Biking for Climate Change

On June 25, a Sunday, the well-known DC bookstore and coffeehouse Politics and Prose hosted a talk with David Goodrich. A former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate scientist and past director of the Global Climate Observing System, Goodrich recently published his book, A Hole in the Wind: A Climate Scientist’s Bicycle Journey Across the United States. Having written about his journey in the Humanist magazine back in 2014, the new memoir tells the full tale of his experience biking across the country from Delaware to Oregon observing climate change and talking about its impact with locals in the regions.

Goodrich’s talk at Politics and Prose shed light on the intricacies and contradictions that are a part of the climate change conversation. For example, while climbing the Rockies in Colorado he noticed that the forests were grey, filled with dead trees, and that the mountain pine beetles, usually killed off during the winter, were everywhere as Colorado had not faced temperatures below twenty or thirty degrees Fahrenheit in years. “It’s the kind of thing that [had it] happened over a week, two weeks, or even a month, [there] would’ve been headlines,” Goodrich explained, “But, it wasn’t. It happened over five or ten years and sort of in slow motion. It doesn’t happen in ‘Twitter speed’ and sometimes people don’t exactly notice it.”

He observed that while many people were openly willing to discuss the weather with him and even the topographic changes like recent droughts in Kansas, people shied away from the “C” word. Apparently once “climate” or “climate change” were mentioned, the conversation became a political one, something impolite to discuss with strangers. One woman in Kansas, upon hearing that Goodrich was studying climate change, asked, “Do you know Al Gore?”

“It always seemed crazy to me that this seemed to be a right versus left thing,” Goodrich remarked about the politicization of global warming. Even so, Goodrich felt encouraged by the people he met in those places coasters dismissively call the “flyover” states. He even pointed out how the vilification of those in the middle of the country is ironic and counterproductive as the energy economy has been booming in these regions for years. With wind farms in Kansas, Iowa, and Texas (the biggest wind energy producer in all of the United States), the flyover” states will likely become the ones powering the country.

Despite this hopeful vision, the current administration refuses the reality and gravity of climate change, evidenced by Trump’s recent withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. Goodrich maintains his optimism, not only affirming that, “The rest of the world will be moving on with this agreement,” but also citing that many states and cities across the country have committed themselves to previously enacted goals and measures of the agreement. In fact, one doesn’t have to look much further past the White House to find more socially responsible policies taking place as the city of Washington, DC, divested from fossil fuels earlier this month.

These two contradictory paths occurring in DC speak to the split between those who deny climate change and those who want to address it. For those who want to begin a dialogue with the other side about the highly substantiated and widely accepted reality of a warming globe, Goodrich believes that listening is key. “I think you want to start out by listening and by asking, ‘What do you see that’s changed?’”

Goodrich also wants A Hole in the Wind to rattle the common conversation and highlight the connection between the middle of the country and the coasts through his stories of scenic routes, nudist hot springs, and the time a motel concierge drilled a hole through his wall.

“Ultimately, I believe there’s hope,” Goodrich concludes. “It’s a long-term process. I think we spend too much time thinking about what will happen in the next three, the next four years. We know that the political pendulum will swing, but the long-term trend to me seems in the right direction.”