Archive for the ‘Climate’ Category

The Rising Oceans

Friday, March 16th, 2007

   I am sitting in an internet cafe in Punta Arenas, Chile, right now, doing web searches to figure out just how big of a problem sea level rise will be. The sea level has already risen over the past century, although only about one inch. As more glacial ice melts, what will it do from here on?

Monterey Bay and Research Station
Malibu, CA
La Paz Shoreline

   The most likely result is not that bad – maybe a foot and a half this century. This could be very bad for many places I have visited – especially along the Caribbean coast—and also make storms much worse, not to mention erode some nice beaches. But I might not call it a disaster.

Mazatlan Coast
Beach at Placencia
Coast at Omoa
Panama City
The San Blas Islands

   The problem, though, is that it takes a long time for ice sheets to melt, and we don’t really know how long that is. In the ‘long run,’ which could be centuries or millennium, with a likely 3 degree C warming, the ocean could rise 80 feet. We don’t know if it is centuries or millennium, because computer models for ice sheets are very inaccurate. If it is centuries, as some argue, the oceans could rise much faster than we would like – maybe a foot a decade. And, again, we don’t know, but, well, do we want to find out?

Cartagena sits barely above sea level
Santa Fe Coastline

   As I have said before, I am in Punta Arenas right now. Punta Arenas sits on the shore of the Straight of Magellan on the southern tip of South America, and is just one of the many cities on the coast that I have visited. Throughout this entry I have interspersed photos of the coastlines I have visited on this trip – take a look at them and envision what a 1 foot, 10 foot, or 80 foot sea level rise would look like.

Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales Shore
Punta Arenas Shoreline

Travel Summary – Bolivia, Argentina, & Chile

Monday, February 12th, 2007

(If you are signed up for the email list, you would get this entry emailed to you)

Ride for Climate followers,

   Hello from northern Patagonia. It is summer here, and I am relaxing in a small town before continuing on for the very last stretch of this journey. I have recently read through my personal journals for the past 15 months and I am literally having trouble processing everything that has happened. I find it difficult to believe how long ago it was that I was crossing Mexico, let alone how long ago it was that I left my front door in California and started biking south.

Wouter and I camped at this rural school and then talked to the kids in the morning - Escuela Eduardo Abarua
Bike, full moon
Lago Aguas Frias
Article in La Nacion

   Since last update I have zigzagged southward across the Andes (see map of Boliva and Argentina & Chile), crossing the Atacama desert, northern Argentina, and central Chile. I have just crossed back into Argentina for the final push southward through Patagonia. As schools have been on summer vacation, I have given almost no presentations, but I have appeared on a few news programs and publications across this end of the continent.


  • Dec 11 Biking Southern Bolivia and the Atacama Desert
  • Dec 17 The fork on my bike breaks
  • Dec 29 Northern Argentina and biking with Dave Johnson
  • Jan 16 Santiago, Chile
  • Jan 17 Melting Glaciers and a climb of El Plomo
  • Jan 19 Heat Waves
  • Feb 1 What happens when the poor become rich?
    Youtube video of me on Chilean National TV
    Biking off into the sunset on the world’s largest salt flat
    Official Christmas video of Ride for Climate
    Lots of bikes are used in northern Argentina
    View from 18,000 ft in the Andes near Santiago

    Campsite (Mt. behind me is 19,000 ft tall and has almost no snow)

       Since the last update, I have written about the danger of future heat waves as well as the risks to water supply for people who live along the Andes and depend upon snow and glacial water. There are many risks that I have not written about recently – such as rising sea levels, increased chances of both droughts and floods, and loss of biodiversity. As many of you know, the IPCC – an international team whose results almost all governments of the world have accepted – recently published their conclusions that we are to blame for global warming, and that it will get much worse unless we do something. The time to act has come.

       Travel dates for Ride for Climate USA, the planned trip around the US, are being set. I have added to the bottom of this email our schedule for the first month of travel. Do you know people in these places that would be interested in events? If so, send the website their way. We are still in the process of setting up presentations and finding places to stay, so spread the word!

