Cycling across the Colorado Plateau, listening to stories of place, climate change, and environmental justice.
Layers Exposed is a space for exploring what it means to inhabit the high desert of the southwest in a changing climate. You'll find reflections from a long bike ride across the Colorado Plateau and stories from people who call this region home. The site is managed by me, Brooke Larsen, a lover of red rock, bike commuter, climate organizer, and storyteller.
The Colorado Plateau is defined by color--hues of red shaped by wind and the hard working Colorado River. The deep time of this place inspires hope. The exposed layers tell a story that move us to think beyond the surface. Inspired by the landscape I call home, I seek to uncover the unexplored, the silenced, the untold stories of climate justice in this rural, wild region. With dear friends, family, and creative storytellers, I cycled 1,500 miles over 54 days during the summer of 2017. I biked the Colorado Plateau not so much for the ride, but for the stories along the way. I chose a bike as my means of transportation because I’ve always preferred pedaling over pushing on the gas. I should be clear that most of my journey was not fossil-fuel-free. Parker, the photographer who joined for 30 of the 54 days, drove my Subaru full of ice water I poured over my head every 10 miles. I biked to experience the region I consider my home in a more intimate way. I wanted to smell its scents—from sage blowing in the wind to the exhaust of semi after semi traveling the long, rural highways. I wanted to feel its aridity, as stupid as I would eventually realize that impulse to be. I wanted to experience each contour in the land, feel each incline in my burning thighs and each descent in the tickle of hair that didn’t quite make it in my helmet.
I planned my route around communities experiencing climate change and environmental injustice. I listened to stories from people defending their home--the physical environment and the people they love--and the struggles people face in a changing climate and transition economy still loaded with oppression and marginalization of those indigenous to this place. The Colorado Plateau is known for its wildness, but it is also a national sacrifice zone. From nuclear waste to the dirtiest power plants in the country, extreme energy projects are most often placed nearest to the poor and people of color. Frontline communities face the degradation of their environment, their health, and their culture--elements that depend on one another to thrive. As I biked across the region, I carried with me few answers and many questions. With megadrought on the horizon, how do we cope with the loss of our home? What if the renewable jobs don't pop up in the dying coal town? How can a just transition create solutions that allow people to stay in the home they love? And as we transition, how do we reconcile and put an end to the fossil fuel industry's disproportionate impact on the poor and people of color, particularly Native communities? By listening, I uncovered more questions than answers. Stories are pathways for empathy.