Humans are not good at large-scale collective effort. We are selfish and short-sighted by design. We struggle to understand proper scale and are prone to dismissing our own, individual contributions to global problems. This is not a prelude to some self-righteous screed, or the opening salvo in a lecture. I am like you. We are all the same, our DNA not allowing for much in the way of trans-generational wisdom or transcendent clarity.
The world’s governments are even less good at reaching consensus than are its citizens. Waiting for some sort of top-down action from presidents, prime ministers, or more pressingly, legislatures, is likely a waste of time. Equally, hoping industries which contribute to our worst environmental problems will curb their inclination toward profits over sustainable futures is a fool’s errand.
The old environmentalism focused on forcing the fonts of power to change. The re-mix makes us as the primary solution.
What does a person do? What does a bike rider do? Because waiting for better laws or mandates or regulation is like Waiting for Godot. It’s like waiting for the jet packs they promised us when they faked the moon landing.
First, and we all know this, any trip away from home on a bike helps. Bikes burn no carbon-based fuels. They don’t pollute. They make you fitter, happier, take up less space, look cool, and are actually the closest thing to a jet pack I’ve been offered so far, my weak legs notwithstanding.
Second, we can buy fewer things. There is tension in this. Cycling is full up with equipment and clothing and accessories. We often recommend products here, via The Paceline and through short reviews. I hope what we’re doing is pointing out versatile items that will enhance your riding and give good use across a range of seasons and/or activities. Any way you slice it, calling fewer objects into existence releases less carbon, both by curtailing manufacturing activity and by not requiring carbon intensive packaging and shipping.
Third, and this is an extension of the second thing, we can spend our money on things that last, things that are well made, and ideally, things whose afterlife isn’t toxic, by which I mean things that might recycle or biodegrade gracefully after we’re done using them. When we buy things, unfortunately, we might have to try to understand their whole lifecycle. In all of this, the onus is on us, as I said at the top, because we can’t expect meaningful and timely action from the institutions that represent us. They’re too inefficient, not to mention dysfunctional.
Fourth, we can pay attention to packaging, too. A lot of companies in the bike industry are making progress on this front now, but whether it’s product packaging or the materials used to ship what we buy, there is massive ground to be made by cutting petroleum-based items out of the system. Domestically produced products have a smaller carbon footprint than things that are moved across oceans. Ocean shipping has a massive impact on total carbon emissions.
Look, I’m not against hugging a tree. I love trees. But I’m neither a zealot not much of a campaigner. I do view the bike as a solution to pretty much everything that’s wrong with the world, but you don’t have to massively transform your life to make a difference I don’t think. You don’t have to eschew all car travel and starve yourself of a new gravel bike. Maybe it’s just a shift in attitude and a little thought that goes into your normal cycling existence.
Also, I’m no expert on any of this. I think about it a lot, and the things I’m saying here are probably only scratching the surface of what we can do within the context of riding bikes, to make a difference I don’t expect the powers that be to make anytime soon (enough). Please add your thoughts and ideas.
Our friends at Shimano North America are working on this stuff. In addition to sponsoring TCI, they also have a transparent program for reducing their own environmental impact. Check it out here.