Pogradec, Albania to Plužine, Montenegro– 486 km this section (Total Mileage: 13,008 km/40,075 km)
October seems so long ago. Between getting my mother to safety in the wake of her crash and the rush to and through the UN climate conference in Morocco, these past few months have been full times.
As I look towards my route home across the US–I’ll be flying from Barcelona to Miami come January, then biking home to Oregon before my money runs out–I’ve begun thinking about graduate school and jobs that will expand my knowledge of climate and energy topics and prepare me for a more focused and productive second half of the tour.
I wish I had had a chance to venture further into Eastern and Central Europe on this leg of the tour. I feel limited in my reflections by the relatively short time I spent in Albania and Montenegro, and the fact that I never got the chance to absorb the greater geopolitical context of the region. Still, I saw and learned things in these places that I couldn’t have done elsewhere, and these are them.
My route north through Albania and Montenegro.
My mom and our friend Jeanie on the first descent into Albania.
We spent our first night in Albania on the edge of Lake Ohrid, one of two great lakes that straddle the border between Albania and Macedonia/FYROM. It is one of the oldest lakes in the world and one of the deepest lakes in Europe, and it has accumulated a startling biodiversity over its lifetime.
As scientists like E.O. Wilson have been arguing for decades, biodiversity has important ramifications for any ecosystem’s ability to sustain life (including human life). On a more concrete level, decisions that may initially seem to increase prosperity (such as the development of a new tourist resort) will more than likely lower it if they reduce biodiversity.
The Albanian town of Pogradec was common tourist destination for the country’s communist leaders, but suffered a downturn after the end of that era. Now, the revival of the tourist industry, combined with rapid expansion on the Macedonian (FYROM) side of the lake, is putting pressure on the lake’s biodiversity. Climate change and overfishing place further strain on local life, and scientists are increasingly observing a deterioration in viability of the lakes’ species.
Because most species live out their lives in relatively narrow elevation ranges, the southern Balkans’ steep, narrow valleys make their territory some of the most biodiverse country in Europe. Species’ natural ranges will tend to shift uphill as the globe warms, and at a rate much higher than that of natural climate change, outstripping many species’ ability to adapt, disrupting ecological codependencies, and further threatening biodiversity.
A view down Kotor Bay in Montenegro, from the old castle on the hill. Across the bay are the mountains that we passed through on our way towards Bosnia.
The Kotor harbor has long been a haven for sea-oriented societies, but the mountains rise so sharply from the seaside that I wonder how the cities here will adapt to rising tides.
The Church of St. Clara in Kotor is one of the many Montenegran heritage sites that rests just above today’s sea level.
I had hoped to take a boat home to the US, but found that I had missed the boat (I’m sorry) on sailboat season, that freighter passage was well out of my price range, and that cruise ships actually have a larger carbon footprint than planes (.43 kg/passenger mile for cruises, compared to .257 kg for planes and .19 kg for trains).
Large ships like freighters and cruise ships mostly run on bunker fuels, the solid, asphalt-like dregs of fuel purification processes. These fuels can only be burned at incredibly high temperatures and produce lung-clogging smog that makes chronic disease more likely for port communities around the world.
That such communities are disproportionately poor and composed of ethnic minorities shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that climate change and environmental pollution tend to most impact poor and working class communities and communities of color.
The first international agreement on bunker fuels came only this year, and progress on reducing their use remains slow, though some, like Peace Boat, have begun to explore better ways of powering these boats.