Archive for January, 2007

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

Santiago, Chile

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007
Juan Bravo and a great place to stay in Santiago

   After four days biking south along the Chilean coast, I arrived in Santiago, Chile’s capital and largest city. I lived in Santiago for a few months during college (one reason that I seem to speak Spanish), and returned to visit the family that I had stayed with six years earlier.

   Chile’s economy, unlike many places in Latin America, has grown impressively over the past decade. There are new buildings, new highways, new busses, and more cars than I remember. There are also new bike lanes, and, amazingly, more bike commuters. I saw a surprising number of people who were middle class biking around Santiago, and met with Arriba e la Chancha, a bike promoting group, who also gave me a plate to put on my bike reading ‘Un Auto Menos’ (One Less Car).

Biking into Santiago, following a cyclist on Apoquindo, Santiago's principal road.
Santiago's largest building looks like a giant phone (yes, that was planned)
Gonzalo, Natalia, Romy, crossing town on bikes

   It is summer here, and schools are on vacation, meaning I could give no school presentations. I did the next best thing, though, and was interviewed by channel 13. For those of you who failed to tune into Chilean national TV last week, fortunately, there is YouTube. Click below to watch (Sorry – it’s all in Spanish!)

   I also appeared in The Santiago Times, a publication in English, La Nacion, a respected national publication, and La Cuarta, a journal ‘for the masses’ that for some reason, in addition to providing news, always seems to have a picture of an attractive woman on the cover.

Luis Cabalin of Dr. Bike, Coquimbo 1114, 698-4193. Great place to get your bike worked on.

   Also, if you are in Santiago and need help with your bicycle, I strongly recommend Luis Cabalin at Doctor Bike on Coquimbo 1114 (ph: 698-4193, email Definitely one of the best bike mechanics in town.

   I stayed in Santiago a long time, spending time with my former host brother and sister, visiting my former academic program, and even climbing a mountain over Santiago. I also stopped by CONAM, Chile’s version of the EPA, and Terram, a local environmental NGO. Thanks again to Juan and Myriam for housing me for so long! (Juan can be seen trying to ride my bike away on the right). I am now headed south through Chile, with only two months of biking left.

Central Plaza of Santiago
Santiago by Twilight
Juan tries to make a getaway on my bike.