Scandinavia and the World

Comments #9855202:


A very snowy hill 25 2, 5:33pm

Sigh. Look, to the degree that you need to get exercise for your health, doing something productive with it (such as transport) rather than non-productive (such as going to the gym) is a very good thing [but see the caveat at the bottom]. I do reforestation, for example.

But transporting yourself with physical labour *beyond* your minimum exercise needs is *NOT* helping the environment; it's *hurting* it. Exercise burns calories. It's unavoidable; that's what drives your muscles; and no, a reduction in basal metabolism doesn't come close to compensating. Literally, the act of elevated breathing is the act of consuming oxygen and exhausting CO2. Now, if food production and human labour were efficient and clean, that would be one thing. But they're not. They're *terribly* inefficient processes (particularly if there's meat in the diet, but even if it's all plants). Even with the low energy needs to walk or propel a bicycle, there's a massive environmental footprint to walking or biking. Literally half of the planet's arable surface has been converted to food production already - creating massive water shortages and runoff problems in places and eliminating huge amounts of habitat, including driving many species to extinction. A quarter of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions come from food production ( - more than mechanized transportation as a whole. Increasing your food consumption is a *terrible* thing to do.

This is not to excuse cars. Rather, it's to encourage people to electrify their transportation, because that has a dramatically lower environmental footprint when combined with clean power. And indeed, bikes can play a part because:

* Electric car: good
* Electric bus: better
* Electric bike: best

The environmental footprint of an E-bike, both in terms of manufacturing and consumption is *tiny* (note: the environmental footprint of using a vehicle is almost always far higher than the footprint of its production). An electric car may get 150Wh/km or more while an E-bike on throttle alone may get 20Wh/km. For a 12km average daily travel distance, that's 240Wh. By contrast, fixed solar panels at 15% average daily capacity factor and 20% efficiency yield 720 watt hours per square meter per day. But to do 12km per day cycling with human power would take about 400 calories. That's nearly a kilogram of CO2 per day on an average diet in *direct* emissions alone - the equivalent of burning 2/5ths of a litre of petrol. If you "eat healthy" - e.g. if you eat lots of vegetables and protein rather than grains, plant-based fats and sugars - your CO2 footprint per calorie is *significantly higher*. In addition, you need an extra 300 square meters (a square 17 meters on each side) of farmland/ranchland to produce those calories - with all of the fertilizer / pesticide / herbicide inputs and runoff that entails. Vs. 1/3rd of a square meter of solar panels on a roof. It's a *dramatic* difference.

So *by all means* get an E-bike and use that pedal assist! But don't burn more calories than you *need to* for your health, unless you hate the planet.

** Caveat: when "doing exercise for your health", also consider adverse health consequences... specifically, injuries. Pedestrians and cyclists are far more likely to be injured per unit distance than car or bus passengers. Indeed, they're so much more likely to be injured per unit distance that even if you removed all passenger vehicles from the roads and had only buses and freight, they'd still be significantly more likely to be injured per unit distance.

** Additional caveat: the same note about the environmental footprint of food applies to anti-packaging-waste drives. BY ALL MEANS, we should cut down on packaging waste, particularly plastics, where we can. But it's critical that at the same we don't encourage a greater degree of food wastage, as most packaging is designed to help the product arrive at its destination in-tact and unspoiled. You shoot yourself in the foot, environmentally, if you significantly increase food waste in order to save a couple grams of plastic.

America wearing England's shirt