Green Tuesday: On Being an Environmentalist

In the 6 months that I have been bike commuting, I have driven about 1800 miles less than I would have otherwise, and spewed about 38,000 fewer pounds of CO2 into the earth’s atmosphere.

Whether we know it or not, we – the bike commuters – possess the mental and psychological seed of being environmentalists. Whether we mean to or not, we are taking a stand against the pollutive presence of automobiles. Whether we act on it or not, our utopia is a pleasant and safe place to enjoy the glory of two-wheeled, pedal-powered exhilaration.

And if so much can come from unconscious or non-deliberate action, imagine what our bike commute can be like when we mix action AND thought.

Enter: environmentalism.

The sometimes trustworthy source, Wikipedia, defines “environmentalism” as:

Environmentalism (sometimes ‘ecologism’) is a broad philosophy and social movement centered on a concern for the conservation and improvement of the natural environment, both for its own sake as well as its importance to civilization.

While it is wise to be wary of Wikipedia definitions (especially for your Master’s thesis), this one contains a beautiful sentiment that may be overlooked by those who are not so green-inclined: it aims to conserve AND improve the environment for its own sake AND for the sake of civilization. So you see, in my opinion, those who take on the moniker of “environmentalist” truly aim to better the world for all who inhabit it and rely on it for life. Not such a bad thing, don’t you think?

And we, as bike commuters, fit into this realm in our attempts to:

  • secure safe places to ride with supportive infrastructure
  • spread the joy of bicycling bliss
  • decrease the number of cars on our roads and subsequently reduce their toxic emissions
  • increase the quality of life by ridding our lives of vein-bursting traffic jams…

And that list could go on. But I want you to take note of something: not once have I mentioned “global warming” or “climate change.” My argument does not rely on a scientifically proven change in global climate – it relies solely on quality of life. Whether or not the earth is heating, cooling, convulsing, or just plain chillin’ – I would argue that the efforts of environmentalism truly offer benefits beyond the status quo of consumption. If nothing else, the aim is as much positive impact on the earth as possible, and the least amount of negative impact possible.

Now, please entertain me as I attempt an application of rhetoric:

Roughly based on the logic of Pascal’s Wager, we are faced with a situation: life on earth. During this life on earth we will ultimately either act in a way that is beneficial to life (B), or we will act in a way that is not beneficial to life (N). Now if we behave like B, and it turns out that our material consumption truly does have an effect on the “earth’s health,” then we will not get ourselves into trouble. If we behave like N, and it turns out that our material consumption truly does have an effect on the “earth’s health,” then we will get ourselves into trouble. If we behave like B or N, and it turns out that our material consumption does NOT have an effect on the “earth’s health,” then we truly gain or lose nothing in the end.

While I dimmed the argument in the sense of final outcomes, the basic logic implies that there is a certain risk that comes with inhabiting a living environment (earth) that could (potentially) drastically impact ALL of life. Personally, that is not a consequence that I choose to take lightly, and while I have a long way to go, I feel it is important to do the best I can to not “make the earth cry.”

That is one (of the many) reasons I have become a bike commuter. And while not all bike commuters are bike commuters for the same reason as me, I think deep down we all want the same thing (see bullet points above), and therefore being a bike commuter and being an environmentalist can easily go hand in hand, and are mutually beneficial. So why not kill two birds with one stone?

In the coming weeks, you will see more “Green Tuesday” posts that aim to provide information on issues related to bike commuting and the environment. Some will (attempt to) contain arguments of logic as this one did. I am not an expert on the subject, and am not always sure that what I write makes sense or is in fact, true. But the ultimate goal is to spark thought and discussion, because the world can become a better place when thought and action are combined.

[photos courtesy of Cicleliciousness]


11 Comments

  1. Little Joe G. January 29, 2008 6:40 pm 

    Dude, Spot on.
    Good on ya!

  2. Jon Karak January 30, 2008 10:00 am 

    I’m going to show that picture to my mother-in-law the next time she complains that there are too many cyclists on the road.

