Saturday, September 18, 2010

Climate & Bicycles

Something I don't understand: Recently, Georg Hoffmann wrote here in a comment that he is sharing a joke with Richard Tol "about people thinking they will stop sea level rise when taking a bicyle". And  Hans von Storch was (correctly or not) quoted in the Hamburger Abendblatt as considering the adaptation efforts along the Elbe River as much more useful than "the litany of those who say that climate change could be stopped through intensive bicycling".
So here are my questions:
a) Where does this concept of the cyclist as the enemy or idiot come from? Why not ridiculing for example the climate scientist who demonstratively drives a hybrid car, or who proudly pays an extra fee for his carbon footprint when flying to a conference (both examples are true cases)? Wouldn't that be a better object for polemics? Why blame cyclists and for what?
b) Maybe I am completely wrong, but wouldn't a change to bicycles (and other non-emission vehicles) in big cities help to reduce urban heat, and, in the sense of Roger Pielke sr., maybe even contribute to help mitigate regional climate change phenomena? No, I don't say that riding a bicycle will stop global climate change - me not stupid! But wouldn't it contribute to a better environment for citizens?


Richard Tol said...

Georg may have unilaterally shared a joke, but jocularity was not mutual.

Energy use for short-distance commutes is only a fraction (<5%) of total energy use. Getting these people out of their cars and onto their bikes would reduce CO2 and other emissions, but only by a little.

That, however, is true for every single measure. Energy use is very diverse, so you can only change it little by little.

Note that cycling would reduce urban air pollution; but cyclists are more exposed to car fumes than drivers (no filters, deeper breathing) so that health problems may worsen.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ghost said...

of course riding bicyling would contribute to a better environment... and together e-cars in cities and so on it would be great. And it is also a small (very, very, very, very small) step for climate change. Read about Bogota:

But actually, for me climate change and environment protection are only secondary reasons, the first point much less important than the second. I use my bicycle every day to go to work and so on. I live in a city where it is very convenient. I feel better, I can relax, even dream, on my bike, I do not have to search for parking lots, I am more flexible, it is cheap... well, this year was pretty rainy and the winter harsh, so, that was a bit stupid, but I survived ;).

And I think, I save around 700kg Co2/year or so ;) (2000km, 10l/100km, 200l petrol, 3,5kg CO2/l). Just kiddin', I do not care. And I think 99,99999% of cyclists do not care and do not agitate like that. I do not know anyone.

Why are cyclists idiots and enemies? Germany is a car country. Many people complain about cyclists, the media complains about cyclists... it's Germany. We are like that.

But I have a problem: on the one hand, many onionists say: a global treaty for reducing emissions and adaptation won't work, on the other hand: all small, regional steps for mitigation and adaption are more or less worthless. In conclusion: we are lost. Right?

Hans von Storch said...

Ghost, I do not read most comments here that "we are lost" or that "regional steps for adaption are more or less worthless". On global measures of adaptation we have not really had an exchange here, did we?

I use the reference to biking sometimes, as I have the impression that many believe that biking would indeed represent an active measure against global warming. If any, it may be an indirect measure, which I would consider entirely ineffective. For many other reasons biking is a very positive choice: health, air quality are two major issues, personal good feeling, space utility in cities - but efficient climate "protection" - hardly so.

- Hans

P Gosselin said...

Good for your health?

Also the construction and maintenance needed for the infrastructure for bicycles produces a lot of CO2. People who ride their bicycles have bigger appetites, which leads to greater demand for food, beef and meat, thus boosting global methane output. And people who save money riding their bikes go out spend the savings on other CO2 generating activities, like a holiday flight to Mallorca.
I once compared the energy budgets of using pampers vs traditional diapers. pampers were far more efficient. Their use also allows people to spend time doing other more worthwhile things.
Generally, the methods that save time tend to save energy in the long run.

Georg Hoffmann said...

I didnt say that to Richard and the joke is from Hans.

Anyway besides of the really really tiny contribution to global CO2 emissions in the "orginal joke" its actual not sea level but winter storms. Then the situation is even more desperate. Not only the cyclist is contributing close to nothing to global CO2 levels but also the impact of these CO2 levels to these winter storms are very noisy at best (if existing at all).
So the "stupid" cyclist thinks he makes a contribution (virtually he doesnt) but also he thinks he makes a contribution to something where climatalogist might see a slight change in the statistics for the next 50 years.

