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Friday, April 10, 2009

Is bicycling bad for the environment?

On his new show "Stuff Happens" on the Planet Green cable network, Bill Nye the Science Guy has reopened the debate about whether bicycling actually is bad for the environment. One of my friends from the Belleville Area Bicycling and Eating Society, Thomas Carter, has this to say about a recent episode of the show:
"Well, the other day the show was based on things in garages. And where do
most people store their bikes, but in a garage. So. ...

He also mentions an amusing University of Pennsylvania study that claims
people who ride bicycles on a regular basis were actually harming the
environment. This is because bicyclists live longer, and by doing so they
are around to consume more and produce more waste.

Okay... bad idea or what."
The study Nye speaks was written by Karl T. Ulrich of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and it's titled "The Environment Paradox of Bicycling" (PDF file). In short, the study suggests there is an immediate energy savings by bicycle riding, since a cyclist is up to nine times more energy efficient than a single-occupant car. However, the study suggests cyclists increase their longevity by 10.6 days for every year of cycling. Because of that, they consume more energy over their lifetimes, thus doing more harm to the environment.

Back in 2006, several media outlets wrote about the study, including NPR,, the New York Times and Salon.

It should be noted that some of those media sources also describe Ulrich as an avid cyclist and that he admits, "Those who adopt the bicycle as a means of transportation could potentially develop an increased awareness of the environmental impact of their actions and may over their lifetimes reduce energy consumption substantially in their other, non-transportation activities."

I don't know about you, but I'm going to keep on cycling!

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Roger 1 comments links to this post 12:09 AM rogerkramercyclingrogerkramercycling

Bill Nye, himself, is a daily bike commuter (from what I read). But, as a scientist< I'm sure he finds this sort of paradoxical thinking worthy of note.
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