What a wonderful little book A Hole in the Wind by David Goodrich turned out to be. I found it by browsing titles in my library catalog related to bicycle touring. But this book doesn’t just check the bicycle box, it also checks the climate change box. Because, you see, Goodrich is a climate change scientist, recently retired, who worked for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and served as director of the U.N. Global Climate Observing System in Geneva, Switzerland.
He has been an avid bicycle tourist for years, cycling places like France and Spain, across Montana and South Dakota, and down the Appalachians. Upon his retirement Goodrich decided on a truly epic tour across the United States from Delaware to Oregon. He wanted to see first hand what climate change was doing to the country and to talk with people about it. His wife is also a grade school teacher and her class made a project out of following his three month tour.
Goodrich quickly discovered when he asked most people outright about climate change they changed the subject or made like it was no big deal. When he went at it from a roundabout way — asking about winter weather, drought, pests, heatwaves, flooding — people had all kinds of stories about how things weren’t like they used to be and how it has affected their lives for better or worse. Climate change is politics, weather is immediate.
Goodrich has cycled or travelled to many of the areas he passed through on this cross country journey and had plenty of observations to make about the changes he saw. The most striking perhaps was when he rode through Glacier National Park and over the Rockies. Because winters are no longer cold enough the pine beetle infestation has reached devastating levels. For a long time it was only on the western side of the mountains but not long ago it made it over the top and is now spreading quickly eastward. These beetles are killing all of the pine forests and there is no way to stop them. Frigid cold winters used to keep their numbers in check and the damage small, but those winters are a thing of the past.
If that isn’t heartbreaking enough, in 1850 Glacier National park had about 150 glaciers. That is when the Little Ice Age ended and the glaciers began to melt. The melt was slow and should have taken hundreds of years but climate change has accelerated it so that today there are only 25 glaciers left in the park. The remaining glaciers are melting so quickly that they will all likely be gone by 2030. That’s only 13 years away.
Due to a shrinking snowpack, dying trees, melting glaciers, hot weather and changes in rain patterns, the western part of the U.S. has become more susceptible to massive forest fires. Everyone living out there right knows this. Early on it was blamed on forest maintenance and fire suppression methods and while that didn’t help matters, it is not the reason for the increase in fires and how rapidly they spread. And it is only going to get worse.
While in Pennsylvania, Goodrich spoke with farmers affected by Chesapeake Energy’s fracking operations. Many farmers sold mineral rights to the company, made quite a lot of money and now find their groundwater so badly polluted it cannot be used. One fellow he spoke with said the groundwater problem was overrated, that Chesapeake had fixed the problem by having outside bottled water delivered for life! The man was totally fine with this and didn’t see why anyone was complaining. Goodrich was pretty much left speechless.
As far as sea level goes, here is something to chew on. Goodrich visited Norfolk Naval base, the largest naval base in the country. They are working on raising the piers so as the ocean rises, the piers will still be above the level of the water. All fine and good, but it is estimated that by 2040 Hampton Boulevard, the main road into the base, will be underwater for several hours every high tide. Also, while the National Mall in Washington D.C. is 120 miles away from the ocean, if the sea level rises by five feet, it will be underwater. Seem unlikely? It is projected that by the end of this century sea level will have risen between 3 – 5 1/2 feet and the higher amount is looking more and more likely as the scientists crunch the numbers.
It’s sobering. But the book isn’t all doom and gloom. Goodrich is full of cycling stories and tales about the kindness of strangers he met along the way who offered him a roof and a shower, new friends made, the joy of cycling and beauty of the landscape. He made me want to load up my bike and spend the rest of my life riding it around the world.
Goodrich must have had some idea of the sort of reader who would be attracted to his book because at the end he includes an appendix on how to plan a bicycle tour. He goes into so much detail he even tells us what he packed in each of his panniers. But even if you aren’t a cyclist I think this would be an enjoyable read from a travelogue perspective. Who doesn’t enjoy reading about a big adventure?