On a more serious level. The change in CO2 emissions/corresponding life style between the A2 scenario and B2 is quite large. However in my (statistical mean) life time this drastic change in economy between the two scenarios will not make any difference in the predictions. Look at the corresponding scenario simulations. Predicted global temperatures diverge slightly from 2050 on. Before (so in my life) there is hardly any difference whatever we will do, taking bycicle, energy savings on every level, new technologies or NOT it comes out all the same (climatologically speaking) for the next 40 years.
Is this not worth a detailed analysis of an anthropologist? Whatever we will do it is not for us.
You might find this interesting as well

Georg, stupid cyclist all his life

Werner Krauss said...

@Georg and Richard: sorry, yes, I misread Georg's comment on steeling bicycle jokes - Georg indeed referenced to Hans and not to Richard.

Georg: A2 scenario - B2: what exactly are you talking about? Can you explain some more, please?

So there they ride, our stupid bicyclists, nothing but negligible statistical quantities in this universe? But, of course, this is only true for climatological perspectives (as you correctly point out, Georg). Fortunately, we don't live only by numbers. We are symbolic animals, too. I think that's where the joke also relates to: to the assumed superior moral attitude of some (imaginary or real) bicyclists. The joke maybe also serves to support or suggest clean & big technological solutions versus (small scale) moralistic lifestyle arguments. There are reasons for that (see for example Nordhaus' / Schellenberger's famous manifesto 'Death of Environmentalism" - easy to google).
Anyway, in real life balancing arguments (or making good jokes) is as difficult as riding a bicycle in the city during rush-hour. Of course, riding a bicycle can be meaningful beyond statistics.

Richard Tol said...

You misread my comment.

With a problem like greenhouse gas emission reduction, you should do what you can. Not because it makes a difference, but because it is the right thing to do. The climate problem will not solved unless everyone does the right thing. If you do not do the right thing, you can be sure that not everyone does.

Werner Krauss said...

Thanks for clarification! Yes, indeed, this is an unmistakable standpoint! Thanks for that.
"To do the right thing" - I like this expression. Do the right thing and keep it real.

Anonymous said...

@P Gosselin

Come and visit The Netherlands, a country famous for wasting it's resources on bicycle lanes ;-)

Nils Simon said...

I fully agree with Werner's post, and also with Richard's comment #1. As with every single measure you can take, the impact on global GHG emissions will be minuscule. Yet it's the sum of all these things that can make a difference.

If you look at bicycle promoting policies, they can make a huge difference in local transport. Figures in Germany range from 2-3% of all trips taken by bicycle to nearly 40%. GHG emissions related to transport vary accordingly.

Given that about half of all car-based inner city trips are shorter than 5km, there's a huge potential for cities to promote bicycle use. It will help to reduce their transport related GHG emissions, improve air quality, increase road safety (just look at Amsterdam and Copenhagen!), and allow people to get a little exercise on their way to work.

Putting the increased amount of food we bicyclists need as a bad thing (as Pierre Gosselin did in his comment) is somewhat strange, given all the talk about obesity in western countries, and given the ridiculous practice of driving a car to the nearest gym ;)

The truth is, too many cities have underestimated the potential of both riding bicycles and walking in the past. Now that they're finally waking up (in many European countries and especially in Germany, at least), one can see the share of zero-emission-transport rising constantly. Bicycles, if allowed to, can become the strongest pillar of personal innercity transport!

If you look at quality of living, one can find that cities with a high share of bicycle in overall transport (like Münster, Freiburg, Tübingen) are also very nice places to live.

Of course, you still have transport of goods, and you have regional/intercity traffic. Yet those are different challenges in need of different answers.

To sum it up: Promoting bicycle riding in cities can be immensely helpful yet comparably cheap. It contributes to reduced GHG emissions, just as to many other goals. Done right, everyone can profit from it.

ourchangingclimate said...

If you compare the amount of CO2 emissions saved from not driving your car for those 5 km, I think you could burn quite some lights to get the equivalent amount of CO2.

Transportation is one area where energy savings can be made by simple (and cost effective) changes in behavior. Saying that wouldn't make any difference leads to a defeatist attitude where nothing a citizen does could ever make a difference.


Mark B. said...

You quote:

"the litany of those who say that climate change could be stopped through intensive bicycling".

But then say:

"No, I don't say that riding a bicycle will stop global climate change - me not stupid!"

So what's your problem with the passage you quote? You agree with it!

Anonymous said...

@Nils Simon: Who says cycling is zero emission transport? A cyclist needs an additional energy intake of about 150 kcal for half an hour of cycling. It means consuming more food and therefore more emissions from producing food. Keep in mind, that the efficency of muscle driven transport isn't always as high as the efficency of a modern fuel driven car.