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    Cycling, Longevity and Environmentalism

    This article is pulled from "Salon" dated 7/18/06:


    Bikers, they ain't no good

    If we were to take Wharton Business School professor Karl Ulrich seriously, we would have to rip our eyes out after reading his new working paper "The Environmental Paradox of Cycling."

    http://opim.wharton.upenn.edu/~ulric...viro-jul06.pdf

    Here's the gist. Bicycling and other means of human-powered transportation consume less energy than driving, which is good for the environment. But all that healthy exercise makes cyclists live longer, which means they end up ultimately consuming more energy than they would have had they not biked. Which is bad for the environment. After much careful calculation (during which one imagines the professor cackling in contrarian glee and alarming his graduate students) Ulrich ends up determining that there is no net gain to the environment from biking.

    Ulrich founded the carbon-offset provider TerraPass and is reputed to be an avid bike commuter. Even he concedes that his analysis is a "bizarre Swiftian argument." He is not out to banish bike lanes from the land, but merely to "correctly place human-powered transportation, and physical activity generally, at the center of a basic societal tension between the quest for longevity and the environmental costs of increased population."

    Basically, what this boils down to is what I like to call the Nick Cave theory of human behavior: "People, they ain't no good." We're just bad for flowers and all other living things.

    But hold on there for just a second. There are holes in this argument that you can drive a biodiesel-powered Hummer through. First and foremost: Isn't it likely that biking is a kind of gateway drug for enlightened resource consumption? I see it happen here in Berkeley all the time. First you start biking around town, then you put solar panels on your roof and start worm composting your newspapers. Suddenly, you find yourself raising organic free-range chickens in your backyard and hosting weekly meetings of your local Peak Oil Awareness encounter group. (And it should go without saying that you only wear clothing woven from all natural fibers. Lycra-clad bikers beware: Synthetic fibers are EVIL. You really are destroying the world.)

    Ulrich grudgingly concedes this as a possibility near the end of his paper: "Those who adopt the bicycle as a means of transportation could potentially develop an increased awareness of the environmental impact of their actions and may over their lifetimes reduce energy consumption substantially in their other, non-transportation activities."

    But that's a pretty wishy-washy stance. We can do far better! For those who would rather not look at their bicycle and see the specter of drowning polar bears, I give you Paul Higgins, a research fellow at U.C. Berkeley currently working as the legislative fellow for climate change in the office of Sen. Mike DeWine, R, Ohio. In an article published in Environmental Conservation, "Exercise-based Transportation Reduces Oil Dependence, Carbon Emissions and Obesity," Higgins proposes that if "the revenue saved through decreased health care spending on obesity is redirected toward carbon abatement" we could reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions by around 35 percent. Who needs Kyoto? Just get on your bike!

    Ulrich: Cyclists live longer, thus consuming more energy, bad for environment. Result: Bikers lose all will to live.

    Higgins: Cyclists aren't fat, thus lower healthcare costs, providing money for carbon abatement. Result: Bikers save the world.

    Could you ask for a better glass half-full/glass half-empty dichotomy?

    But there's one other thing Ulrich ignores. How many bikers, having been told that their beloved mode of transportation is a waste of time, will be impelled into fits of murderous rage and start blowing up SUVs? Wouldn't the resulting population decrease compensate for the energy consumed during their longer lives?

    -- Andrew Leonard
    Last edited by Big Paulie; 07-19-06 at 01:08 PM.

  2. #2
    In Memory of One Cool Cat Blackberry's Avatar
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    The thing the good researcher fails to quantify is that regular bike rides (to steal a phrase from novelist Tom Robbins) increases the world production of "syrup of wahoo," while being stuck in automobile traffic decidely does not. Syrup of Wahoo, in Robbins' words, is "a kind of emotional extract produced by the simultaneous boiling down of beauty, risk, wildness, and mirth." I'm taking it on faith that increased syrup of wahoo makes us more likely to appreciate our planet and us less likely to destroy it.
    Last edited by Blackberry; 07-19-06 at 01:32 PM.
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  3. #3
    Fred E Fenders fthomas's Avatar
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    I once had the misfortune of replying to my medical insurance provider’s request to determine who the responsible party of an accident. I was clueless, as I had an ingrown toe nail removed.