  3. Andrew January 30, 2008 11:49 am 

    Everyone is an “Environmentalist”. Many people just don’t realize it yet.

  4. Brendan January 30, 2008 11:50 am 

    Right on, Jeff. Sometimes I think of my bike commute, which is in the heavily-vehicle-traffic-choked streets of downtown Denver, as swimming in a pool of everybody else’s pee. Especially when I remember that I’m huffing and puffing underneath a giant brown cloud of car exhaust.

  5. Jeff the Veloteer January 30, 2008 12:40 pm 

    Brendan, I know that feeling since I live in Phoenix. I work downtown, and from my 21st floor window, I see the “purple haze” that covers the city (especially in winter time) and I think, “I ride my bike through that?!”

    It is disgusting and must change.

    I think as part of Green Tuesday I might start wearing a dust mask on my commute, and take post some photos.

  6. russ roca January 30, 2008 1:31 pm 

    I identify with environmentalism strongly now and to tell you the truth, it has a lot to do with the bike.

    When you’re in a car, you really don’t get to know your environment quite so intimately as when you’re on a bike. You see, hear and smell everything.

    I remember my first forays on the road, I was utterly surprised at how loud and stinky cars were! It’s not so bad when you’re inside one, but when you’re riding next to them, it is unreal.

    You always hear about the damage that car exhaust and waste has on the environment, and truth be told, the numbers seem detached and abstract sometimes (kind of like imagining infinity). However, riding behind a city bus for a few miles, or sitting in traffic behind an SUV, you KNOW, in no uncertain terms, the kind of pollutants they spew.

  7. Jeff the Veloteer January 30, 2008 1:40 pm 

    Russ, Robert Pirsig (in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”)wrote about a similar experience (with motorcycles) and how in tune you are with your surroundings as opposed to being enclosed within a car – and I have always translated that to the joy of cycling. But it also helps you be more in tune with the stench and litter around you, that isn’t as obvious from inside a car.

    This morning was particularly cold in Phoenix, making the air taste like carbon monoxide…not good.

    I will say that riding behind a bus has it’s “drafting” advantages though…

  8. Mike January 31, 2008 10:38 am 

    Being a commuter, leading by example, is enough for me. I don’t need to assume the mantle of “environmentalist.” I don’t recycle because of environmental issues, it just happens to be one. If I do anything considered environmentalist, it is only as a result of others placing that label on my actions. I find that most people who assume the title of environmentalist are preachy, better-than-thou assholes who are essentially hypocrites usually using statistics and quasi-science to back up opinion as apparent fact. Tell me you’ve never engaged in or overheard an “I’m more environmental than you” discussion going down, with those engaged in the conversation comparing what they do to claim that title, trying to one-up each other.

    The guy doing ten mph over the speed limit in his Prius? Hypocrite. The chickie driving the hybrid SUV? Hypocrite. The companies marketing products as “green?” Considering that it’s just another manifestation of marketing in consumer culture, I don’t buy into it very much.

    I care very much about my environment, do what I can to maintain it, and explain my actions to others who express interes, but I’ll be damned if I become one of those abhorrent “environmentalists.”

  9. Jeff the Veloteer February 1, 2008 3:39 pm 

    Mike, you make a very solid point. Many times, hypocrisy comes hand in hand with labels. I hope you did not feel that I was saying that all bike commuters should call themselves “environmentalists.” I believe in doing what is right for the sake of doing what is right, not so I can tout it over my friends about how “green” I am.

    I’ve always been bothered by people speeding around in Prius’s and “green” products. Did you know that the Chevy Tahoe hybrid was rated the “Greenest SUV” last year. The thing gets like 18/21 mpg.

    I respect people that care about the environment and don’t have to prove it to others. Thanks for your honest comment.

  10. Hyper7 February 2, 2008 12:34 pm 

    Well said!!

  11. Connecting News, Commentaries and Blogs at NineReports.com - February 7, 2008 1:41 pm 

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