On September 24, Eric Davidson will kick off the first leg of his three-day, 208-mile bike ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains toward the National Mall in Washington D.C. Davidson, director and professor at the Appalachian Laboratory, is embarking on his third Climate Ride, an event to raise awareness and support sustainability, active transportation, and environmental causes. He is also hoping to raise money to support graduate students at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
We asked Davidson to talk about his motivations for the ride, how he trains, and what message he hopes to share with his fellow riders.
UMCES: Why did you decide to do the Climate Ride?
ERIC DAVIDSON: I’m riding for two reasons: The first is straightforward. I am raising money to support training of the next generation of environmental scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). At a time of threatened funding for research and education in the earth sciences, we must broaden our efforts to support our talented and committed graduate students, in whose hands will soon lie the challenges and opportunities of advancing science for the betterment of humanity.
The second reason is just as important, if less immediately tangible. I’m weaving a personal narrative as a scientist and a citizen to express and demonstrate my deep commitment for a cause that I believe is central to the future well-being of our society and our planet. The Climate Ride is a good metaphor in many ways for the challenges of finding a sustainable, low-carbon energy future in time to avert ever more dangerous climate change. Our rides are long, require endurance and commitment, have ups and downs, we occasionally lose our way, and we’ll need to add more journeys after this one. As a citizen-scientist-rider, I have a story to tell about why my fellow scientists and I are so convinced by the evidence that humans are dangerously changing the climate and why we are committed to helping find good solutions.
UMCES: The March for Science helped reinvigorate the idea that scientists need to tell their stories. It was a point you made, as well. How does the Climate Ride help you do that?
DAVIDSON: The Climate Ride has a broad diversity of people participating, from teenagers to retired people. and from all sorts of professions. I will probably be one of only a few scientists. This is a great opportunity to exchange ideas with nonscientists who are keenly interested in this issue, for me to tell my story and see how they react, and to listen to their stories, concerns, and needs for information.
There has never been a more important time to make the extra effort to communicate science through stories and actions. Although there have been some stressfully disappointing steps backward by government recently, I am convinced that if citizens and organizations keep riding forward together, undeterred, we will make a difference.
When people find out I’m a scientist, they want to know if there is still hope to avert climate catastrophe. I believe that the answer is still 'yes,' but that the time left is diminishing rapidly for avoiding the need for extensive and costly adaptation and for avoiding significant suffering by the most vulnerable members of societies in the U.S. and across the globe.
UMCES: How did you decide to raise money for students, and what is your goal?
DAVIDSON: I have to raise $2,000 by the start of the ride, although additional donations can be accepted for a couple of months afterward, as well. This is to support UMCES students, in whose hands environmental science and policy will soon lie. I’d very much appreciate support to make this a successful and productive ride.
UMCES: What lessons do you have for the next generation?
DAVIDSON: Persistence and willingness to occasionally do things that force you outside your comfort zone. And I’m not just talking about discomfort on the bicycle saddle, but rather challenge yourself physically, mentally, and socially to do new things where you can learn and contribute.
UMCES: Tell us about your previous Climate Rides and how those experiences can help prepare you for your upcoming ride.
DAVIDSON: The mission of the Climate Ride organization is “to inspire and empower citizens to work toward a new energy future … use[ing] sport as a means to change lives and build an effective, citizen-based sustainability movement.” In 2014, I joined this group to ride from New York City to Washington, D.C., and in 2015 from Bar Harbor to Boston. During both experiences, I had the opportunity to discuss climate science with the 100+ fellow riders, most of whom were not scientists. We also raised awareness with our many sponsors and hosts and with our elected representatives.
I know that I can ride 50-70 miles/day for a few days in a row, which is what we’ll be doing for three days from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to D.C. This ride is a little shorter than the five-day Climate Rides I did before, and it is a net downhill, but I suspect that there will be a fair amount of uphill sections along the Blue Ridge area.
UMCES: You said many of your fellow riders in the past were not scientists. As a scientist, how does it make you feel to see non-scientists dedicated to the cause? What are they curious about/what kinds of things do you talk about?
DAVIDSON: There are short evening sessions (can’t be long because everyone is tired), including descriptions of the kinds of organizations that riders are raising money for, what they are doing in their communities to contribute to solutions, and their concerns. When people find out I’m a scientist, they want to know if there is still hope to avert climate catastrophe. I believe that the answer is still 'yes,' but that the time left is diminishing rapidly for avoiding the need for extensive and costly adaptation and for avoiding significant suffering by the most vulnerable members of societies in the U.S. and across the globe.
UMCES: What is the most important message you want people—whether along your side on the ride or the general public—to take away?
DAVIDSON: Climate change is real, it’s already happening, it has been largely caused by humans during the last 50 years, it has economic, health, and environmental impacts, and, most importantly, there are things we can do to minimize it if we had the will. Each one of us can contribute to the solution.
UMCES: How have you been training for this ride, both physically and mentally?
DAVIDSON: I’ve been doing some 15- to 30-mile rides on weekends. Mentally? Who has time for that?
UMCES: Do you regularly ride for fun?
DAVIDSON: Yes, it is a good sport for aerobic exercise that isn’t hard on joints, doesn’t take a lot of skill, and allows one to see the countryside in ways that you’d never see by walking (which doesn’t cover much ground) or driving (which makes it go by too fast).
UMCES: How long are ride days?
DAVIDSON: Each day there are options for shorter or longer rides, from 40 to 80 miles per day. When I average in breaks and meals, I figure about one hour for every 10 miles, so it’s a full day.
UMCES: What keeps you motivated along the way?
DAVIDSON: We have little milestones along the way, where there is something to stop and see or a treat. The route often includes historical or cultural landmarks and occasionally an ice cream shop or such.