How many mpg does your bicycle get?
This Wharton prof published a paper(warning, PDF) suggesting that bicycle commuting is actually worse for the environment than automobiles.
“It is axiomatic among environmentalists that substitution of human-powered transportation for single occupant automobile trips provides environmental benefits. Yet, given the current state of the automobile-driving population, particularly in the United States, first-order environmental benefits can result in high second-order environmental costs due to increased longevity of those engaging in increased physical activity. That is, the energy savings due to the use of human power for transportation may be offset by the increased energy used by living longer due to better health.”
It’s a very interesting read. Misinformed, perhaps, but interesting. The author does not acknowledge the point that the whole reason humans care about the environment is because we exist. Sure, the best way to stop human-born pollution is to stop letting humans live on this planet, but the premise doesn’t really get us anywhere. Additionally, the author leaves out the amazing costs, and therefore energy requirements, of providing health care for obesity-related diseases.
Not my image, but applicable to the discussion.
The article is nonetheless chalk full of interesting points about the environmental impact of commuting. My favorite is the idea of the great bounty of energy stored in the burgeoning waistline of our obese population,
“Sedentary individuals are likely to have higher levels of body fat than fit individuals. When a sedentary person engages in cycling and reduces fat stores, there will be a one-time recovery of the energy value of the fat (Higgins and Higgins, 2005).”
Picture a wind farm, but instead of windmills, there are fields of obese Americans on mag-trainers doing LT intervals. No thanks, Middle East, we don’t need your oil anymore.