Will climate change dampen our riding?

It was August 2005 and we – a party of 20 Yankee Beemers – were riding out of Munich in a torrential downpour. Little did we know it, but news of this rain went international and spouses back home got worried. Thousands were evacuated and 62 people were killed in eastern Europe by this historic flooding. This was days before Hurricane Katrina walloped the Gulf coast. By the time we reached Bavaria the rain had abated. We were cruising the pinewood forests when we were suddenly blocked by a landslide. A chunk of land, trees and rocks had slid off the mountain side. There was no way around it, so we backtracked but our progress was again halted. A river had crested, flooding the road we had ridden over just moments before. We were trapped! Luckily a country restaurant sat in-between. Feeling embarrassed for making a puddle with our dripping wet bodies, we waited it out with bratwurst and bowls of lung soup. One rider emptied his boot and a German trout poured out.

Photo by Phil Foster.

The next year, Al Gore released his movie Inconvenient Truth, a popular documentary that caused a spike in sales of the Toyota Prius and made everyone else who saw it want to plant 100 trees. A long series of before-and-after photos of glaciers in recession painted a bleak picture hard to forget. Places like Mount Kilimanjaro, less snowcapped than before. In another pro-enviro documentary, The Age of Stupid, a collection of clips showing real people facing early climate change fallout, there’s an engineer who loses a zoning battle with town officials over the building of a wind farm near a small English hamlet. Like the Boston Cape Wind project, the locals consider the mills too much of an eye-sore, and overwhelmingly oppose it. When a resident is asked if she opposes climate change, she says, “Why of course! Who isn’t opposed to global warming?” Blindly missing the irony. A year later the town is hit by unprecedented rain and flooding.

Today the media are reporting how the term “climate change” is being phased out in favor of “climate disruption.” Bloomberg reported a strong correlation between flooding and climate change, citing research that says we are “only inches into a problem that is going to grow by feet.”

Recall what happened in Vermont. It was summer of 2011, my wife and I were camping at Mt. Philo, south of Burlington. We passed an enchanted night listening to the looney hoots of a night owl just a few yards away. Next morning the park ranger paid us a visit. We were told to evacuate within two hours. A storm was coming. Really? How bad could it be? Nobody in the Green Mountain state was prepared for what happened. Homes and businesses, uninsured against catastrophe, got whisked away by rivers that breached. Entire towns hemmed in, trapped by impassable roads in and out. Victims were profiled in The New York Times. At one point, super storms Katrina and Sandy were considered anomalies. Now they’ve ushered in the new norm.

Photo by Phil Foster.

Recently the Guardian reported the “premature deaths” of 5.5 million people globally in 2013, with more than half attributed to China and India. Ash and toxic contaminants from coal-firing plants and other sources are responsible for rises in “heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, bronchitis, emphysema and acute infections.”

Why bring up all this cheery stuff? There’s a rub in all of this, and it’s about consciousness.

Lately I’ve been struggling to reconcile my concern for climate disruption with my care for motorcycling. As riders, how do we justify the reckless burning of fossil fuels for our own sheer pleasure? Ignorantly producing carcinogens, and not even being mindful of it. Oblivious to the invisible atmospheric damage it causes. Does having a carbon bike-print make you environmentally incorrect? Of course it does. It’s not like our survival depends on hitting the backroads all day. Twist the throttle, have fun, refill, repeat.

Honestly, I can’t say that I feel guilty about it. Not guilty enough or responsible enough to quit my carefree riding. Apparently my pleasure comes first. My needs are greater than the planet’s. My greed and gluttony take on more gravity than the very air I can still breathe. I don’t care about dragged out draughts and unprecedented street flooding, as long as I can ride through it. I don’t care about polar meltdown or rising sea levels. I am an animal that can’t pretend to care about future consequences. I only care about today and this weekend. I only care about oil changes, new tires, and that my GPS is working. Yahoo to lower gas prices. We are all undeniably complicit.

Victor Cruz

It begs a serious question: Will the time ever arrive when you voluntarily give up riding and all its liberating pursuits because your duty to air and its future, your care for clean water and health, your love for grandchildren and the environment, finally overrides the riding?

Since 2003 Victor Cruz has written 20 articles for BMW Owners News. He’s a 15-year member of the Yankee Beemers, serving as secretary and editor. He’s organized group tours through AZ, CA, CO, NM, Canada and Europe. He also contributes to Backroads magazine and is Principal of MediaPR.net, a tech marketing firm in Boston.