Bike Rider/Scientist Learns How to Talk About Climate

“I found that the word ‘climate’ has been defined as a political issue. It was always a science issue for me,” retired climate scientist David Goodrich told The Christian Science Monitor’s Amanda Paulson. “You can talk about the latest drought that’s going on, or the big heavy rains we’ve been having, and on the coast you can talk about, ‘Boy, there’s been a lot of flooding.’ But if you say, ‘Isn’t that climate change?’ or ‘Isn’t that sea level rise?,’ there’s this wall that goes up.”

Goodrich was discussing his 4,208-mile cross-country bike trip, one of the half-dozen epic bike rides he has undertaken since 2000. His experiences are the raw material for his recently published book A Hole in the Wind (Pegasus, 249 pages).

A former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist who served as  director of the UN Global Climate Observing System in Geneva, Goodrich returned to the United States in 2011 to find a nation and a people in denial, according to a Goodreads review. Concerned that Americans are willfully deluded by misinformation about climate that dominates media and politics, Goodrich thought a little straight talk could set things right. As they say in "Animal House," he decided that "this calls for a stupid and futile gesture on someone's part, and I'm just the guy to do it."

Setting out from Cape Henlopen, Delaware, on the Atlantic coast, Goodrich discussed climate with audiences varying from laboratories to diners to elementary schools. “Over and over, across the country,” Goodrich discovers, the topic is deemed too hot (sorry) for polite conversation. “You could talk about the weather,” he concludes, “but not the climate.”

In Virginia in 2012, Goodrich notes, the General Assembly did not pass a study on sea level rise until its title was changed to “recurrent flooding.” And in Florida — the state most imperiled by the trend — officials with the Department of Environmental Protection were coerced into replacing “sea level rise” with the anodyne “nuisance flooding.”

The author also got a good look at some notable changes in his country. “When I first rode across Kansas in 2011, it was amazing how much wind I was getting and how few wind farms there were. That has changed completely,” he told The Christian Science Monitor. “There’s been a huge growth in wind farms across the Plains. Oklahoma is competing with Wyoming for who’s got the biggest wind project; Texas is the biggest wind-producing state. These places are not where you would necessarily find people saying climate change is real, but they’re a huge part in the move toward renewable energy. You don’t necessarily have to buy into climate change to be a part of the solution.” (The book’s title captures Goodrich’s yearning for a break from gale-force headwinds in Kansas.)

While ascending 10,276-foot-high Cameron Pass in northwestern Colorado, Goodrich searched the surrounding hillsides in vain for the green carpet he recalled from an Outward Bound stint there in the 1970s. Because of the tree-toppling mountain pine beetle, “the forests of Cameron Pass were gone. As my breath came back from the climb, there was a slow realization of what had happened. I could remember hiking in the Colorado high country 40 years ago, rock and snow and pine up to the tree line. It was our playground, a place to test ourselves, a place to listen to the quiet. Now it was a ghost forest.”

During his journey to coastal Waldport, Oregon, Goodrich took in a toddler's beauty pageant, a tornado in Missouri, and a mined-out uranium ghost town in Wyoming. He explored rust-belt towns and their relationship with fracking. “Happily, Goodrich is a good enough reporter — and a sufficiently gifted stylist — to make the miles fly by,” wrote Fallow in The Post. “And he must have propitiated the cycling gods at the start, for he suffered only one flat tire the entire ride.”