Leaving Minnesota and crossing into South Dakota, the land became drier and more sparsely populated, and towns were less frequent. We still saw many fields of wheat and corn, but grazing land became more common. We passed through many small towns, and learned that most of the towns are far smaller than they used to be, as fewer farmers are now needed to farm the same amount of land.
Crossing South Dakota, we expected to find resistance to our message. For some reason, people who are more conservative are less likely to trust the science of global warming, and South Dakota is fairly conservative. How did people respond when we asked them ‘what do people around here think about global warming?’
One woman, a schoolteacher (the wife of a farmer who gave us a tour of his farm and who is shown right), told us that people here are starting to take the issue seriously. In one small town of 100 people, another woman remarked that summers and winters are far warmer than they used to be. Without us telling her what we were doing, she added ‘must be global warming – it’s affecting us too.’ And we found this many places – people are starting to believe it’s for real.
Yet many others gave a reply like the owner of one gas station, who flatly said ‘We are conservative here, we don’t believe it’ (I am unclear on this reasoning). The owner of a bike store in Pierre said that we are just seeing a ‘natural cycle’ and that there was nothing we could do about it (both not true). And, if you look at the article about our trip in the Rapid City Journal, take a look at the comments (readers can comment on the online article) and you can see plenty of resistance.
Most people, though, seem to be like people everywhere else – confused about the basic ideas of global warming. The owner of a steak house, after hearing what we were doing said, ‘that’s a big issue – who do you believe?’ One man argued that he sees smog in cities, and not in South Dakota, so they didn’t have to do anything in South Dakota (smog has very little to do with global warming). One woman, when we told her about our project, looked up in the sky and said ‘it’s too bad when there is a hole in the environment,’ which, we think, was referring to the ozone layer (many people confuse global warming with ozone depletion – they are in fact very different issues). My favorite was an older rancher who, after telling us some jokes, said it is getting warmer due to ‘earth warming,’ but had no explanation for what ‘earth warming’ is.
I guess that it is fair that people are confused on this issue – it is a complicated issue (and, there have been large campaigns to confuse people). Bill is convinced that we need some type of national education program on the issue, to help communicate the basic ideas of global warming – what do you think about this?
We should note that no one was hostile to us – in fact, most people were exceptionally friendly. The restaurant owner who seemed skeptical still ended up giving us dinner when he heard we were biking across the country. The gas station owner had a long friendly conversation with us.
We departed South Dakota via the badlands and the black hills – a scenic finish to the state. Below are photos.