Archive for the ‘Belize’ 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 – Central America

Friday, May 26th, 2006

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Hello from South America!

   Since the last update, I have biked the length of Central America, visiting all 7 countries (see map of my route) and adding 2,400 miles to the trip. This trip continues to exceed my expectations, and I have visited schools and appeared in the national media of almost every country I have biked through. I am now in Colombia, where I arrived from Panama only a few days ago.

In La Prensa - Panama's national newspaper
Camping on the beach, near Las Lajas
Escuela El Progreso, Los Arroyos, La Union


  • 3/12 Mayan ruins and climate change
  • 3/17 Dennis Murphree joins me for Belize
  • 3/21 Learning to SCUBA and the fate of coral reefs
  • 3/26 Dennis Murphree speaks
  • 3/31 Honduran countryside
  • 4/7 A week through El Salvador
  • 4/15 Should I bike Colombia?
  • 4/15 Media coverage for rideforclimate
  • 4/16 Honduras, Nicaragua, and swimming with the locals
  • 4/18 Hurricanes and climate change
  • 4/29 Pops joins me from Nicaragua to Costa Rica
  • 4/30 Biodiversity and climate change
  • 5/8 Costa Rica to Panama City
  • 5/14 Deforestation in Central America
  • 5/15 A sailboat through the Panama Canal
  • BEST VIDEOS FROM CENTRAL AMERICA (click on the links below to watch)
    Scuba diving in Belize
    Kids dancing at pool in Nicaragua (large file – watch only if you have a high speed connection)
    My father joins me and rides a silly looking bicycle
    Dogs chasing me in Costa Rica
    Riding through the Panama Canal

       Central America is a region highly vulnerable to climate change. Rising sea levels and stronger storms could cause hardship, especially for the poor (of which there are a lot in Central America). Climate models for the region show warmer temperatures as well as perhaps less precipitation, both of which will be bad for agriculture. Many species as well may be threatened by a warmer climate. Finally, the coral reefs that line the coasts are greatly threatened by a warmer earth.

    Monte Verde Cloud Forest
    Building a house out of adobe (mud blocks)
    Coral Reef in Belize

        Environmental Defense has a new website to help you reduce your carbon emissions: On this site you can calculate how much carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere, and learn how to reduce these emissions.

       I have created a paypal link so that you can give money on my site to the Union of Concerned Scientists and Environmental Defense. Many people have also offered to help with my travel expenses, and there is now also a link for this. These are on my take action page.

       Did you really think I would stop biking? I have decided I need to take rideforclimate to the U.S. Here are the tentative plans.

       In Colombia, I am biking through Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogota. I’ll then head towards Venezuela, following the northern coast before turning south into Brazil. I will arrive in Manaus, which sits on the Amazon River, where I will likely send my next update. If you know of organizations, schools, or researchers to visit on this route, let me know!

       I am now in Cartagena, Colombia, on the northern coast of South America. If all goes to plan, in 10 or 11 months I will be at southern tip of the continent, in Ushuia, Argentina.


    Total Miles Biked: 6321

    Flats by country in Central America:

    four flats in one day

    Belize: 0
    Honduras: 4
    El Salvador: 1
    Nicaragua: 0
    Costa Rica: 1
    Panama: 10 (ugh)

    A Ride for the Climate is sponsored by:
    Mike’s Bikes of Palo Alto
    Clif Bar
    Hobson Seats

    Leave a Comment!

    Hurricanes, Climate Change, and Central America

    Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

       Since arriving in Central America, I have asked nearly every person I have stayed with about how hurricanes have affected their lives.

    Beach at Placencia

       In Belize, the majority of the population lives in coastal settlements that are barely above sea level. The town where I learned to SCUBA dive, Placencia, was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Iris in 1991. People with insurance or in the tourism industry have rebuilt. Others sold their land and moved. Down the road from Placencia is Sand Bite, a small town that does not receive tourism dollars. This town has not fully rebuilt from the storm.

       Hurricanes are likely to be stronger on a warmer earth. A recent study (here is a description) showed how an increase in the power of Atlantic hurricanes over the past 20 years is correlated with warmer ocean water in the Atlantic. This makes intuitive sense – hurricanes get their energy from warm ocean water, and warmer ocean water should mean more powerful hurricanes. More powerful hurricanes are also predicted by climate models. Furthermore, much of the damage done by hurricanes is not just by their winds, but by the rain that accompanies the storms. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water, and thus will likely provide heavier rains (read more on rains here).

       In 1998, a huge category 5 hurricane, Hurricane Mitch, tore through the Caribbean and then parked itself over Central America, affecting almost every country. Ten thousand people died, and over 100,000 were left homeless.

    Flood waters of Hurricane Mitch reached the third floor of this building
    There used to be houses all along this bank in Tegucigalpa.

       The storm hit Honduras the hardest. It destroyed some coastal communities and then dropped amazing amounts of rain. A security guard at the San Pedro Sula airport described water in his house up to his armpits. A family who I stayed with in the countryside told me that they lost all of their crops. I asked what they did that year, and they replied that they were hungry that year. In Tegucigalpa, the flooding reached the third floor of some buildings (such as the building on the left). According to my city guide Carleton, many of the houses on the hill sides washed away. He showed me a large section of bare earth (shown on the right) where there used to be houses.

