Global environmental challenges
I wish I could report that “environmental reasons” were behind my decision to start commuting by bike. But the real motivation was much simpler: I’m a cheapskate and biking saves money.
Yet three years and some 24,000 kilometres after switching from the train to the bike, I’ve discovered a number of useful fringe benefits beyond being frugal and reducing greenhouse gas: the daily exercise from the 40-km round trip each day puts me in a good mood, makes me healthier, liberates me from the hassles of semi-reliable train timetables and makes me a bit lighter as well.
No matter how lousy or stressful or full of irritations the work day might have been, by the time I’ve arrived home on the western fringe of Berlin from the city centre after an almost always enjoyable 50-minute bike ride, I feel transformed back into a happy human being. It’s magic.
Rain is a pain. And strong headwinds can be annoying. But even if I get soaked I still usually arrive home with a smile on my face — unperturbed even if some @&%?”$! motorist nearly ran me off the road. In the morning on the way to work, the bike ride often transforms my sleepy head into one spinning with ideas.
Getting caught speeding changed my life — for the better.
It inadvertently turned me into a devoted bike commuter, has saved me lots of money, aggravation — and even saved the world a little bit of carbon dioxide to boot. Since giving up the car for my daily commutes by bike to work in August, I’ve also lost about 2 kilos and now look forward to my daily 16 km journeys each way to and from the office.
Other colleagues who cycle to work had long tried to encourage me to try out commuting by bike. We’ve even got a little shower here where I work in the centre of Berlin. But it was always so much easier to jump into the car.
City-dwelling, bike-riding recyclers are finally getting the recognition they deserve for their environmentally friendly lifestyles.
A researcher at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development argues in a journal article published on Friday that many city residents actually pollute less than families in rural areas.
“People who live in the suburbs or commute actually have much higher greenhouse gas emissions per person than people living in (the London district of) Chelsea for the same income level,” David Satterthwaite told Reuters.
That’s because country-dwellers tend to have larger homes that need to be heated or cooled and higher car use per household.
The study in the journal Environment and Urbanization says cities are often blamed for producing most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions but actually generate just two-fifths or less.
Satterthwaite argues that cities in wealthy nations can set an example for low carbon living by providing good public transport and energy-efficient buildings. He singles out Barcelona – which has a third of Spain’s average emissions per person – and other historic compact cities like Amsterdam which are easy to walk around.
Culture is also an ally in the fight against climate change. “There’s so much in London or Paris that isn’t high greenhouse gas-emitting: the culture, the art, the buildings, the theatre, the music, the museums, the libraries,” Satterthwaite said.
But while cities are often unfairly blamed for producing 75 to 80 percent of the world’s greenhous gas emissions, their responsibility creeps back up when you look at it from a consumption perspective.
Satterthwaite believes it would be fairer to allocate greenhouse gas emissions according to the location of the people who consume the goods and services responsible for the emissions rather than to the place they are produced.
So if you live in Berlin and buy a Chinese-made T-shirt or digital camera, the emissions caused by the manufacturing process would go into your city’s pot, not Guangzhou’s.
On this measure, Satterthwaite estimates city emissions would account for between 60 and 70 percent of the global total. Breaking that down, richer cities would be the clear culprits.
Some parts of poor cities – like the inner-city settlement of Dharavi in Mumbai where 600,000 people live and work crammed into an area around 2 km square – might even have a negative tally, especially if they’re home to poor people who survive by reclaiming and recycling waste.
“Allocating emissions to consumers rather than producers shows that the problem is not cities but a minority of the world’s population with high-consumption lifestyles,” Satterthwaite said.
“But I can see the huge – or probably impossible – political difficulties of getting that accepted, if suddenly the responsibility of the rich world goes up even further,” he admitted.
What do you think? How could your city cut its carbon emissions? Should we measure emissions from the perspective of production or consumption?
A recent trip to bicyle-peppered cities Copenhagen and Amsterdam got me thinking about the pedal possibilities in U.S. cities. Alas, New York, the country’s biggest city, has long way to go make biking easier, and that seems true in many other cities in the world’s largest motor fuel consumer.