Archive for August, 2012

What do Eastern Europeans Think About Climate Change? An Unofficial, Unscientific Survey (and a Scientific One)

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

The goal of our three and a half week bike trip across Eastern Europe was not the same as my previous “Ride for Climate” adventures. We weren’t trying to raise awareness of climate change, or investigate as thoroughly the impacts of climate change on the places we visited. (If anything, our tour was much more about the recent atrocities in human history, as we visited Auschwitz and also crossed Bosnia and Herzegovina.)

Nonetheless, I asked the people we met, as we traveled, what they thought of climate change. Of course, because we didn’t speak any of the local languages (this is the first tour where that is the case–it can make the tour much more challenging), I was only able to have meaningful, somewhat in-depth conversations with about 12 different people. Many of these people were the ones who were hosting hosting us.

What we found: About two of the 12 argued that scientists are still arguing amongst themselves, and that climate change is most likely a natural cycle, which few scientists actually believe. (One of our hosts argued that volcanos emit more carbon dioxide than humanity, which is not true either). The others were roughly split between saying “it’s a problem and people here are worried about it” or saying “it’s a problem, but no one here knows anything about it.” Nearly everyone, though immediately switched the topic to other environmental topics (such as recycling or clean water), and then moved on to say that people there are more worried about the economy. (Interestingly, more than one person complained of green policies that didn’t quite work, such as expensive solar planels (which were everywhere in Slovakia) or green rebates that didn’t quite work.)

This unprompted pivot — starting to talk about the economy when I had asked about climate change — shows that Eastern Europeans, like Americans, appear to be wired to believe that fighting climate change will require major economic pain, or at least more pain then they were willing to endure.

I also asked people if they knew what the impacts of climate change would be, or if they had heard other people talk about what the impacts would be. This was quite reveling. Only two people were able to give any example. One said that they would have to grow more southern crops, and farmers would have to adapt. The other gave a much frightening answer: Hungary would become like a desert.

Of course people aren’t going to be afraid of climate change if they don’t think it will affect them, or if they don’t have exmaples, and climate change remains just an abstract concept.

I think that is one reason that it has become so polarized politically — people don’t have concrete examples (that the believe) of how climate change will actually affect them, or how it has already affected them. So if it’s just theoretical, they respond with theories based on their values and ideology.

More in the next post on what climate change actually means for Eastern Europe.

Gallup has performed a survey in the entire world, asking what people think about climate change. You can see the results from this survey (which covers much, much more than just climate change) at (you might have to create a login). Here are some questions and the answers for these countries:

Question: “How much do you know about global warming or climate change?” Below shows the percent of people who have never heard of it. From the countries we visited (and the USA):

US: 4%
Poland: 8%
Slovakia: 9%
Hungary: 4%
Serbia: 9%
Croatia: 2%
Bosnia and Herzegovina: 11 %
Montenegro: 7%

Question: (asked of people who said that they had heard of climate change) “Temperature rise is a part of climate change or global warming. Do you think rising temperatures is a result of human activity?” Percent saying that it is a result of human activity:

US: 36%
Poland: 43%
Slovakia: 57%
Hungary: 51%
Serbia: 64%
Croatia: 66%
Bosnia and Herzegovina: 61%

Question: (asked only of people who said they knew something about climate change) “How serious of a threat is global warming to you and your family?” Percent saying “Very Serious”:

US: 18%
Poland: 21%
Slovakia: 13%
Hungary: 35%
Other countries we biked in: not asked / not enough respondents.

The Agony and Ecstasy: Flying with Bicycles on Croatian Airlines, Lufthansa, and United

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

It feels somewhat just that flying with bikes is such a major headache. It is as if the universe is trying to tell us that flying and bicycling are two forms of transportation that are not supposed to go together. Maybe the God of Flight and the God of Bikes never talk to each other. Or maybe it is because my website and cause is about climate change, and it is obvious that flying is one of the worst things you can do with regards to climate change (here’s a blog I wrote about buying offsets for this trip).

We bought our tickets through Kayak, and the flights were operated by German Lufthansa. We called the airline and asked how we should package our bikes for the flight. They said, don’t! — don’t package them, as the cargo bay in Lufthansa planes has a bike rack. OK, great. How about Croatian Airlines and United, our connecting flights on the way home? The woman told us that they would also take the bikes. We were skeptical, but we also wanted to avoid boxing our steeds. We called a second time, and got the same answers. In retrospect, we should have called United.

