Until three weeks ago, Malkolm Boothroyd had only the long, carefree days of summer to look forward to. Now, the 17-year-old has 5,500 kilometres of Canadian geography to contemplate over the handlebars of his bike.
While other people his age will be slinging coffees and lifeguarding kiddie pools, Boothroyd will be cycling to Ottawa to demand the federal government move forward on climate change issues.
He’s one of hundreds of other Canadian cyclists making the cross-country trek to Parliament Hill in time for the start of the House of Commons’ fall session.
“I’m very concerned about climate change and the federal government’s lack of response on climate change,” said Boothroyd on Friday, two days before he left.
“Converging in Ottawa will hopefully have an effect.”
The group, who have dubbed themselves, Pedal for the Planet, will present a petition to Parliament about moving forward on climate change issues.
The petition asks the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 25 per cent of 1990 levels. It also asks for a national strategy on climate change and assistance for developing nations wanting to reduce their carbon footprints.
Boothroyd will be the only cyclist to ride to Ottawa from the North. He’ll be travelling with his mother, Wendy Boothroyd, to Edmonton—a 2,000-kilometre journey they’re hoping to complete in little more than two weeks time.
From Edmonton, he’ll join up with other cyclists in the West and begin the grueling two-and-a-half-month journey to Ottawa.
“It’ll be cool to be the only ambassador from the North. I’m looking forward to whatever that involves,” he said.
When he first heard about the trip, Boothroyd wanted to start even further north than Whitehorse.
“Malkolm’s first thought was to bike from Inuvik down the Dempster Highway to Edmonton,” said climate change specialist John Streicker, who persuaded Boothroyd, at the last minute, to go on the trip.
“But he would have had to leave the next day.”
On Sunday, Boothroyd set out. Streicker and several of Boothroyd’s supporters rode the first leg with him, to Teslin. During the 190 kilometre ride, Boothroyd was already planning his next biking trip, said Streicker.
Boothroyd is no stranger to long-distance biking. Last year, he did a year-long-trip from Whitehorse to Florida
“This time, I learned not to bring as much gear,” said Boothroyd.
Boothroyd is travelling light, carrying everything he needs in panniers strapped to the sides of his bike. He’s already mailed himself food boxes that he’ll pick up at post office stops along the Alaska Highway.
Unlike other groups travelling from either coast, Boothroyd opted to go without a support vehicle.
“He feels really strongly that we shouldn’t have any cars along the way,” said Amber Church, speaking on behalf of Pedal for the Planet from Edmonton.
“We’ll have one support vehicle travelling from the West,” she said. “Some people going from Vancouver to Ottawa haven’t done trips longer than a couple of hours.”
Church wasn’t sure how many cyclists will arrive in Ottawa on September 20 since some cyclists will only be joining the group for part of the ride.
“By the time they hit Ottawa there will have been probably thousands of people who participated,” she said.
A cross-country ride of this size is important in raising awareness, said Church.
“Internationally, (Canada) is at the bottom of the barrel in terms of climate-change action.”
In December, Canada will take part in a United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen.
“They’ll be negotiating a post-Kyoto framework on climate change and Canada is stalling these negotiations. They’re not doing enough,” said Church.
With the effects of climate change already being felt up north with the melting of the permafrost and the emergence of spruce bark beetle in Kluane, Canada can’t ignore the role it plays in climate change, said Church.
“As one of the largest greenhouse gas producers in the world we should be contributing more (to the talks),” she said.
“Some countries are calling for emission rates even lower than what our petition calls for.”
The bike ride is one of several actions being planned by Kyoto Plus, a Canadian coalition of 65 peace and social justice organizations.
On October 24, the group is hoping to get 100,000 people on Parliament Hill for the International Day of Action on Climate Change.
“The battle may feel like an uphill one, but it’s even more so if you don’t do something,” said Streicker.
“Our (federal) environment minister speaks about striking a balance between the environment and the economy, but the old model of pitting the environment against the economy isn’t the way forward.”
Contact Vivian Belik at firstname.lastname@example.org