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The Power of Bicycles to Fight Climate Change

Protestors around the world left school, work, and their homes today to participate in the Global Climate Strike, meant to bring more attention to the ongoing, worldwide climate crisis. Some media is reporting that today is the largest global demonstration in the fight against climate change, ever.

Philadelphia is doing its part. Thousands of people began converging at City Hall around 11am in solidarity with the rest of the people striking throughout the world. According to Vox.com, there will be 2,500 events scheduled in over 150 countries throughout the day.

Given the immense popularity of the event, and the fact that climate change is a real thing we need to solve as a global society, it’s worth noting how much riding a bicycle can help solve the climate crisis.

The idea of using a self-powered, pedal machine as your means of transportation, rather than a gas-powered one, seems like a pretty obvious point to make. Of course bicycling is better for the environment than driving a car.

But lately, scientists have been looking closer at just what difference bicycles and other micro-mobility actually makes using real-world examples and defining why bicycling is important for the future of the planet, along with several other lifestyle changes.

According to a recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if no changes are made on the climate front, global temperatures will rise as much as 3 degrees by 2030—double what panel considers catastrophic, in that the worldwide risk of floods, droughts, and wildfires would exponentially increase.

The IPCC looked at ways to reduce our carbon footprint between now and then, and switching to cycling over private vehicles is one of the suggestions.

Of course, meat production and consumption, and building standards are among other changes that still need to be made, and will be difficult to enact, as well. But there are studies showing how much we can reduce our carbon footprint by riding bicycles.

As noted by Bicycling Magazine,

2015 study by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy concluded that a dramatic increase (about 20 percent) in cycling worldwide could “cut carbon dioxide emissions from urban passenger transport by nearly 11 percent in 2050.”

We have local examples as well. A 2010 study found that if 20 percent of people used bikes instead of cars for short trips in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, 57,405 fewer tons of carbon dioxide would be emitted. Meanwhile, a 2011 study found that Barcelona’s bike-share program reduces carbon dioxide emissions in the Spanish city by about 9,000 metric tons each year.

This is good information, but acting locally isn’t really feasible unless your local government acts locally, too. We need the tools to fight climate change.

There are individual neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia that have extremely high bicycle commute rates, especially when compared with the rest of the United States.

More than eight percent of commuters in South Philadelphia east of Broad Street, for instance, use a bicycle to get to and from their jobs, according to the U.S. Census. Center City is within the Top 10 for bicycle commuting to work, too.

Problem, though: We all subsidize motor vehicles. Gas taxes are way too low, and your income tax dollars pick up the tab for people who go out for drives when they’re bored.

Most people won’t bike if they don’t feel safe, though. So, until people feel safe using a bicycle for their daily chores and commutes in the region, you’re not going to make much of a budge on the transportation aspect of climate change.

So, if our city and region really want to do our part, we need to continue building out better infrastructure along key corridors and explain that low carbon transportation is more important than parking.

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Topics: Biking in Philly, Featured, Vision Zero

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