       If you know people in the southern cities of Punto Arenas or Ushuaia (or any towns along the way), let me know. I will also be flying out of Buenos Aires, likely spending a few days in the capital city. Schools will be in session, so if you know of a school that would like a presentation, let me know.

    I should know what building this is
    Campsite, one day south of Temuco
    Biking along Lago llanquigue, Volcon Osorno
    Dirt roads in the Altiplano

       Look for one more final update when I reach the islands at the tip of South America. I am almost there…..

    In Patagonia,


    Flats by country:
    Bolivia: 1
    Argentina: 1
    Chile: 4

    Ride for Climate USA Schedule (subject to small changes)

    Boston, MA ~ Ride begins! – April 21
    Amherst, MA ~ April 23
    Hartford, CT ~ April 25
    Brooklyn, NY ~ April 30
    New York, NY ~ May 1
    Lambertsville, NJ ~ May 3
    Westchester, PA ~ May 5
    Philadelphia, PA ~ May 6
    Gettysburg, PA ~ May 7
    Chambersburg, PA ~ May 8
    Pittsburgh, PA ~ May 13
    Oberlin, OH ~ May 20
    Bowling Green, OH ~ May 21
    Monroe, MI ~ May 23
    South Bend, IN ~ May 26
    Chicago, IL ~ May 28

    You can see more of what might come at

    What Happens When the Poor Become Rich?

    Thursday, February 1st, 2007

       Chile is very different from almost every other country I have traveled across for one reason: the economy here is stable and growing.

       When I first crossed into Chile from Bolivia, I was shocked to bike to a mall and see a large selection of wide screen TVs. Biking across Chile, I have been surprised by new highways and new housing complexes for a middle class. Little things on this trip keep on shocking me – like camping next to a house in the countryside and having one of the kids pull out a six mega pixel camera to take my picture. I am writing this right now using a laptop borrowed from the family I am staying with, surfing the internet on their WiFi.

    Biking into Santiago, following a cyclist on Apoquindo, Santiago's principal road.
    Biking the freeway south of Santiago
    Being photographed by the local kids.

       There is still much poverty in Chile – like the rest of Latin America, it is incredibly unequal—but the country is, more or less, growing its economy. A quick look at the statistics of income growth per person over the past 30 years shows that Chile’s per person income has grown at almost 4% per year. No other country I have biked across has grown even half as fast, and in some places, such as Peru and Venezuela, the average person is poorer than they were 30 years ago.

    All the forests in this picture are plantations

       To be sure, Chileans I talk to are very critical of their own growth. They often complain it is not equal (minimum wage is still only $200 a month) or that it is not ecological (a lot of growth is based off of natural resource extraction), and, above, all, they don’t like it when I make any comparison, good or bad, between Chile and other Latin American countries. But, I will do it anyway: the average Chilean is far better off economically than the average citizen of almost every other country I have biked through. (Possible exceptions of Argentina and Costa Rica.)

       Chile is achieving what so many people who I have seen across Latin America want – more wealth. On the whole, this is good, and it makes me feel comfortable to be somewhere where there is a large middle class.

       There is a flip side, though, to this growth. Comparing how carbon dioxide emissions through fossil fuel use have grown over the past 20 years, you can what effect this has had. The average Chilean produces almost 50% more carbon dioxide from fossil fuels then 20 years ago. In every other country, the number has barely changed.

    Santiago by Twilight

       I can see, here in Chile, lots of new cars and construction. New wealth has brought more electricity use and more driving. If all of world were to achieve what Chile has achieved, the atmosphere simply couldn’t take it.

       So, what do we do? To me, the answer seems clear: we need to find new technologies to replace fossil fuels as soon as possible before these poorer countries develop.

    More Heat Waves?

    Monday, January 29th, 2007
    I should know what building this is

       While in Santiago, I was surprised how many people complained about the summer heat (it is summer and Santiago as far south as central California is north). Every morning, my host father would tell me how warm it was going to be that day (‘today it is going to be 95 degrees!’), as if warning me to keep low while out on the streets.