    I quickly determined that the toe nail was a result of living and walking and getting older. I have no intentions of stopping that process anytime soon and was forced to write them a lengthy letter telling them that this was “no accident.”

    Some of these studies just beg for common sense!

    I agree that the good professor would do well to take into consideration lower medical costs due to a healthier population and a better quality of life for the cyclist. Somewhere there has to be a net benefit. None the less, what do you say we continue to pedal and be happier and healthier than our peers? Now that is no accident!

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    Freewheel Medic pastorbobnlnh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Leonard via. Big Paulie
    "Exercise-based Transportation Reduces Oil Dependence, Carbon Emissions and Obesity," Higgins proposes that if "the revenue saved through decreased health care spending on obesity is redirected toward carbon abatement" we could reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions by around 35 percent. Who needs Kyoto? Just get on your bike!
    So is this an argument to take all my old steel bikes to the dump and then loose three grand + on a Carbon Fiber bike? Do CF bikes count towards sucking excess CO2 out of the atmosphere? Now if we can only convince volcanos to keep their big fat mouths closed, then we could really put a dent in excess greenhouse gasses.
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    Senior Member NOS88's Avatar
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    Keep in mind that if the dear professor really does commute to Wharton, he's riding in some pretty heavy auto emission each day. That's sure to cloud his thinking. I mean the basic premise that consuming energy over one's life as not desirable is so unbelieveably stupid. The real question is what are the outcomes from the energy consumption. Hence, I live longer; so, ask me what I do with those additional years and what the net gain or loss is of all my activities during that time. I'll bet he doesn't have a way to even describe an adequate range of desirable outcomes. This is just another study done to show students how to conduct research. It falls short in not addressing the central issue of what the ultimate outcomes should be for the consumption of energy.
    A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking. - S. Wright

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    There has been a similar argument made regarding health costs for smokers - it turns out that the end-of-life medical costs are relatively constant regardless of the malady that claims your life, and since smokers don't live as long as non smokers, they actually end up consuming a smaller portion of the healthcare system. If a govt. entity wants to sue a tobacco company to recover medical costs for taking care of smokers, they might be faced with an invoice rather than a checque.

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    Senior Member CrossChain's Avatar
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    So ?
    Riding and aging don't get easier, you just get slower at slowing down.] (FiftyPlus observation inspired by G. Lemond.)

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    Wharton Business School professor Karl Ulrich
    can go F*ck himself and the car he rode in
    on...
    Ned Goudy, Glendora, CA USA
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    Prefers Cicero cooker's Avatar
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    Maybe I missed it but the professor seems to have left a huge amount of energy out of the equation, namely the energy spent by society to accomodate cars. Highway 401 near me is 14 lanes wide in some places, but the bike path along Poplar Plains that I take home is about 3 feet wide. Which one required more energy to build?

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    Quote Originally Posted by NOS88
    .............................. This is just another study done to show students how to conduct research....................................
    More likely just a study designed to give the professor another helping of government pork. I don't mind if folks want to spend their day answering questions that need not be asked but I mind very much having to pay for it.

    Dogbait

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    Quote Originally Posted by CrossChain
    So ?
    It means WMD are actually a good thing for society, but only if used on population centers. Bubonic plague is another winner too.

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    I think it's interesting that a mainstream (or semi-mainstream) media source chose to cover this "research project."

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    Senior Member CrossChain's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dogbait
    More likely just a study designed to give the professor another helping of government pork. I don't mind if folks want to spend their day answering questions that need not be asked but I mind very much having to pay for it.

    Dogbait
    My grandpa would have slapped the nearest steer on the a** and said, "What comes outa here is the same thing, but at least it was honestly come by." And then he'd laugh and get back to work.
    Riding and aging don't get easier, you just get slower at slowing down.] (FiftyPlus observation inspired by G. Lemond.)

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    (EDITED) Here is what I emailed the ironically named Prof Ulrich:


    Dear Professor Ulrich

    I am responding to your call for dialogue about what you claim is "the environmental paradox of bicycling". With all due respect I completely disagreed with the article, when someone posted a link to it on www.bikeforums.net. While you did state some of the assumptions and limitations in the text of the article, I fear that people who are looking for excuses to maintain their sedentary and wasteful lifestyle won't read the fine print and critically evaluate and reject your thesis, but instead will blythely jump to a Limbaughian and wrong conclusion that bikes don't help the environment.

