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Earth Transportation News

What's the Carbon Footprint of Bicycling? 542

Hugh Pickens writes "Brian Palmer writes that although none of the major manufacturers has released data on their energy consumption and how much greenhouse gas making a bicycle requires, Shreya Dave, a graduate student at MIT, recently estimated that manufacturing an average bicycle results in the emission of approximately 530 pounds of greenhouse gases. Therefore, given a 'typical U.S. diet,' you would have to ride your bike instead of driving for around 400 miles to cover the bike's initial carbon footprint. However, calculating the total environmental impact of a mode of transit involves more than just the easy-to-measure metrics like mileage per gallon. Using a life-cycle assessment, Dave concluded that an ordinary sedan's carbon footprint is more than 10 times greater than a conventional bicycle's (PDF) on a mile-for-mile basis, assuming each survives 15 years and you ride the bike 2,000 miles per year. What about other ways to get to work? According to Dave's life-cycle analysis, the only vehicle that comes close to a bicycle is the peak-hour bus — and it's not really that close. A fully loaded bus is responsible for 2.6 times the carbon emissions total of a bicycle per passenger mile while off-peak buses account for more than 20 times as many greenhouse gases as a bicycle. What about the carbon footprint of walking? 'Walking is not zero emission because we need food energy to move ourselves from place to place,' says environmentalist Chris Goodall. 'Food production creates carbon emissions.'"
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What's the Carbon Footprint of Bicycling?

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  • seriously..? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cyberstealth1024 ( 860459 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @09:33AM (#37084858)

    The whole carbon footprint thing is overrated. and the carbon credits is just a way to make businesses feel better about wasting and polluting. What's the carbon footprint of sleeping? What's the carbon footprint of sitting on the couch watching TV? What's the carbon footprint of eating a microwave pizza? What's the carbon footprint of teleporting? geez

  • Re:seriously..? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @09:38AM (#37084892)

    the carbon credits is just a way to make businesses ...

    ... more money. Yet another reverse robinhood deal, steal from the poor and give to the rich.

  • Does not compute (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TrumpetPower! ( 190615 ) <> on Sunday August 14, 2011 @10:21AM (#37085184) Homepage

    The manufacturing process of the bicycle will have roughly the carbon footprint of manufacturing a car door. And these researchers want us to think you have to put 400 miles on the bike before break-even?

    I'm sorry, but if they can make such an obvious biased mistrake, why should anybody give even a moment's thought to the rest of their study?



  • by Latent Heat ( 558884 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @10:27AM (#37085226)
    "Here in Madison, WI, where there are a fair number of cyclists, there are still those people that go out of their way to prevent them from riding. "

    Like pedestrians . . . (cue snare drum rim shot).

    Have you ever tried to cross Randall at Dayton on foot? With the walk sign on? With some fine upstanding citizen on a 15-speed bombing through the red light? Or at that marked crosswalk across University near where Bob's Copy Shop in University used to be? When that walk sign is on, I guess the red light for the cross traffic doesn't apply to cyclists in the bike lane.

    Of course, as a pedestrian, you are never of any danger of being hit, with the force of an NFL free safety making a flying tackle, only taking the hit, on cement, without helmet or pads, because the cyclists know how to weave around any pedestrian who dares to enter a crosswalk.

    Seriously and all snark aside, I would have a lot more sympathy for the concerns of cyclists if there was a little more respect for people on foot. Is that so anti-green?

  • Re:First! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AngryDeuce ( 2205124 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @10:36AM (#37085282)

    My favorite is the leap from "Well, making solar panels and other clean energy technologies, as well as buses and bicycles, causes pollution, too, so we might as well just keep on truckin' because fuck it."

    You know, it doesn't happen very often, but sometimes I really envy those that think that they're going to be raptured up to heaven or something one day, or that the world is going to end in 2012, so that they don't have to worry about a fucking thing in their lives beyond the immediate future. Must be nice to not care at all about the effect you have on the world around you, but I still don't understand why they have to try to prevent anyone else from at least trying. Even if I thought every person around me was going to die in a zombie apocalypse, I'm still not going to slash the tires on their getaway vehicle. Why so many others feel the need to do so is beyond me...

  • Re:My habit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Sunday August 14, 2011 @10:43AM (#37085344)

    Yeah, that's a tricky aspect of public-transit accounting. In particular, you can't decouple every bus from every other bus, because choices to use the system depend in large part on the overall system. If you cut all past-9pm buses, you might save a bunch of money and carbon emissions looking just at those buses, but you might also depress ridership on the daytime buses, because suddenly people are worried that they'll get stranded at work if something comes up and they have to stay late, so better play it safe and drive.

    To properly account for what, say, the 10pm-midnight buses are doing, you need a more systemic analysis that predicts what would happen to the usage of various modes of transit, including at other times of the day, if those buses were decreased/increased/cancelled/kept-the-same.

    This is also a common problem with spacing: it's tempting to think, we have N passengers an hour and run a bus every 10 minutes, but N/2 totally fit in a bus, so we could really improve our finances if we just ran a bus every 30 minutes instead. But when the bus runs every 30 minutes rather than 10 minutes, a lot fewer people take it.

  • by AngryDeuce ( 2205124 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @10:46AM (#37085366)

    There are shitty riders out there, just like there are shitty drivers. There are even shitty walkers, too...I've spent upwards of 20 minutes at various lights all over the downtown area because I had the bad luck of being at that intersection during change of classes and the 12,000 students in the building started streaming across the street whether there was a WALK symbol or not.

