Riding a bike is a political act. In fact, everything is a political act. The question is never whether something is, or is not, a political act. Instead, the question is always, “am I conscious of the political nature of my actions?”
For example, driving a car is a political act because by driving and purchasing gasoline we implicitly endorse industrial capitalism and the use of fossil fuels. One of the ways cycling is a political act is choosing to minimize consumption of fossil fuels by riding a bike thereby reducing the amount of carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
I am currently in the process of consciously reducing my carbon footprint by riding a bike more, relying mostly on public transportation, and driving a car less. What is a “carbon footprint”? Good question.
The British newspaper, The Guardian offers the following definition.
When talking about climate change, footprint is a metaphor for the total impact that something has. And carbon is shorthand for all the different greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. The term carbon footprint, therefore, is shorthand to describe the best estimate that we can get of the full climate change impact of something. That something could be anything – an activity, an item, a lifestyle, a company, a country or even the whole world.
That’s a good enough definition for me.
So, when I attempt to reduce my carbon footprint, I am attempting to minimize my contribution to the release of greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere. I am not eliminating my footprint altogether. I still drive a car. I still take a commuter train to work. I still consume a whole lot of stuff as well, like clothes made and food grown outside the U.S. But, I am reducing these activities by using a bike more often – as my main commuter vehicle.
For most of my adult life, a bicycle has been my main – and often only – mode of transportation. I just prefer to ride a bike, and always have. Plus, being broke helped me reach that conclusion. However, for the last few years my employment situation has forced me to commute by car, which I dislike.
Up until this week, I have been driving every day from my home in Albuquerque, NM to my job in Santa Fe, NM. The commute is about 65 miles each way – a 130-mile roundtrip, Monday through Friday. That is 650 miles per week. Given vacation, sick days, holidays, etc., that is approximately 30,000 miles per year. My car, a 2007 Toyota Corolla sedan, gets about 36 miles per gallon. So, I am using something like 833 gallons of gas per year. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, one gallon of gas in a typical passenger car puts out approximately 8,887 grams of CO2 per gallon. By this calculation, I have been pumping 7,402,871 grams-per-year into the earth’s atmosphere – that is 16,321 pounds of greenhouse gas. Just my car alone. That is astounding. And it is alarming when you consider that one billion cars are in operation worldwide.
According to climate scientists at NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), “[h]uman emissions of carbon dioxide have grown at a significant rate since the Industrial Revolution, and the greenhouse gas lingers in the atmosphere for a century or more.” This means that every time any person drives an automobile or motorcycle, no matter how far, those emissions stay in the earth’s atmosphere for one hundred years. Multiply that by the over one billion cars that are estimated to be in operation in the world and you may get an idea of how much carbon emissions are put into the atmosphere just by automobiles. So, over a billion cars are pumping massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, day after day, year after year.
And we see the effects of climate change in the increasing intensity of weather events like hurricanes and hotter temperatures. We see the effects of climate change in the displacement of people who have lost their homes and neighborhoods to extreme weather events. Climate change is also affecting food security for the poorest, most vulnerable people on the planet. In the meantime, all of these effects of climate change are driving people across the globe into poverty, and poor people to ruin.
Also troubling is the effect climate change is having on plants and animals. Climate change is affecting patterns of animal migration. Animals cannot speak to us directly so they cannot properly defend themselves against human actions. Human beings have to be sensitive to the needs of animals. We have to defend animals. It is our responsibility to do so – just as adults we have to defend the interests of children. If we don’t, then who else will?
So, what I am doing about all this? First, I am no longer driving to work unless necessary. Instead, I am taking the Rail Runner (New Mexico’s commuter train) from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, and riding a bike to the train station. I have also arranged to work in downtown Albuquerque two days a week, which is a short four mile bike ride from my house, each way. Just by doing that, over 30,000 miles of driving will be eliminated. One more car will be off of the road. Public transportation will be supported by one more commuter. More importantly, 16,321 pounds of greenhouse gas will be removed from the annual accumulation in the earth’s atmosphere.
I’m basically saving the earth by riding a bike. That’s all.
