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Fighting Climate Change with Pedal Power

Using your bike instead of your car is good for your health—and the planet's.

This post is in partnership with the CLIF Bar 2-Mile Challenge

Most days of the week, you can catch Kurt Snyder biking around his Burke, Virginia neighborhood, often running errands like transporting groceries. Why does he cycle versus drive? “My love of cycling is the primary reason,” he says. “And I feel good about doing the green thing.”

Like many cyclists, Snyder wasn’t out to save the planet when he decided to bike for his errands. But awareness about the environmental benefits is growing, especially with more eye-opening statistics about the impact of driving. One biggie is that in the United States, 40% of all urban trips are two miles or less and 90% of those trips are made by car. If one of 10 car commuters switched to a bike, carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 25.4 million tons per year. “Bicycling is one of many necessary pieces to a multi-pronged solution,” says Caeli Quinn, co-founder and director of Climate Ride, a charity ride to raise awareness for sustainable practices. “What makes bicycling crucial and an important focal point is that it’s something almost everyone can do.”

These type of cycling benefits has been the motivation for people like Debbie Dust. She’s been biking her 14-miles Chicago Loop work commute for the past 11 years. “Traffic, parking… everything about driving was difficult,” she says. “My Jeep Wrangler was also getting 12 miles per gallon, so by cycling I save money and the environment.”

Robyn Cooper and Margaret McGlynn started cycling to work—Cooper six miles roundtrip, McGlynn 20—to combine their commute with a daily workout. The Los Angeles residents soon learned their plan had other perks. Both companies the women work for have commuter programs and incentives to get employees out of their cars. “Through my company’s program, I’m being paid about as much as I’d be paying for gas without spending money on gas,” says Cooper.

Quinn sees decisions like those made by the three cyclists as promising. “While aiming for getting one in 10 commuters to bike to work may only reduce a small sliver of the enormous carbon problem, studies have shown that a significant investment in bicycle infrastructure can have a more impressive impact on getting people out of cars and onto bikes,” she says. “Getting people to make the initial effort to ride to the grocery or to work is a first step of shifting our collective over-dependence on the car.”

Can a few cyclists make a difference when it comes to climate change? “Every little bit adds up and we need a whole hell of a lot more,” says Stephanie Pincetl, adjunct professor at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA. “People have to change their fundamental habits about how they live on the planet. Cycling is part of it, but it has to be more embedded in daily life.”

The population of bike commuters like Dust, Cooper and McGlynn are growing, and their individual contributions to climate change adding towards change. In the meantime, they’re relishing all of cycling’s benefits. Beyond improved health and financial savings, there’s one bonus McGlynn counts on. “By the time I get home,” she says. “All the stresses of the day are pretty much gone.”

Read more about urban biking in our GOOD Guide to Biking for the Planet.

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