    I will be the first person to cheer when they put crossing guards at every intersection that can ticket people for jaywalking and ignoring the laws concerning biking in traffic, believe me. But I'm not gonna advocate building retaining walls around every sidewalk in the city to prevent it because that's ridiculous, just like how I would never just drive through the red I've sat through 18 times because the kids changing classes couldn't care less about the light because pedestrians have the right of way no matter where they fuck they are.

  • Re:seriously..? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by scarboni888 ( 1122993 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @10:54AM (#37085434)

    If the entire population of the Earth died off tomorrow the release of thousands of tons of carbon that is locked up under ground in oceans of oil and mountains of coal would cease to be released into the atmosphere and the carbon dioxide - oxygen exchange would be balanced out, as you point out.

    What the 'environmental wackos' are going on about is the EXTRA thousands of tons of carbon being released by human activities that WOULDN'T be there if the entire population of the Earth could die off tomorrow.

    To say that we aren't creating any addition of carbon to the ecosystem is disingenuous at best.

  • by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @11:03AM (#37085502)

    If it costs $2700, that implies there's a fair bit of energy going into making it, whether directly or indirectly. If that's mostly labor costs, what do you think those employees do with that money?

    Certainly there are greener and less green alternatives when looking at similar price points, but I don't see how spending 10x the amount on a bike could possibly be considered a "greener" alternative.

  • by filmmaker ( 850359 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @11:14AM (#37085606) Homepage
    It's been years since I've logged into Slashdot and commented, but I have to say a few words regarding cyclists. I live in Tucson, Arizona, one of the better cities in the U.S. as far as bicycle lanes and places for cyclists to ride. I don't ride a bicycle; I don't even own one. I'm a runner, and I often find myself running along the side of roads, including in bicycle lanes. Over the course of the last four years, I've never had a bicyclist who wasn't courteous, usually yelling "runner!" to those coming up behind them. Cyclists have always given me plenty of room, and I've heard plenty of "doing good!" and other comments of encouragement from them, as they pass me. Likewise in higher traffic areas, where there are traffic lights, cars and pedestrians, I've seen (with just a few exceptions) cyclists obey the traffic laws and ride courteously around pedestrians. The problem, at least here in Tucson, isn't cyclists. The problem is the motorists. Somehow I get the feeling this is the case in every city in America.
  • Re:seriously..? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by errhuman ( 2226852 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @11:58AM (#37085992)
    Fortunately for us, science >> your opinion
  • Re:Flawed (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @11:59AM (#37086004)

    But I only ride my bike for exercise, thus I don't save anything vis-a-vis my commute to work, and I have the food energy cost. Therefore my bike riding definitely has a carbon footprint.

    Oh noes. Guess I better stop riding and turn into an obese blob for the sake of the environment.

    But you need to look at the *net* carbon footprint. If you didn't bike for exercise and instead drove your car to the gym to ride an electrically powered exercise bike, then you still have a net reduction in carbon footprint.

    This study isn't telling you how to have a zero carbon footprint, but just telling you the carbon footprint of some alternatives. No one can have a zero carbon footprint, but (at least in the USA), there are many things people can do to reduce their carbon footprint to match that of other developed countries. The per capita carbon footprint of the USA is about twice that of the UK.

    Even if you don't believe that CO2 contributes to global warming, most of the USA's energy use comes from oil, which means vast quantities of money flowing out of our country, much of it into the pockets of regimes that aren't exactly aligned with our interests.

  • Re:seriously..? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shmlco ( 594907 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @01:30PM (#37086828) Homepage

    "... but what about all the other energy and nasties (waste) that comes out of making a single panel."

    In business those things are called "costs", and factored into the price of each panel sold. That includes materials, electricity, plant waste disposal and treatment, labor, etc.. Drop down to materials and utilities, and the suppliers of those have figured their costs into the prices of their products, and so on.

    Thus, if you can amortize the price of a panel in electricity produced over it's lifetime to less than zero, either in savings or, in many cases, selling power back to the utility during peak usage/production, then that panel has a net benefit, producing more energy than it consumed.

    As such, we can rely on facts, and we don't need myths, your "opinion", nor the opinions of politicians.

    I also find your distain and concern for waste more than a little hypocritical, being that you probably posted your message on a computer powered by your local coal or gas plant, each of which producing tons of greenhouse gases and waste. Not to mention "digging (or drilling) up the materials, processing, post-processing, etc.."

  • Re:seriously..? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 14, 2011 @03:11PM (#37087782)

    Just once I'd like to see a "government". What do they look like? Are they tall? Short? Fat? What language do they speak? Where do they live?

    "Government" is like "they". When you don't have an argument for anything, you just blame it on "They" or the "Government".

    Governments are people, individuals, working together towards a common goal, meeting the needs of society. You bitch about Government taxation, you are really bitching about individuals doing their jobs. Don't like taxes? Don't blame the Government, blame yourself. You are the fuckers spending them.

    Sure, it's easy to blame a faceless entity, but I dare, you. Go up to a mirror and tell them they are supporting a plutocracy and will be the cause of untold suffering. I bet you'll get to keep some of your teeth.

  • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @07:49PM (#37089818)
    If the Mona Lisa is worth about $700 million, that implies that Leonardo DaVinci used up a *huge* amount of energy to make it, whether directly or indirectly.

    That selfish polluting bastard!

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