Winter Park Market, an ex-Navy Seal, who wants to get more involved, a man who thinks we need nuclear energy but does not like to talk about it, because he gets flak right away.  Visitors at the Green Collard Festival in St. Petersburg, where the cities’ sustainability officer takes the PEBL for a ride.

Only two people I approach say they think climate change is a hoax, but of course the Florida governor thinks so. I meet a man whose son worked in the Emergency Services and Preparedness Office for Governor Walker, yet was not allowed to use the words Climate Change or Global Warming on his trips to communities to consult them. He eventually found a more sensible employer.

Just 30 miles north of St. Petersburg, I run out of battery for the one and only time, much sooner than expected, but after riding for 12 hours straight. Rod picks me up and we trailer the PEBL the final stretch. Our airbnb host is a well-known activist in town and takes the PEBL to show it off at city hall. Several officials give it a try – it’s a very progressive town.

So many conversations, so many interested people. A total of 200 letters written, to be hand-delivered to Washington at the CCL conference in June. There is a part in the north of Florida where I do not ask people to write letters. I think I am subconsciously expecting ‘no’s and forget to try. It’s a gorgeous part: horse ranches with Spanish moss cloaking oaks, vast stretches of jungle-like forests. There, I also get lost on a dirt road supposed to be part of the cross-state bike-path.

Coming back to the Berkshires, my friends ask: How was your trip? Where you successful? Did you feel it was worthwhile?

Yes. It was amazing, inspiring and energizing. And I keep wondering why. The thing is, when you read about climate change, learn more about the science and the tipping points we are currently passing, it can be hard to be happy or optimistic about any kind of action or change – nothing seems of the right scale and urgency.

Yet meeting so many people who obviously care, who are interested, inspired, thoughtful and concerned was a big boost.  200 letters to Congress are good, and every conversation taught me something. It was freeing to learn to follow someone into their story, find common ground there and become more aware of all the small and not so small assumptions and prejudices I hold.

Being out on the road and still feeling safe was freeing. It made me more focused, unapologetic in my concern and at the same time more willing to see that I do not have many answers.

The climate issue is a human issue.  We respond to each other’s impulse to be of service, to do great things, to show potential. I was encouraged, supported and cheered on by a lot of people. Feeling that support changed me too. The consciousness of enough of us needs to change and no one can do that alone. Maybe in the conversations, in questioning and listening, we can create a culture of openness to new ideas, a recognition that we are all in the same boat, on the same precious, fragile and at the same time always powerful planet.

Florida is a microcosm both of our ability to deny reality and our fearlessness and creativity in facing it. Many places probably are. Keeping my nose in reality for five weeks, without distraction, was a gift. I hope it has ripple effects beyond myself.

Uli with her PEBL

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.