Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Paradox of Biking, or Why Biking is Bad for the Environment

I thoroughly enjoyed reading an intriguing paper by Dr. Ulrich at Wharton. He discusses the paradox of biking. Essentially, while biking is good for the environment because it reduces emissions from cars, it is also detrimental because it increases longevity, which in turn increases our environmental impact, almost to a neutral point.
The analysis takes account of the first-order effects due to the dramatically lower energy requirements of transportation by bicycle relative to automobiles. The environmental benefits of human power are, however, strongly coupled to the environmental costs of increased population, due to increased longevity of those who engage in physical activity. Paradoxically, increased use of human power for transportation is unlikely to reduce substantially the use of energy because of this second-order effect.
My favorite parenthetical comment:
(Given that the longevity benefits of physical activity are enjoyed by the individual who incurs the costs of the physical activity, in theory each individual should be able to make an informed decision about engaging in physical activity as a health-related intervention. However, the fact that more than a quarter of the global population smokes cigarettes raises doubts about this framing of the individual decision process as a benefit-cost analysis.)
How is it that even when we know what's best for us individually, we continue to choose otherwise? What do individuals need to do to choose the things which are good?

I think that it might come down to 2 steps. To be informed, and to feel responsible.

Here's the information. If more people used bicycles more often, we would create fewer pollutants in the air. We would need fewer parking lots, and therefore (I hope) we'd have more green spaces where cars used to be, and again, create cleaner air. If more people used bicycles more often, we'd have fewer health problems which result from obesity and inactivity. A few links to sources.

I believe that why we should feel responsible deserves a post of it's own.

1 comment:

  1. This is really interesting, and probably true of many of the other healthy, green choices we make.