On the flights to Eastern Europe–SFO to Munich, and Munich to Krakow–the bikes traveled without problem. They charged us the bike fee, $150 per bike, as expected. We arrived at the Krakow Airport at 11:00pm with the bikes already assembled, and a new friend from warm showers met us and we biked to his house.

Three and a half weeks later, we pedaled to the Dubrovnik Airport, ending our trip. The Croatian Airlines baggage handlers grabbed the bikes without question, and even forgot to charge us the $150 per bike. We flew to Dusseldorf, and then boarded a Lufthansa flight to Chicago, where we would transfer to United.

At the Dubrovnik Airport

We retrieved our luggage, went through customs, and then re-checked our bikes and panniers. The attendant on duty took our bikes, which had the baggage claims attached to the top tube, and rolled them away without question. I was somewhat amazed that we didn’t have to box the bikes. I even took a picture of the attendant taking our bikes.

Baggage attendant takes our bikes in Chicago

Lindsey and I went through security again, ate some chinese food at the food court, and then made it to our gate 20 minutes before boarding. We then heard our names called to the desk. We walked over, and the woman looked up at us.

“Kroodsma and Fransen?” She asked.
“Yes,” we said.
“You left your bicycles at the baggage claim.”

The woman told us that we had to go back to Terminal 5 and box the bikes. “They will sell you a box. But you will have to go standby on a later flight, because you won’t be able to make this one.”

We tried to explain that we didn’t “leave” the bikes–they were re-checked and taken by the baggage handlers. We told her that we had called the airline (Lufthansa) twice to check, and that were told we didn’t have to box the bikes. We got nowhere. We were told that was not their problem.

We rushed to Terminal 5, but couldn’t figure out how to find the bikes. We walked in circles furiously. How would we catch a flight that night? We finally had to tell a security guard our problems, and they let us walk in through security to the customs area, where we found the two bikes.

The head luggage attendant had no sympathy. We explained that we were told repeatedly that the bikes did not have to be boxed. That is an issue we need to take up with Lufthansa, not United, he said. We told him the bikes had been taken from us without question, thus losing us two hours we could have spent boxing the bikes. He said that the people who had originally wheeled the bikes away from us were Bulgarians and Romanians who didn’t understand English or know the rules. I wanted to yell at him and say “we were just in Eastern Europe this morning, and they had no f’n problem with bicycles there.” (Not to mention the fact that the guy who took our bikes did not look Eastern European–or that they should have the people who work there know the luggage rules).

We took the bikes back to Terminal 1, where the man at the baggage desk looked at them disapprovingly and said “you need a box.” We told him our story and asked to buy boxes. He said “We haven’t sold bike boxes in years.” He explained that there was no way, due to liability, that he could take the bikes without boxes. “The best thing I can recommend is to go to the other airline desks and ask if they have boxes.”

We considered taking our case to Lufthansa, but Lufthansa had the longest line in the terminal. Also, even if we found a box, we’d need allen wrenches, and my bike tools were in the other luggage that had already been checked.

I figured we had only one option. We found a van taxi, told the driver our dilemma, and asked to go to Walmart, where I guessed we’d be able to both get cardboard boxes and allen wrenches. The taxi driver, who turned out to be Serbian (we could count to eight in his language and say “tent, one night”), convinced us that he could help us get boxes and tools for our bikes without going to Walmart (where, coincidentally, he was not allowed to pick up new passengers). He found a car mechanic who lent us the tools, and then we drove to a Walgreens Drugstore where we assembled boxes out of cardboard that had been used to ship toilet paper. These are probably the worst bike boxes ever made.

Our driver, who had helped us tape the boxes, drove us back the terminal where, miraculously, the disapproving luggage attendant accepted the boxes. We were put on standby for an 8:30 flight (by then, it was already 8:00). We ran to the gate, begging our way to the front of the security line, and were the last two people to get on the flight. Not too bad, we told ourselves, given that our original flight was just three hours earlier.

When we arrived in San Francisco, we looked at the screen to find the baggage carousel where our bags would arrive and saw that our original flight, which was supposed to leave at 5:15, was four hours delayed. That’s right — we got home earlier than we would have if we had followed airline polices. (Of course, it might have been more pleasant to sit in the gate and sleep than drive around suburban Chicago stressed out about whether we would make it home.)

Somehow, we came out ahead this time. Next time, though, we are going to call each airline individually.

Arrival in San Francisco