The Outdoor Philosopher: Kate Rawles on Riding 'The Carbon Cycle'

Kate_Rawles_bioKate Rawles on her Mexico-to-Canada tour. Photo: Chris Loynes

Kate Rawles is an outdoor philosopher. That is a title she coined herself, and it is accurate in more than one way. She spends her professional life thinking about, talking about, and being in the outdoors, activities that culminated in the publication of The Carbon Cycle, her account of the three-month, 4,553-mile bike ride she undertook to better understand concepts and perception about climate change in the American West.

The Banff Center named The Carbon Cycle a finalist in the 2012 Banff Mountain Book Competition. Philip Connors' Fire Season took the prize, but the nomination helped bring Rawles' book to an audience outside her base in the United Kingdom. Adventure Ethics talked to Rawles, a lecturer in Outdoor Studies at the University of Cumbria, about outdoor philosophy, her ride, and the resulting book.

What is outdoor philosophy?
I spend a lot of time talking about human-nature relationships, but I was doing this inside lecture halls, and there were no other species in the room. The whole thing felt very abstract, so over time I started to take those classes outside more and more.

Outdoor philosophy means getting outside the classroom. I often take my classes sea kayaking and they have a very powerful engagement with a very different landscape. There is a motivation aspect, too. It's not just exploring the topic academically but encouraging students to act on behalf of the environment.

The Carbon Cycle is based on the conversations about climate change that you had with hundreds of people during the course of your Mexico-to-Canada bike ride. How did the book come into being?
I always loved cycling and mountains and I've done a number of trips over the years, but wanted to do a bigger trip. I wanted to use it as a way of communicating about climate change. I wanted to raise awareness rather than money. And I wanted to connect what is known, academically, about climate change with what is happening on the ground.

I wanted it to be adventurous enough to get people's attention. I used the bike ride almost like a Trojan horse, to get to people who would not necessarily pick up a book about climate change, and get them to talk about it with me.

The trip was 4,553 miles and I tried to follow the spine of the Rockies as much as possible, I crossed the Continental Divide about 20 times.

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