Riding to work to the train station will be cheaper too. Regular unleaded gasoline is about two dollars a gallon here in New Mexico right now, which means a savings of about $1,666 per year – and double that if gas prices return to the four dollar range. In contrast, a one-year pass for the train is $900. In addition, the dangerous 130 mile commute on Interstate 25 has been replaced by a quiet train ride with a cup of coffee and a book. There are health benefits too of course, but I will write about that later.
So cycling is a political act. For me it is an act of resistance to the culture of fossil fuel and all of the negative affects the come with it – including climate change, obesity, and related health problems. Cycling is an act of personal and political independence. It is a practical DIY approach to self-reliance. And it is a reduction of my indulgence in consumer-driven numbing-out.
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 Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark, “What is a Carbon Footprint?,” The Guardian, June 4, 2010, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2010/jun/04/carbon-footprint-definition (accessed 11/7/16).
 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions From a Typical Passenger Vehicle (February 2016), https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-02/documents/420f14040a.pdf (accessed 11/6/16).
 NASA, “Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet,” November 1, 2016, http://climate.nasa.gov/news/2509/new-space-based-view-of-human-made-carbon-dioxide/ (accessed on 11/6/16).
 Wards Auto, “World Vehicle Population Tops 1 Billion Units,” August 15, 2011, http://wardsauto.com/news-analysis/world-vehicle-population-tops-1-billion-units (accessed on 11/6/16).
 See, Karl Matheisen, “Extreme Weather Alread on Increase Due to Climate Change Study Finds,” The Guardian, April 27, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/27/extreme-weather-already-on-increase-due-to-climate-change-study-finds (accessed 11/6/16); Justin Worland, “How Climate Change Helped Cause Massive Floods in Louisiana,” Time, September 7, 2016, http://time.com/4482109/climate-change-louisiana-flooding/ (accessed 11/6/16); Peter Hanam, “Australia experiencing more extreme fire weather, hotter days as climate changes,” The Sydney Morning Herald, October 27, 2016, http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/australia-experiencing-more-extreme-fire-weather-hotter-days-as-climate-changes-20161025-gsao24.html (accessed 11/6/16); Christoher N. Osher, “Temperature in Denver sets record high for an Oct. 15,” Denver Post, October 15, 2016, http://www.denverpost.com/2016/10/15/weather-in-denver-close-to-hitting-a-record-high-for-an-oct-15/ (accessed 11/6/16); Dick Alstrom, “Climate Change: Water Will Be the Issue for Ireland,” The Irish Times, October 31, 2016, http://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/climate-change-water-will-be-the-issue-for-ireland-1.2848518 (accessed 11/6/16); and there are many more articles with similar content.
 Christopher Flavelle, “Climate Change is Already Forcing Americans to Move,” Bloomberg News, October 13, 2016, https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-10-31/climate-change-is-already-forcing-americans-to-move (accessed 11/6/16).
 Alex Whiting, “Without Urgent Action, Climate Change Will Push Millions Into Hunger: UN,” Reuters, October 17, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-farming-climatechange-hunger-idUSKBN12H121 (accessed 11/6/16); United Nations, Climate Change and Food Security: A Framework Document (2008), http://www.fao.org/forestry/15538-079b31d45081fe9c3dbc6ff34de4807e4.pdf (accessed 11/6/16).
 Claire Provost, “Climate Change Could Drive 122m More People Into Poverty by 2030,” The Guardian, October 17, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/oct/17/climate-change-could-drive-122m-more-people-into-extreme-poverty-by-2030-un-united-nations-report (accessed 11/6/16).
 See, John Abraham, “Climate Change and Other Human Activities are Affecting Species Migration,” The Guardian, September 8, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/sep/08/climate-change-and-other-human-activities-are-affecting-species-migration (accessed 11/7/16); Christine Dell’Amore, “7 Species Hit Hard by Climate Change – Including One That’s Already Extinct,” National Geographic, April 2, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140331-global-warming-climate-change-ipcc-animals-science-environment/ (accessed 11/7/16); Al Jazerra News, “Coral Catastrophe: The Fight to Save Our Dying Reefs,” November 6, 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/techknow/2016/11/coral-catastrophe-fighting-save-dying-reefs-161103101254532.html (accessed 11/7/16).