Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction for Dummies: Or, Laziness Will Kill Us All

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Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction for DummiesThe European Cyclist Federation (ECF) published a study this month evaluating how well bicycles can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, the ECF’s report deals with greenhouse gas emissions directly or indirectly caused by traffic and transportation. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the ECF determined that bicycles are the greenest vehicle it’s possible to own.

The European Union has a stated goal of 60% emissions reduction from 1990 levels by 2050, and the ECF doesn’t think the EU is going to meet its goals with technological advances and fuel efficiency alone (a conclusion also reached by the European Environment Agency). In fact, the ECF thinks that increased fuel efficiency and more efficient use of motorized vehicles can only go so far – and by “so far,” they mean “20% below 1990 levels by 2050.”

It’s A Numbers Game

Bicycles aren’t quite zero emission – the ECF took into account the carbon emissions from manufacture and maintenance of the vehicles. They also accounted for fuel – in the case of a bicycle, it’s the sandwich the cyclist has for lunch in order to have the energy necessary to keep pedaling. Even so, the ECF determined that bicycle emissions are over 10 times lower than that of a passenger car.

The ECF evaluated the bicycle-riding habits of citizens throughout the EU over a number of years; they found that the most bicycles were ever ridden was in Denmark in 2000 (about 1.6 miles a day). Pay attention to that, because they repeat it over and over again (although it should be noted the Danes did not maintain their high bicycle use). They then compared the emissions from the cyclists to those from using cars, buses, and electric bicycles and mopeds.

The verdict? If all the EU citizens pedal as hard as the Danes did in 2000, 26% of the EU emissions goals would be met right there. “Take that up to 3 miles a day, and that’s half the goal right there,” said study author Benoit Blondel, ECF speaker for Environment and Health, to

Don’t We Have Green Vehicles On The Roads Now?

Blondel has an answer for that too, as reported by

“The potential that bicycles have to help us meet emissions goals is considerable. There’s very little effort required to get people onto bicycles, and it’s more economically sound than putting more electric cars on the street. If we really want to reach the [emissions reduction] goal, we have to change our behavior. It doesn’t mean we travel less – it’s about the way we travel, and the transportation choices made possible by our government.”

The problem with Blondel’s glib statement is that the amount of effort required isn’t “very little.” Behavioral changes aren’t easy when self-determined, and trying to get an entire population to abandon their beloved, comfortable, and convenient personal passenger car for a bicycle – particularly when it’s cold, hot, raining, snowing, or the weather is in any other way unpleasant – isn’t going to be a simple matter. Motivation is the key, and the ECF’s report doesn’t address that question.

Key Points

  • Bicycle-caused greenhouse gas emissions are 10 times lower than passenger-car-caused emissions. (Yes, the fact that cyclists probably eat more was also included in the calculations.)
  • Bicycles of any variety can replace 56% of daily commuting passenger car use.
  • Bicycles of any variety can replace 39% of non-commuting passenger car use.
  • Bicycle lending programs have the capacity to replace 50%-70% of motorized transport, reducing emissions even further.
  • Cycle like the Danes in the year 2000 to immediately account for 26% of the EU emissions reduction goal.
  • Cycle like the Danes in the year 2000 to reduce EU crude oil imports by 10% (assuming standard crude oil import of 955 million barrels per year).
  • A combination of technological improvements, fewer carbon-rich fuels, more efficient use of vehicles, and more efficient traffic systems will only reduce emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2050.
  • The EU emissions reduction goal cannot be met with technology alone. Ambitious programs aimed at shifting away from personal motorized transport are necessary to meet the goal.

Would you be willing to buy and ride a bicycle to help your country meet emissions goals? Let us know in the comments, below.

Source: | Image: Wikimedia Commons

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