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Are Cyclists Destroying the Earth?

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Are Cyclists Destroying the Earth?

Old 07-29-06, 06:34 PM
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johnny99
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Are Cyclists Destroying the Earth?

Here is an argument that bicycle commuting is worse for the environment that driving to work. It was written by a University of Pennsylvania professor.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/22/bu.../22online.html
http://opim.wharton.upenn.edu/~ulric...viro-jul06.pdf
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Old 07-29-06, 07:05 PM
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It's hard argue with the premise that physically fit individuals will live longer than their car-driving counterparts.

What makes the authors point so interesting is that to follow that line of reasoning to it's logical conclusion, modern society should make several changes; 1) society should not have any form of a healthcare system, 2) humans should make no effort at all to look after their own well being and longevity. 3) maybe if we just all killed ourselves the earth would be a better place for our children??

From a logical standpoint, the argument does hold some water. I can see the ecological benefit of human beings living shorter lives. From a spiritual and humanist standpoint, I can say that the argument just wont fly. It is, in fact, against human nature not to try to increase human longevity.

This article sounds like a typical college philosophy professor's attempt to arouse some good conversation, and I've got to admit that I took the bait.

Last edited by Mtn Mike; 07-29-06 at 07:19 PM.
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Old 07-29-06, 07:06 PM
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Interesting idea. Absurd, but still interesting.
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Old 07-29-06, 07:10 PM
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Everything is throwaway these days. But . . . not bikes. Even 23c tires can go over 500 mi.
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Old 07-29-06, 07:14 PM
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In case you haven't figured it out yet, the report was not intended to be taken too seriously.

The author is himself a bicycle commuter and also the founder of a human-powered-vehicle company that sells, among other things, high-performance folding bicycles: http://xootr.com/xootr/swift/aboutus.shtml
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Old 07-29-06, 07:16 PM
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It's an interesting line of argument - one that I have considered before.

However, as the author admits, lifespan is something we already value highly - for most people, moreso than environmental issues. Not many people are willing to sacrifice their health for an environmental benefit. If environmental issues were the most important thing in life, we should be encouraging suicide and poor health habits; except, we all know this would be immoral.

The author doesn't seem to consider completely that many people already are active and that these are the most likely to take up cyclocommuting. If you're already using the treadmill 45 minutes a day and driving a car to work, and then switch to cycling to work 45 minutes a day while dropping the driving and treadmilling, you have saved energy, and your health outcome is essentially the same.

If we are already a society that supports efforts to attain longevity, it makes sense to also promote choices that save energy at the same time. For instance, a cyclocommuter may consume more lifetime energy because of their increased lifespan than someone who drives everywhere and dies earlier. But they will consume less energy than someone who exercises at home but still drives to work. As an analogy, taking road trips might be seen as an inherently environmentally-unfriendly activity - but that does not mean that it doesn't matter whether you take a road trip in a Hummer or a Prius.

I don't see an inherent conflict. I am guessing that no one would support discouraging exercise as a means of saving the Earth. There are many ways we strive to increase lifespan (drugs, surgery, non-transport forms of exercise, diet) that do nothing at all to offset energy consumption increases linked to the increased lifespan they engender, and indeed many increase energy consumption by their very nature.
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Old 07-29-06, 08:30 PM
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So does that mean global war is now a green activity? Thins the population...

-D
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Old 07-29-06, 09:08 PM
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Originally Posted by johnny99
In case you haven't figured it out yet, the report was not intended to be taken too seriously.

The author is himself a bicycle commuter and also the founder of a human-powered-vehicle company that sells, among other things, high-performance folding bicycles: http://xootr.com/xootr/swift/aboutus.shtml
Agreed. In any case, this isn't a new argument; every so often somebody writes something about how anti-smoking campaigns are actually counter-productive because they lengthen lifespans, requiring additional expense in pensions, medicare, etc...

I think it's probably less expensive -- and environmentally destructive -- to have a population of people that live to 80 but who require minimal medical intervention over the course of their lives because they're fit and healthy than it is to have a population of people who live to 60 and who require constant intervention to deal with diabetes, gout, heart disease and obesity.
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Old 07-29-06, 10:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Canonet
Agreed. In any case, this isn't a new argument; every so often somebody writes something about how anti-smoking campaigns are actually counter-productive because they lengthen lifespans, requiring additional expense in pensions, medicare, etc...
When all those anti-smoking lawsuits were going on, the cigarette companies used to respond that they were saving the government money by reducing social security payouts.
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Old 07-29-06, 10:56 PM
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Originally Posted by derath
So does that mean global war is now a green activity? Thins the population...

-D
Yup. and Avian Flu will be even more environmentally friendly when/if it mutates.
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Old 07-30-06, 06:45 AM
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Yep, all these statements are legitimate. Anything that limits human population on earth would be environmentally friendly. I don't know how you could argue that.

What's so amusing and ironic is that the OP (and his cited article) suggest that bicycling is bad because it does the opposite. This, of course as the author eventually concludes in his research, does not make any sense because cycling actually limits that damage that humans that are already here create. IMHO, it was a pretty useless piece of effort, but hey, that's what college professors are for, to stimulate thought and discussion.
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