A Climate Journey to Paris

A Climate Journey to Paris


When most people plan a trip to Paris, they book a flight in anticipation of seeing the sights, visiting the Louvre, enjoying some pastries, relaxing in a café.

Most people are not Garrett Blad.

The recent graduate of Notre Dame is riding his BICYCLE. To Paris. With one big goal in mind. He and his friend Morgan are headed to the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21, this November, an event so important to the future of our planet that it merited a journey of this scale.

When John Gibson and I sat down with Garrett this spring to ask him about his post-graduate plans, he was just getting started preparing for the possibility. We wanted to be with him ever pedal of the way, so I asked him some questions to introduce everyone to this amazing trip. Ready to be impressed?!

Shannon: You are coming from a unique degree program at Notre Dame, of your own design, what part of your experience in the classroom do you think you will miss most part way across Scandinavia?

Garrett: For one, I will miss the intellectual curiosity that fueled the conversations with my fellow classmates, but most of all I will miss conversation my professors, who have instilled in me a skeptical eye and a critical ear. However, I look forward to the countless riveting conversations Morgan and I will have along our journey.

Shannon: How many miles are you preparing to travel by bike to get to Paris? What is your tentative schedule?

Garrett: We are preparing to bike roughly 10,000km (6,200 mi) from New England to Paris. We will kick off the ground in Burlington Vermont, then head east and north, through New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. Next is Greenland, home of some of the most visible signs of climate change, Iceland, Scandinavia and finally through Eastern Europe to Paris in mid-November.

Shannon: Taking any books to read?

Garrett: Definitely! I have been building a list of books recommended by friends, professors, and acquaintances for years now so I would take a whole library if I could, but since I’m biking, I am taking a kindle. First on list: On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Thoreau, The Goldfinch by Donna Tart, Midnight Children by Salman Rushdie, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, and The Physics of Imaginary Objects by Tina May Hall. All are on my long and (thankfully) inexhaustible book list I have been collecting for years now.

Shannon: How are you preparing for this epic journey? Physically? Mentally?

Garrett: I have started biking again everyday if possible, biking to the library and back, biking with my mom around the country roads. Mentally, I am preparing for the many physical discomforts we will face – rain, cold, aching muscles. I’ve been meditating a bit, trying to create habits that will center me during this journey. I am excited to do more of this with Morgan on the journey – excited to see the traditions and rituals we will create.

Shannon: What are you most looking forward to along the way? A place or experience?

Garrett: I am most excited for nights alone after a long ride, where Morgan and I can reflect on the day, a recent interview or conversation, the context of our ride in the climate movement, the Paris talks, humans and nature, lily pads, nargles, and anything under the moon. I am excited to share my poetry, my photos and collages, and to listen to what Morgan is thinking and writing. These are the moments I am looking forward to – the moments of creative synthesis and deep reflection.

Shannon: What are your biggest concerns or fears about this trip?

Garrett: Some of the biggest challenges? Ummm…rain, cold, bears, thieves, wet clothes, mountains, and mosquitos to name just a few. Beyond the physical discomforts we will inevitably face, the biggest challenge I believe will be elevating the voices of others without raising my own voice as a white and highly privileged male. Understanding my place in this international movement will be a delicate dance of knowing when I need to step up and when I need to step back. This is something I am excited to explore deeply with Morgan along our journey.

Shannon: How do you think climate change itself will impact your experience?

Garrett: Curious to think about! Personally, I wouldn’t find it to be completely terrible if it were to be a tad bit warmer where ever we are biking…Jokes aside, we hope to be witnesses to those impacts, that is why this journey is taking this route. By traveling north, it is likely we will be experiencing warmer temperatures, melting permafrost, warming oceans, drought, and much more. We hope to elevate the stories of those who are impacted by these climatic changes and highlight the human dimension of the climate crisis.

Shannon: What are your hopes for this COP21 in Paris?

Garrett: The conference is the 21st in a series of conferences that have been happening ever since I was born in 1992. Yet the international community, mostly impeded by the United States, has still been unable to implement a binding treaty on carbon emissions. Morgan and I both have the privilege of being youth delegates to the conference with an organization called SustainUS, meaning we will be inside all the action, helping to further the international agreement, to build youth support, and to mobilize this support before, during, and after the conference. I hope to better understand the nature of international climate politics and to build strong connections with climate activists across the world. Regarding the talks themselves, our hopes are for an aggressive, binding, and equitable international treaty placing strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions and one that initiates the creation of a global adaptation fund supported by the developed nations most responsible for historic carbon emissions.

Shannon: What kind of bike are you riding?

Garrett: I have yet to officially buy my bike (still waiting on that pelican to drop a new one with a bow at my front door), but I will be riding a Surly Long Haul Trucker, the best touring bike on the market (supposedly…we’ll see about that in six months…).

Shannon: Tell us a little bit about your travel companion. Is she excited to have you along?

Garrett: Morgan is a light in a dark sky –an unbridled optimist who refuses to see the world as anything but beautiful, no matter her knowledge of its injustices. Raised in London, she is a 2014 alumna of Dartmouth College where she majored in Engineering and Environmental Science. She just finished up a year of teaching at the Chewonki Semester School in Maine where she worked with high school juniors and their immersion and exploration of nature, humans, and the environment. I could not be more delighted to go on this bold adventure with Morgan. I would like to think she is glad to have me too.

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Tagged: Biking , Climate Conference , COP21 , Notre Dame , Paris , UN , United Nations