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Why I Don’t Talk About the Environment

Brendon alerted me to this article at Ecotrope:

Why Cyclists Are Breaking Up With Environmentalism

“In the 1970s, there were lots of people who biked for environmental reasons,” he said. “But that’s totally changed now.”

Now, he said, people bike because it’s practical, it’s cheaper than driving and taking public transportation, it’s a “stylish” way to get around, it keeps more money in the local economy, and it’s a source of exercise and enjoyment.

“People think the environment is such a big reason,” said Maus. “But the reality is much different. It’s a minor reason. […]”

I write a lot of text in reports for various infrastructure or planning projects where I am asked to tout the benefits of cycling, including some discussion of why cyclists choose to ride. I never mention environmental benefits. I always cite health & exercise benefits, economic benefits, enjoyment & recreation, personal preference, & convenience, but never environmental benefits (unless a client specifically requests it).

Why? Because I think that promoting the environmental benefits of cycling, more often than not, will be perceived as being emotionally manipulative by people who choose not to bike. It promotes the stereotype that cyclists think they’re better than everyone else. I don’t want to try to guilt-trip anyone into cycling, and I don’t want people to think I’m establishing cycling as a moral benchmark. There’s nothing moral about riding a bike.

I think cycling can make a strong enough argument for itself without bringing the environment into it. Here’s the pitch: if a person switches some of their existing trips from an automobile to a bicycle, they will both save money and be healthier.* That’s it. And hey, if they have a good time while they’re at it, great.

*Sure, I know the equation gets more complicated than that (I can drive to destination A, but it’s too far to bike, so I bike to destination B instead, but B is more expensive than A and it took me longer, therefore it cost me more, and the food was greasier at destination B so I’m less healthy as well).  But I still believe that this holds true for a majority of people.

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