Now that NOAA has officially announced March 2012 the warmest on record, climate change is getting harder and harder to deny. Even skeptics can’t ignore the most obvious evidence of our altered climate: the record-breaking number of extreme weather events in 2011. Last year surpassed all previous years in terms of disaster costs, with ten events costing the country over $1 billion each – hurricane Irene, of course, being the record-breaker.
While we may not be able to pin this record-breaking March or growing number of disasters directly on global warming, the obvious meteorological changes are a wake-up call for many. Whether or not you blame the human race, the climate is warming, a trend that undeniably mirrors our consumption habits, especially when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions.
This can be a daunting realization. But rather than dwelling on the negative, climate change superheroes like Bill McKibbin repeatedly use obvious physical changes, such as this warm winter, as a call to action. “My only real fear,” he states in the preface of his 2010 book Eaarth, “is that the the reality described in this book, and increasingly evident in the world around us, will be for some an excuse to give up. We need just the opposite – increased engagement…We have no other choice.”
This engagement can come in many forms. A term often thrown around when it comes to fighting climate change is “carbon footprint” – the amount of carbon you, as an individual, emit. There are thousands of websites, books, flyers, and people who can tell you ways to reduce your carbon footprint. And this can be overwhelming. But, since this is a bicycle blog, we’ll stick with a simple, do-able challenge. Bike to work once a week.
Changing your mode of transportation, even just one day a week, can make a huge difference. We can do some simple math to find out just how much. Using a commute distance of 5 miles (a 2009 DOT survey found that 50% of trips made in the US are under 3 miles – while many commutes are longer, we’ll use the ride-able average of 5 miles) we can calculate using a simple equation from the website “What’s my Carbon Footprint?”
If you bicycled to work an average of one day per week throughout a year, you would save over 400 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
Considering the average American emits between 11,000 and 21,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year, that’s reducing your emissions by between 2-3%, just by cycling to work once a week. And now imagine increasing that number to twice a week, or convincing a few friends to do the same. You CAN have an impact, and pretty easily.
The Bicycle Coalition of Maine has some great tips for using your bike as transportation, from choosing a durable bike to dressing for the commute. In Maine and all over the world, more and more people are embracing bicycles as a viable mode of transportation. Since 2000, the number of bicycle commuters in the United States has risen over 40% and continues to rise each year. Bicycle commuters tout not only the environmental benefits, but the health, fitness and convenience ones as well – as cycling can often be quicker than driving to work, especially in cities.
So try it. Start with one day a week, and maybe that will turn into two, or three, or maybe you’ll become a bicycle-commuting convert. Maybe not, but I challenge you to try. Now that the weather is getting nicer, do your part for the planet.
Written by Hannah Orcutt, a 2011.5 Middlebury College graduate, Mainer, and longtime cyclist. Hannah is currently living in Burlington Vermont where she works with the Orton Family Foundation to expand the influence of their work in community-based, small town planning.