Greet the Faces you Meet
At my campground in Encampment, Wyoming I met a guy from Tyler Texas named Bill. He was riding a hand-built Italian Moto Guzzi motorcycle to visit a friend in OR. We chatted about travel on two wheels and the common places we’d been, and eventually I came around to asking him about climate change. How did people in his oil-patch Texas town think of it?
“Most think it’s bullshit.” he said laughing. He may have thought that as well, but a few years back he rode to Yellowknife YT, and talked with native people there who were already impacted by climate. Hunting and fishing are harder, as was transportation on buckling roads on melting permafrost. More supplies had to be flown in at much greater expense (and carbon emissions). That experience and those stories convinced Bill that climate change is a real issue.
Bill then told his four grand kids that they all should study something to do with climate because it’s a big important issue that’s only going to become more so. Townsfolk are harder. His motorcycle-riding friends say we’re just going through a warm spell and the climate will revert to normal before long. A oilfield millionaire says those Yellowknife natives will just have to adapt like they always have, like everyone will. Still, a few friends are jumping on electric motorcycles, for performance mostly, but Bill wonders if some think about pollution as well.
Bill’s area is the second-largest oil field in the United States outside Alaska, and first in total volume of oil recovered since its discovery in 1930.They built the “Big Inch” pipeline to Philadelphia in 18 months to fuel the fight in WWII. They are proud of that work. All the communities in the East Texas Oil Field are still deeply dependent on oil. When oil prices dropped during COVID, the oil giant Halliburton pulled out many assets, and the local governments immediately lost millions of tax revenue for schools roads, and health care. Fighting fossil-fueled climate change threatens the basis of their lives. And as Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
Bill is nearly retired from work at the city offices, so he’s probably more open to understanding inconvenient truths about the climate and the area’s fossil-fuel-ized dependencies. Still, his advocacy for climate action, even within his family is notable. It looks to be an uphill battle for him in Tyler, though. His wife really wants a Tesla electric car, but she works at an oil company, and believes that would be a job-ending choice.
Bill agrees with many I’ve met who say alternatives to fossil fuels will have to be much better and cheaper for any chance at adoption. That is becoming a strong theme in what I hear. No sacrifice is too small to be avoided.
I was surprised to have this conversation at all, and appreciated Bill’s friendly candor about a very touchy topic. It turns out that the brotherhood of two-wheel travelers played a part. Bill said he has always been amazed and curious about people like me who travel by bicycle, camped out roadside in the far north or in deserts, just a bike and a tent way out there.