    There are two main flaws I see in your paper.

    Firstly, you made no effort to evaluate the externalized energy costs of driving versus cycling. It takes an awful lot of diesel to build and maintain a 14 lane freeway, like Highway 401 near my home in Toronto, or a multilevel underground parkade like the one at my office.. Every time I bike to work that's one fewer cars competing for that space and increasing the demand for more of the same.

    Secondly, you bypassed the acknowledged significant energy cost of car manufacturing, by making the extremely dubious assumption that cyclists and drivers would experience the same level of car ownership, and that cyclists would simply leave their car home more. Even if that were true, a cyclist would need to replace her car less often than a driver due to high mileage or crashes, so fewer cars would be built for cyclists. However, beyond that, many cyclists also use their bike as a means to go car free or car light. In my case I sold my car to bike commute, although I can still access my wife's car, so we've halved our ownership.

    I confess I did get one moment of enjoyment out of the article, when I realized that the people who may use it as partial justification for continuing to drive guilt free in their TerraPass be-stickered SUVs won't get the most ironic subtext...basically you're telling them it's OK to be gas hogs because they're all going to die early.

    I hope you will take the time to incorporate these comments in the next draft

    Regards
    Last edited by cooker; 07-19-06 at 07:22 PM.

  15. #15
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    The longer people live, and the healthier they remain, the lower the birth rate. Much of western Europe has made this transition and is now in negative population growth. To me, a smaller number of people living longer, healthier, more satisfying lives is a VERY attractive alternative to teeming mass living in a third-world country.
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    Interestingly Prof Ulrich is the founder of Xootr scooters and Swift bicycles.

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    Senior Member CrossChain's Avatar
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    But John, when there are more of those teeming third worlders and less of us, who will mind the earth and provide for needs? Negative growth may (or may not) be good for those in the West, but not ultimately for the Whole Earth.
    Riding and aging don't get easier, you just get slower at slowing down.] (FiftyPlus observation inspired by G. Lemond.)

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by cooker
    Firstly, you made no effort to evaluate the externalized energy costs of driving versus cycling. It takes an awful lot of diesel to build and maintain a 14 lane freeway, like Highway 401 near my home in Toronto, or a multilevel underground parkade like the one at my office.. Every time I bike to work that's one fewer cars competing for that space and increasing the demand for more of the same.
    cooker,

    But just think about all the people who were employed to build the roads, the parking garages, the automobiles, the road building equipment, the asphalt, the cement, the traffic lights, and then think about the police officers to patrol, the highway workers to maintain, and ....! It took hundreds of thousands if not millions of gainfully employed people to produce these things. Do you want those people to have nothing or nearly nothing and to live in poverty with nothing gainful to do?

    Because of their efforts to improve and expand the infrastructures of our nations, the ultimate impact (whether we count it as a negative or a positive) is that as a world we have accelerated the continued advance of technology. For instance, my wife works for a very large computer and services related company. They have a world wide presence. They gainfully employ well over 1/2 million people world wide. Because of advancement in technology, 65% of the employees work from their homes. This has an impact on energy consumption.

    The expenditure of that energy you mention to build the roads has gone for a very good thing, the advancement of technology. It has many benefits and not just in our immediate back yards. Not only does it allow us to freely debate this issue unfettered across international borders, it allows the men and women who sit in call centers in India, be gainfully employed as they help us make our airline reservations, among other things. Those call center employees in India are thankful for the energy expenditures we have made in North America.

    Ride your bike to work and enjoy yourself. But as you pedal, reflect upon the economic impact Canada would experience if suddenly all the technology and infrastructure that you see as you pass along the way to work, were removed. Who knows? You might not even have a bicycle if we lost it all.
    Last edited by pastorbobnlnh; 07-20-06 at 04:56 AM.
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  19. #19
    Prefers Cicero cooker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pastorbobnlnh
    But as you pedal, reflect upon the economic impact Canada would experience if suddenly all the technology and infrastructure that you see as you pass along the way to work, were removed. Who knows? You might not even have a bicycle if we lost it all.
    The notion that to be anti-car/anti-big oil is to be anti-progress is a faulty one. Warfare has also led to lots of scientific advancements, so I guess we need a lot more wars too, to really improve our quality of life.

