Learning through Action

I'm Lauren and this blog began as a journey to live a life with less environmental impact.  As my journey led me to Myanmar, my focus shifted from aspiration to advocacy. 

This project is an effort to provide a glimpse into my life in Myanmar—the people, places, and issues that inspire and teach me as I continue this adventure towards a more sustainable life.   

To learn more, click "About" above, and stay tuned for updates.

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Pedal Power: The Benefits of Cycling and Automobile Alternatives

I have been cycling to work now for about two years.  I love it.  I feel healthier, spend more time outside, and generally feel more optimistic about the day ahead.  Cycling also reduces my morning caffeine cravings and helps me feel connected to the conditions of the natural world.  I am acutely aware of rain, embrace the chaos of windy days, and celebrate sunshine. 

But cycling is not without its difficulties.  Safety precautions must be taken.  Drivers can be careless and unwelcoming.  Thieves will take anything worth a few dollars.  I know this all too well: I recently walked out of a restaurant to find my bike looking sadly dismembered, stripped of its handlebars, shifters, and brakes.  It was this event, and the loss of my means of transportation, that prompted me to examine the environmental benefits of riding my bike. 

The impact of driving versus cycling

The relative carbon footprint of a bicycle versus a car is a surprisingly controversial topic.  Some argue that a daily commute by car creates 1448 times more carbon than by bike.  Others factor in the food to fuel the cyclist and come up with as little as 50% less carbon for the bicycle.  A very good paper concludes that bicycles are 2/3 more efficient than cars, even if you factor in the extra energy required for a cyclist's food.  Regardless of the way it is measured, a bicycle has a vastly smaller carbon footprint than a car across everything from manufacture, to fuel consumption, to storage, and disposal.

Why leave the car behind? 

The problem with cars is that they require massive quantities of energy to produce and to keep running.  The EPA estimates that cars produce 20.4 lbs of CO2 emissions per gallonand if a gallon of gas only gets an average passenger car 20 miles, then a full pound of CO2 is released each mileOf course, not all cars have the same impact.  Driving an SUV for a year instead of an average new car would waste more energy than leaving a refrigerator door open for six years, a bathroom light burning for 30 years, or a color TV turned on for 28 years.  Think about this difference the next time you are in the market for a car.

If you can’t commit to giving up your car, or it is not a realistic full time choice, leaving the car behind part-time will still greatly reduce your CO2 emissions.  The EPA estimates that leaving your car behind even twice a week reduces your emissions by 1,600 pounds per year (the equivalent of 82 gallons of gas).

While a bicycle, like any manufactured good, requires fossil fuels for manufacturing and production, the energy needed to build one mid-sized automobile could be used to produce 100 bicycles—another reason to ditch the car.

Fuel for your engine

While the form of transportation you choose matters, it is worth noting that many feel very strongly that what you choose to fuel yourself is even more important.  Although I agree that we should make well-informed food choices, I do not think that cycle commuters consume that much more food to make a meaningful difference.

Here are a few of the interesting statistics I found.  I will also tackle environmentally friendly food more broadly at a later date.

-  According to one article, the carbon emissions of cycling a mile powered by different foods varies: 65g of CO2 for bananas; 90g of CO2 for cereals with milk; 200g of CO2 for bacon; 260g CO2 for a cheeseburger; and a whopping 2800g of CO2 for air-freighted asparagus

-  It takes 200 times more fossil fuel to produce beef than potatoes because cattle consume 14 times more grain than meat produced.

-  One vegetarian advocate estimates that meat-eaters use twice as much fossil fuel as vegetarians.

I have also read several debates on the steak-eating cyclist versus the hybrid-driving vegan.  I think this misses the point—most drivers and cyclists eat similarly.  Cyclists are generally healthier than the average sedentary driver.  Thus, the extra energy required to feed a cyclist may be offset or surpassed by the future health care costs required to treat diabetes, obesity, heart disease or the many problems that accompany poor lifestyle choices.

Automobile alternatives

There are many good, environmentally friendly alternatives to driving.  Below are a few options.  

1.  Cycling

In addition to the many health benefits, cycling offers an enormous improvement for your environmental impact.  The choice to get on a bike seems simple.  Often, the biggest barrier to becoming a cycle commuter is a fear of the unknown.  There is a solution to this: a number of sites and organizations offer urban cycling workshops and bike commuting tips.  The cycling community is supportive and well-organized.  Take the leap.  I promise it is worth the effort.

 2.  Walking

For short distances and simple errands, walking offers a low-impact, easy alternative to driving.  Here is a resource for tips and safety considerations when walking.

3.  Public Transit

Most cities and towns offer some form of public transit.  From the subway, to the bus, to the lightrail, or cable car, the options are diverse and can cover a lot of terrain.  Get familiar with your local transit website, which typically provides schedules, maps, and live updates.  See the SF Bay Area’s website for an example.

4.  Ride Sharing or Carpooling

If every car commuting in the United States carried one more person, it would save eight billion gallons of gas each year.  City ride sharing programs are prolific.  This site provides a list and map of places where you can find a ride in the Bay Area.  If this option makes you uncomfortable, you can still carpool with co-workers or friends who work nearby.

5.  Alternative Fuels

If you simply can’t give up your car to commute, consider alternative fuels (and cars that are compatible with them).  Again, there are resources that provide a detailed list of places to purchase alternatives fuels or find a city carshare.

Happy riding (in whatever form you choose)!

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Reader Comments (1)

whoa! that is one pretty looking klein! where did you get that bike?

March 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbike boy

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