Bike More to Fight Climate Change

Last week several places in Wisconsin and around the country broke records for warm temperatures several days in a row. Many places also recorded their single warmest winter day ever.

This caused a lot of us who are not winter cyclists to pump up the tires, oil the chain and get out there. And that may be one of the best things we can do to combat global climate change.

Of course, a lot of folks are like me – avid skiers as well as cyclists. Rather than perfect cycling weather in February we’d rather have snow. In fact, I’m sure more than one person reading this had trained for the 2017 American Birkebeiner in Cable that was cancelled due to the unseasonably warm weather.

There is a difference between weather and climate – weather is what happened last week, while climate is what happened over the last century. So, while it is possible that next February could be the snowiest on record, the facts on long-term climate change are literally undeniable.

In fact, according to NASA, January 2017 was the third hottest in the 137 years of modern record keeping. And the hottest January on record was 2016. The second hottest was 2007. When the statistics are in for February they are likely to show similar results.

The upshot of all this includes coastal cities that are facing extinction while droughts, hurricanes, heat waves, floods and other extreme weather are all increasing in intensity and frequency. And that means huge costs in lives, property and disruptions to economies and cultures. The Birkie is just one small example of the economic and cultural disasters that are happening right now and that will only increase as the planet warms due to human activity.

And, yet, the current administrations in Washington and Madison are filled with people who deny the climate science. They have even washed mentions of climate change from their websites. Pretty amazing and awfully discouraging.

So, with our governments in the hands of climate deniers what can individuals do? Well, one obvious solution is to bike more. A recent study by UW Madison professor Maggie Grabow found that if 20% of short car trips in Madison and Milwaukee were replaced with cycling that would save almost 58,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted to the atmosphere every year.

And according to the Rails to Trails Conservancy increasing the mode share of walking and cycling by just 3% would save 33 million tons of carbon dioxide a year nationally.

Global climate change is the most serious threat the planet faces and yet our national and state governments have their heads planted firmly and deeply in the sand. Somewhat happily, one of the best things we can do to fight this is to do more of what we love to do already: ride a bicycle.

About Dave Cieslewicz, Executive Director

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

3 thoughts on “Bike More to Fight Climate Change

  1. Thanks Dave. I hope that the cyclovia’s will increase. (open streets) I think it is a good way to get people on streets and feel safe, if only for a day here and there.

  2. For those who doubt “abstract” climate change data, you can see Lake Mendota ice data here: http://www.aos.wisc.edu/~sco/lakes/Mendota-ice.html. This is a record of when Lake Mendota froze and thawed, and the total number of ice days, since 1855. There have been 10 seasons with ice for fewer than 70 days in that time. Six of those have been since 1997-98. There have been 14 seasons with ice for more than 125 days. The last of those was in 1958-59.

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