Biking against global warming...
Don Hooper is a New England regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation in Montpelier, Vt. In The Boston Globe, 27 August 07, he writes:
I rode my bicycle through Iowa in July festooned with a "Cycling Against Global Warming" bike jersey. I was on a quest to see firsthand if global warming was ready for prime time as a presidential election issue. Heady and optimistic, I hoped America's heartland electorate was nearing the tipping point in its alarm over the catastrophic consequences of global warming. What I learned was both reassuring and unsettling.
With modest apprehension, my 15-year-old son Miles and I signed on to ride our bicycles 500 miles across Iowa as part of the National Wildlife Federation's 10-rider Global Warming Action Team. We would be a speck in an immense peliton of 15,000 riders who participated in the 35th edition of RAGBRAI, the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. This "ride, not a race," is a wildly popular rolling revel through 49 rural communities. Small towns actually compete with their neighbors to be on the route where they welcome the dawn-to-dusk bicycling battalions by spraying water with hoses from their dooryards, urging us on with bananas, Gatorade, bratwurst, and roasted corn.
I feared that at 61, I wouldn't be fit enough to ride 70-plus miles a day, for seven straight days across sun-baked, windy, and hilly (that's right, "hilly") Iowa. I was tentative, too, about bringing up the subject of global warming in an essentially nonpolitical, recreational event. Finally, I was nervous my tipping-point optimism might be dashed.
Mercifully, all my worries proved unfounded.
In my persistent but unscientific survey, I found that a majority of Iowans believe global warming is real and, undoubtedly, mostly manmade. In the words of one big-spread soybean farmer from parched, cracked-soil Rolfe, Iowa: "Something worrisome is happening out there; it's real all right. We've got to address it."
But I hadn't previously reckoned with the stubborn antipathy of a minority who believe global warming is, in the words of a hardware store manager in Rock Rapids, "a liberal, sky-is-falling fantasy; you should've been here in February when it was 15 below."
Until Iowa, I hadn't really considered the implications of obstinate denial, especially for Republican presidential candidates seeking the endorsement of a skeptical base that attributes evidence of a changing climate to nature "just throwing curve balls."
We weren't the only ones riding alongside a captive audience of thousands and trying to elevate an issue. Lance Armstrong's team of 140 riders biked for more cancer research money; they even got John Edwards to ride with them one day. AARP trumpeted health security while education philanthropist Bill Gates sponsored riders wearing "ED in '08" jerseys.
Our National Wildlife team engaged other riders, myriads of townspeople, and the presidential campaigns at every opportunity. Encouragingly, people were not only responsive but supportive. Seeing our striking, wildlife-adorned "Cycling Against Global Warming" jerseys, day after day, riders rode alongside to thank us for calling attention to the issue. Sometimes a 20-mile discussion would ensue, occasionally a debate, but mostly just "thanks a lot."
We tried to keep a light touch, often asking open-endedly, "Has global warming visited Iowa?" "Is it real?" We wanted to listen to everyone, bike riders and SUV drivers alike. In camping areas where we stayed each night, I wanted to discover whether people observed global warming and its effect on them, Iowa's critters, and their ecosystems.
In LaMotte, Iowa, I politely confronted Mitt Romney's sons, Josh, Craig, and Matt, who rode the last day, about why their dad had refused to endorse the Northeast's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative while he was Massachusetts governor. Matt answered personably, "We're with you on the issue, just not the solution," as if we only differed in our choice of toothpaste. Pondering that affable answer, I came to the uncomfortable conclusion that leading on global warming may not be an easy option for Republican candidates pursuing the nomination, unless they're willing to get out ahead of their followers.
My bike-seat polling suggests that global warming is a winning issue for about 70 percent of Iowans. I urge presidential hopefuls who want to win it all not to hang back. Show us your emphatic, break-from-the-pack leadership by embracing bold, unambiguous solutions. Sprint for the green jersey.
© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company