According to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency, your “typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.” This is based on a number of different factors, not least of all that the vehicle is driven 11,400 miles per year (mileage taken from the Federal Highway Administration Highway Statistics of 2012).
I don’t limit this to just humanists, but I charge that it is the duty of any person who claims the title of humanist to concern him/herself with offsetting the pace of climate change on this planet. Surely, if you chose to view yourself as one who cares about the human species and the general welfare of countless other creatures who are innocent of the coming atrocities predicted by the world’s climate scientists if the oceans warm above two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial era levels, you should want to do something curb this problem. I’m happy to say that a lot of people are doing this. The Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of last year was a huge step in the right direction as far as a global initiative taking place to lower greenhouse gas emissions from the industrial superpowers of the world, the U.S. included. President Barack Obama has even famously said that “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” putting in no uncertain terms the scale of the issue at hand. Naturally, there are those in power who disagree that this is a problem, or concede that the planet is warming but that it’s not humans who are warming it, and even some who say that there’s no way this is going to result in mass flooding because God promised Noah that it would never happen again following the last time he flooded the world, a promise that he officially signed with his LGBT flag. Now if you genuinely don’t think there’s a problem, then there’s likely not much that can be said to convince you (let’s face it, if you know that there’s a 97 percent consensus amongst climate scientists that global warming is real, then anything I tell you likely won’t change your mind).
Fortunately, there’s enough people who aren’t deluded by their preconceived notions on the long-term facilities plan for the Earth to actually make a difference. And what’s more, actions speak louder than words, or so they say at least (cue rim shot).
One of the easiest things that almost every single person in this country can do is start riding a bicycle more often. Hell, just walk a little bit more. At my previous newspaper job, I wrote a few articles on the benefits of riding a bike, which named saving money, getting healthier, and polluting less, to name a few. Though I confess to ebb and flow a bit when it comes to consistently riding during the winter months in northern Minnesota, I still ride all year round. Though it’s rare that I straddle the saddle while thinking to myself, “Time to do something for the future of the planet,” the side effect of greater numbers of people trading in their car commute for a bike commute could be planet saving by being a necessary part of a greater effort. This is true for at least two reasons: regulating emissions is in itself only part of the solution, and manufacturers only really listen to regulations when they know that’s what the consumers demand (see VW), so a widespread lessening in the amounts of fossil fuels we use would send a clear message that we’re sick of poisoning the air and overheating the planet.
Considering the fact that millions of people only commute a handful of miles each day, I find it amazing that more people in the United States haven’t discovered how great it feels to hop on a bike to get to work. I didn’t even mention this perk above, but that burst of exercise in the morning does wonders for your mental preparedness once you get to work. Beats the hell out of a cup of coffee (though don’t give that up quite yet).
One thing I would love to see in my lifetime is for “humanist” and “bicycle rider” to be practically synonymous. I truly feel that widespread bike use will address untold problems that we face in this country and in the world, including economic, healthcare, traffic congestion, mental wellbeing, and even community engagement. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s a solution that’s elegant in its simplicity, and fun in its execution.
Given the importance of fun, if a little joy was the only side effect of bike riding, I’d still advocate for it.