       One of the consequences of global warming is more heat waves. Of course, another consequence is fewer cold spells, and it has been hard for me to say this is necessarily bad. I conducted a few interviews with people on the street in Santiago (recorded in high-resolution video which I can’t post) asking what they thought of the heat, and what they would think if every day in the summer were 5 degrees F warmer. I also then asked if the heat or the cold bothered them more.

    Another cyclist navigating the concrete jungle
    Santiago's largest building looks like a giant phone (yes, that was planned)

       Most people complained about the heat, but they were more or less split over whether the heat of summer or cold of winter bothered them more. One man, who was from Brazil and working in the park, laughed “It’s not hot here! Come to Brazil – it is hot in Brazil!” On the other hand, though, an older man told me he had high blood pressure and worried a great deal about his health on such hot days. Almost all, except for the Brazilian, said that hotter temperatures in the summer would greatly bother them.

       Is this a real problem, or can we just get used to the heat, and will it be nice to have warmer winters? I myself have wondered this, but, reading through some of the results of heat waves, it really does appear that a warmer earth will be bad for our health. When Europe had a well-publicized heat wave in 2003, tens of thousands of people, mostly elderly, died. There is absolutely nothing comparable to this in cold waves in modern times. Also, warmer temperatures increase smog production, which is another threat to urban health. One study estimated that in California (which has a climate very similar to middle Chile), by mid century, global warming will result in two to three times as many heat-related deaths.


       Clearly, there are ways to adapt to hotter temperatures. One is simply being used to the heat (Brazilians do better than Chileans, for instance). One of the best methods, though, and one which would have saved many lives in the European heat wave, is to use more air conditioning. This, of course, uses incredible amounts of electricity, and unless we find non-fossil fuel sources of energy, will only make global warming worse.

    The Melting Spine of the Andes

    Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

       Since Peru, I have followed the Andes south, crossing the continental divide at least five times and gazing at peaks that stretch to 20,000 feet. The tallest of these peaks have been covered in snow and ice, and pictures that you see say more than I can about these experiences.

    You can see beneath each of these glaciers where they used to reach.
    Almost at the pass Aguas Negras

        I have written about this before, but passing through Chile has made the point even more clear. So much agriculture and so many people along these mountains rely on this snow pack to grow their crops and have drinking water. So much of the land along these mountains is dry – I went for a month, once, without seeing a single forest – yet the people have water during the dry seasons because of snow and ice in the mountains. (See a scientific article about how this is a problem worldwide, and not just along the Andes).

       Chile has a climate very similar to California, and, like California, Chile grows an amazing variety of fruits and nuts. Next time you are in the supermarket in the winter (if you live in the northern hemisphere) take a look to see where the fruits come from. Quite likely, there will be a tag on the fruit saying ‘product of Chile.’

       Like California, during central Chile’s summer, it does not rain, yet these orchards and vineyards have water because of snowmelt from the mountains. Below you can see photos from where I entered Chile most recently, via the Valley de Elqui, one of Chile’s most productive regions for vineyards. Far up in the valley, above 15,000 feet, you see snow and glaciers. Further down, you see a dry landscape with a river. Even further down, you see highly productive agriculture.

    Descending - can you see Dave Johnson on his bike on the road?
    High up in the Valle de Elqui
    The valle de Elqui has high productive vineyards - for making pisco, the national drink.

        While in Santiago, I decided I wanted to climb into the mountains to see these glaciers and snow. After visiting the local mountaineering club, I convinced Roberto to join me, and in two days, we hiked to the top of El Plomo, a 17,800 ft peak overlooking Santiago. From the top, we gazed on the tallest part of the Andes, including Aconcagua, South America’s tallest mountain. All these glaciers that you see in these photos are shrinking, and are all essential for the agriculture that I have biked by here in Chile.

    Roberto and I at the top of El Plomo, 5,450 m (17,900ft)
    The view from the top of the mountain
    Starting the long descent
    The melting of the glaciers
    Aconcagua, South America's tallest mountain