Bonjour tout le monde! We just returned from a MAJOR bucket list item for our family- seeing the Tour de France in person!! Our family loves to bike ride, but even more we love to watch those unbelievable cyclists in the tour go up and down mountains and achieve wattages that are otherwise only seen at power plants. We love the Tour de France, and have been watching it for years on the TV, and this year we finally had the privilege of going to France to see it for real. And throw in a few museums, some sight-seeing, and a lot of bread-and-wine consumption along the way of course.
So international travel comes with a carbon cost, non? Yes it certainly does. I pretty much knew this going in. What I wasn’t so aware of was the full extent of the carbon impacts associated with the Tour. You sort of think- guys on bicycles, you know, its human powered, so no major carbon emissions to speak of, right? Well, true enough, until you add on the 120-car and truck caravan that follows the guys on bicycles for three weeks. And the cyclists and support teams that fly in from all over the world to participate. And the thousands of spectators that come from near, yes, but also very far, like us, to watch this, the largest annual sporting event in the world! And before you know it, those carbon emissions for a supposedly non-motorized event really start stacking up.
But don’t take my qualitative word for it. Here’s a Sierra Club article a friend sent me while we were on the tour that had my eyes popping out of my head over the carbon emissions involved in the Tour. For example: in 2007, spectators at the Grand Depart had traveled 870 MILLION MILES round trip to be there, with almost 2/3 of these miles being via air. Or how about this: researchers estimated that for one leg of the tour attendees expended 100 million kilowatts of energy on their overnight accommodations alone—enough to run London’s underground public transit system for four years. Holy carbon footprint, batman!
The article also talks about the amount of litter generated by both participants and spectators, and we witnessed this ourselves -some stages did a better job than others, but everywhere we went, water bottles and refuse littered the street and surrounding areas following a stage. It was very frustrating to witness, and understandable that some of these towns, while they probably love the economic boost the tour gives them, likely hate the aftermath and its cleanup. Reading this makes me realize that we were a small part of a very, very big footprint associated with this event.
There were two things I felt I had to do to mitigate our participation in this incredible activity: one personal, one public. As part of our annual carbon offset purchases (you can read more about my somewhat grudging participation in them here), I included our flights and driving in France to offset at least a substantive portion of our carbon contributions. I also posted my concerns to the Tour’s Facebook site, letting them know that I want to see them do more on reducing and mitigating the impact of their event. Though I have slim hope that any of the organizers will read or respond to my concerns, I do think its incredibly important to voice our views on carbon emissions to keep putting this issue in the spotlight, in all aspects of life- even those that are supposedly non-carbon-related, like bicycling.