In the Cyclist's Manifesto, Robert Hurst makes the bold statement early on that the bike won't solve the world's problems. As a cyclist looking for fuel for my fire I was taken aback. But he immediately goes on to quantify that the bike may solve the reader's problems. After a bit of reflection, a second reading and finally finishing the book, Hurst's point becomes more clear. He's right. Cycling won't save the world. Even if everyone alive began cycling for their individual transportation needs the world would not suddenly become a magical utopia.
But, Dear Reader, you can carry a little utopia in your pocket. You can ride your bike. I can ride my bike and we can solve a lot of our own problems while rolling along upon two wheels.
According to the Regional Air Quality Council's "log your commute" tool I've saved just over $1,000 since October 19, 2010 when I started keeping track. They use the figure of 50¢/mile to operate a motor vehicle. The tool lets you set up a profile and you can choose different modes of transportation: from walking to biking, to carpooling to public transportation, to driving alone. I set my typical commute profile at 10 miles each way and bicycle as the mode. If I ride in with someone I change from "bicycle" to "carpool" in a drop down menu and log the commute(s). I've been fairly accurate in tracking my transportation usage so I feel as if the savings, while in no way accurate, reflect a tight grouping at the very least.
Its good to have a remote idea what I'm saving by choosing the bike over the car. Of course the benefits go beyond mere economics. My stress levels are way down. I've actually, after a long time managed to shed a few pounds, and by riding almost everyday I'm more encouraged to ride and so it is a positive feedback loop.
When I started using the RAQC's online tool I was not riding out of any sense of environmental conservation or a sense of needing to save the planet. But in those five months since I've slowly evolved into the reduction monkey I am today. Again, I'm a climate change agnostic. Whether or not the science truly points to a warming trend we should live as if it does and cut back on our ecological footprints and on our consumption. That is just good living and good sense. There's no benefit to over-consumption. And to those who will argue that it boosts the economy I say, the Economy is a monster that does not need to be fed anymore. Saying "Let the market decide!" is akin to saying let the trained attack dog decide between canned food and the warm, fresh meat of your leg. The market has no care for the future of humanity, only for its own appetite.
The problem with the market, with our infrastructure and with our society, is that the levels of complexity have exceeded manageable levels. The Economy/Market/Government/Culture/Infrastructure Monster is so overwrought and beyond comprehension by the human mind that trying to find a quick fix, or even a long term solution is nigh to impossible.
I'm a climate change agnostic, but I'm a peak oil true believer. And most people, whether they realize it or not, are also peak oil believers. Any time you refer to fossil fuels as "non-renewable" you are admitting the reality that eventually carbon based energy will run out. "Peak oil" simply refers to the graph that illustrates how oil is first discovered, produced and then declines. Where the true controversy lies is in the timing of the ultimate decline. Most liberal (while still being reasonably intelligent) estimates seem to put the Big Trickle around 2035, and maybe as late as 2050.
My children will be 47 and 43 in 2050. Theoretically they'll have children, and perhaps grandchildren of their own. I'll be 76 if, Lord willing, I'm still alive. I will be in no position to affect any kind of change, nor will I be fit enough to survive a collapse of society.
Many conservative estimates predicted a global peak somewhere between 2006 and 2010. After oil ultimately peaks and begins to decline we will see a steep increase if cost and decrease in quality of the remaining oil on the planet. We will never completely deplete the fossil fuel resources of the planet. But at some point, the extraction of non-renewable energy resources will cost more than those resources are worth.
It doesn't matter if that point has already come and gone, and we have entered the long decline, or if we reach that point in 2050 or 2051; once it comes (as any reasonable person would agree it most definitely will) it will be too late to change our bad habits then. We must begin now, even if it's already too late. Some have begun. But a majority of people on this planet need to go through the stages of grief and finally come to acceptance of the fact that the Great Oil Glut that was the 20th century is over and we must transition into the new era of human existence.
I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm riding my bike into that new era: The Era of Limits. And the bicycle is a wonderful limitation now that will represent freedom and empowerment in the new era.