    (EDIT) just hopping on the bike now, so I will respond in more detail when I have some free time later in the day.
    Last edited by cooker; 07-20-06 at 06:34 AM.

  20. #20
    Senior Member RockyMtnMerlin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pastorbobnlnh
    cooker,

    But just think about all the people who were employed to build the roads, the parking garages, the automobiles, the road building equipment, the asphalt, the cement, the traffic lights, and then think about the police officers to patrol, the highway workers to maintain, and ....! It took hundreds of thousands if not millions of gainfully employed people to produce these things. Do you want those people to have nothing or nearly nothing and to live in poverty with nothing gainful to do?

    Because of their efforts to improve and expand the infrastructures of our nations, the ultimate impact (whether we count it as a negative or a positive) is that as a world we have accelerated the continued advance of technology. For instance, my wife works for a very large computer and services related company. They have a world wide presence. They gainfully employ well over 1/2 million people world wide. Because of advancement in technology, 65% of the employees work from their homes. This has an impact on energy consumption.

    The expenditure of that energy you mention to build the roads has gone for a very good thing, the advancement of technology. It has many benefits and not just in our immediate back yards. Not only does it allow us to freely debate this issue unfettered across international borders, it allows the men and women who sit in call centers in India, be gainfully employed as they help us make our airline reservations, among other things. Those call center employees in India are thankful for the energy expenditures we have made in North America.

    Ride your bike to work and enjoy yourself. But as you pedal, reflect upon the economic impact Canada would experience if suddenly all the technology and infrastructure that you see as you pass along the way to work, were removed. Who knows? You might not even have a bicycle if we lost it all.
    Hmm, unless this was meant to be a tongue in cheek post, it seems to be a rather shortshighted arguement.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by pastorbobnlnh
    cooker,

    Not only does it allow us to freely debate this issue unfettered across international borders, it allows the men and women who sit in call centers in India, be gainfully employed as they help us make our airline reservations, among other things. Those call center employees in India are thankful for the energy expenditures we have made in North America.
    .
    Boy, now there's something to be thankful for.

    "Yes sir, and thank you for waiting. I can help you to understand how to tell if your $28 printer cartridge is empty or is it defective, but since the warranty on your printer expired last night at midnight, I must charge you the small fee of $30. Or you can receive a new printer, warrantied until something goes wrong, for $60, plus shipping."

    W.P.

  22. #22
    Senior Member Richard Cranium's Avatar
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    I believe Cooker's analysis is a sufficient rebuttal to the article.
    you made no effort to evaluate the externalized energy costs of driving versus cycling
    An easier, and truly simple method in the understanding of what's good or bad about the human existence and human impact on the Earth's enviromental qualities can be summarized by examining the effects of consumption of resources and the qualities of life consuming these resources provide.

    I recently attended a large bicycle ride, and couldn't help but notice that most of the vehicles used by cyclists to get to the start of the ride were larger, less economical styles.

    Currently, corporate public-mind-programming campaigns continue to make "feel-good" enviromentalism very chic. Here's some food for thought ----- http://adbusters.org/metas/eco/bnd/

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Cranium
    I recently attended a large bicycle ride, and couldn't help but notice that most of the vehicles used by cyclists to get to the start of the ride were larger, less economical styles.
    +1

    I think the belief that cyclists are knee-jerk environmentalists is misplaced, sadly.
    Last edited by Big Paulie; 07-20-06 at 09:54 AM.

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    I think the belief that cyclists are knee-jerk environmentalists is misplaced, sadly.

    Agree. $3 a gallon for gas and are the roads clogged with bikes? Bicycling is basically a recreational activity in th USA. I am waiting to get run off the road by an electric car.

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    Prefers Cicero cooker's Avatar
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    You'll see above I posted my email to Prof Ulrich critquing his paper. He sent a prompt and polite reply estimating the impact of the factors I mentioned, and arguing that even with those corrections cyclists' longevity would still mean more lifetime energy consumption. The crux of the argument is that our food production and other non-transportation related consumption is so energy dependant that simply living uses a lot more energy than driving.

    There are still many unaccounted-for factors in his analysis, so I'm not convinced, but I appreciated his willingness to debate.
    Last edited by cooker; 07-20-06 at 10:35 AM.

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