    I camped in front of Cristina's house.
    Omar explains that all these new houses replaced those destroyed by Hurricane Mitch

       The destruction continued in the rest of Central America. In San Miguel, El Salvador, one man described a landslide that destroyed many homes. In Nicaragua, the family that I swam with on Good Friday invited me back to their house. Their house had been destroyed by Mitch, and rebuilt a year later by help from the government (photo left). Also in Nicaragua, I spent one night at the house of Cristina, who is shown on the right. Cristina explained that although no one in her community died, they lost all of their animals. “We ate a lot of rice and beans.”

       Mitch was so strong that its name has been retired – whereas most names for storms are reused after a few years, meteorologists will never again use the name Mitch. If current research is correct, though, we will see more storms like Mitch. And, the people who will suffer the most will be the people who I have met here in Central America – people who live in poorly constructed houses, who live on vulnerable slopes, or who rely on the food they grow to live.

       Based on these stories, it seems that the human toll of Hurricane Mitch was many times worse than any storm in the U.S. Again, this is because of how people live here – they have fewer resources to survive and recover from a storm. Yet, growing up in the U.S., for a long time I thought that hurricanes damaged only Florida and nearby states because that is what I heard about in the media. Somehow we need to expand our view to other countries, especially as our actions – emissions of greenhouse gasses – will make storms worse internationally.

    A Ride for the Climate in the Media

    Saturday, April 15th, 2006
    Two page spread in May 2006 issue of Bicycling Magazine

       If you pick up the most recent issue of Bicycling Magazine (the May issue), you will see a nice two page spread on rideforclimate (photo left). Other recent appearances include an interview on Honduran national television (‘Buenas Días Honduras’) and an upcomming article in the El Salvador national newspaper (El Diario del Hoy, on the 21st of this month). The Belize national television also covered rideforclimate. And, a month and a half ago, Univision television tracked me down (as well as my friends Gregg and Brooks), and recorded us biking around Chiapas, Mexico. (I learned that this actually made it to television when a man here in Managua stopped me and told me that he saw me on Univision.)
       While visiting schools is a more direct way to communicate, it is also satisfying that I am able to use this trip to get my message out to a larger audience.

    Placencia Belize to San Pedro Sula Honduras

    Sunday, March 26th, 2006

       After three days of SCUBA in Placencia, Dennis and I biked south to the end of Belize, camping one night near some Mayan ruins before catching a boat to Guatemala (there are no roads). The following day, we biked into Honduras, stopping at a water park, and then spent a day at the beach in Omoa. We finally arrived, by bike, at the San Pedro Sula airport, where we disassembled Dennis’ bike and built a protective cardboard box for its ride on the plane. (Yes, we biked to the airport with all the cardboard shown below).

    Nim Li Pun Mayan Ruins
    Which of these people is not Honduran?
    Waterpark near Omoa
    Coast at Omoa
    Biking to the San Pedro Sula Airport with Bike Box
    Dennis is ready.  I later learned the bike didn't make it...

       I have met many people on this trip, but I have not been able to spend more than a few days with any of them. Two weeks with a good friend was a welcome addition to this adventure, and I’ve invited Dennis to add some words of his own here. Dennis? (The rest of this post is written by Dennis.)

       First I’d like say thanks to you Dave for inviting me on this trip. Bike touring is the way to go! I’m a complete convert.

    Children waiting for the school bus in Belize
    Children in Southern Belize

       My thoughts on the trip….I’d say I was most surprised by the diversity of Belize. The entire country is like New York! With large populations of Creole, Mestizo, Maya, Chinese and Arabs, Belize is making a strong bid for a true melting pot. The Chinese in particular struck me the most, it felt like every other shop sign was written in Mandarin/Taiwanese. There were also sizable populations of East Indians, plus a community of Mennonites. This diversity is in stark contrast with what I’ve encountered on other trips to Central America and made Belize quite interesting.

       I was also impressed by the diving, particularly the number of larger animals that we saw. I saw many dolphins, a manta with a wingspan larger than I am tall, several eels, a sea turtle, and a couple of small sharks.

    SCUBA diving: Dave and Dennis
    Banana Plantation

       This is the paragraph for my mother. Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras all impressed me with the quality of their roads for cycling. I felt more comfortable biking there than I do in New Haven. The roads often have broad shoulders, and drivers are much more aware of bicyclists (likely due to the much larger number of people on bicycles). I also think that in many ways (traffic notwithstanding) it is safer to travel by bike in Central America than by more traditional methods. Why? First, you are more mobile, you’re moving faster, people have to think ahead to accost you. Second, and more importantly, when travelling by bus you are frequently deposited in seedier areas of town, and at places where travellers are known to congregate. This perhaps puts you at a greater likelihood of encountering problems. Biking, by contrast, puts you more frequently in rural areas, farther from urban issues. Of course, there’s no real way to know. I do know that I felt very safe throughout our trip.

    Hot in the miday - swimming is mandatory

       Finally I’d like to comment on how impressed I was with Dave’s creating RideForClimate. He’s very professional in his RideForClimate interactions, and takes his work very seriously. Keep up the good work D.