Climate change can be a daunting topic. In the midst of dire predictions about melting ice caps, holes in the ozone layer, and rising temperatures, it can be easy to feel powerless, or even paralyzed. Experts have even coined a name for this phenomenon: it’s called “apocalypse fatigue,” and it can lead to people avoiding the topic of climate change entirely.
In reality, though, individuals have more power than they realize. Our lives comprise countless daily actions, habits, and choices, and changing those—even if it’s only a small change—can have a bigger impact than we might think. One of the easiest and most impactful choices at our disposal is our mode of transportation. For most people, it’s probably not possible to stop driving cars entirely. However, even occasionally utilizing other forms of transportation—such as walking, public transit, and carpools—can add up to make a sizable difference in our carbon footprint. Biking, in particular, has been shown to be one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Here’s why:
Carbon emissions are one of the biggest contributing factors to global warming. According to one study, cars emit around 271g per kilometer driven. Buses, by comparison, release about 101g/km. By contrast, bicycles, whose only carbon emissions come from the fuel (that is, food) required by the rider, produce around 16g/km. And that doesn’t even take into account the CO2 emissions from the actual manufacturing process: 313g for cars, compared to just 16g for bikes.
Scaling those numbers up gives a better idea of the large-scale environmental benefits of riding a bike. One European research project estimated that if 10% of the population traded their car for a bicycle for just one trip a day, overall transportation-related carbon emissions would drop by a corresponding 10%.
Though conversations about the environmental impact of transportation tend to focus on carbon emissions, there are a variety of other factors at play. Pollution is another major concern. Motor vehicles produce pollutants in the form of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds—all of which can result in smog and poor air quality. Not only are these bad for the environment, they’re also bad for our health. Polluted air has been linked to cancer and other health problems.
Further, motor vehicles produce runoff pollution in the form of antifreeze, engine oil, and tire wear. When it rains, water washes these contaminants into lakes, rivers, and streams, where they can do serious damage to ecosystems. By swapping out cars for bikes, we can slow the buildup of harmful chemicals in the natural world around us—chemicals that will eventually make their way back to us through the air, water system, and food chain.
If you’ve ever found yourself in a busy city during rush hour, you’re familiar with how much noise cars make, and just how unpleasant an experience that creates for passersby. As it turns out, the noise made by cars does more than just annoy us. Researchers have found that urban noise pollution can have negative consequences for our psychological and cardiovascular health. And it’s not just people who are suffering from noise pollution, either. Noise pollution also affects animals, who may experience disruptions in their ability to successfully perform crucial behaviors like mating and hunting.
Compared to cars, bikes are virtually silent—well, except for the occasional trill of a bike bell. But it probably doesn’t take a scientific study to guess which is the more pleasant sound!
In the context of environmental activism, bicycling has another benefit: it provides an accessible avenue for kids and teens to get involved in the fight against climate change and to strengthen their relationship with nature. One study found that positive engagement with nature during childhood can lead to pro-environmental attitudes in adulthood. By extension, this might make these individuals more likely to make environmentally conscious choices as they grow older.
All Kids Bike is a national movement dedicated to bringing the mental and physical benefits of bike riding to every kid in America. Led by the Strider Education Foundation, our mission is to make bicycling skills an integral part of kids’ elementary school education. Our Kindergarten PE Program provides the curriculum, bikes, and safety equipment needed to teach every kindergartner how to ride at no cost to the school itself. Contact us to learn more about how you can support our vision to make this milestone skill accessible to children, or consider donating to a school in your community.
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