Friday, February 8, 2008

Carbon: My Moral Fiber

I want my smugness back.

I rode my bike to work most days for the last several years, through sun, rain and snow. It was easy, because in the job roles I’d had since about 1999, I rarely needed a car. I had a locker room at the office and work hours that kept my daily bike commute out of rush-hour traffic.

I like to think I never rubbed anyone’s face in my moral superiority, except on those few occasions when I actively participated in the Bike to Work Day that ClevelandBikes puts on each month and mingled in the palpable self-congratulation at the ride-end rallies.

Still, it was a bit hard not to feel like sneering a bit on those daily bike commutes: I was out there saving the environment and getting my daily aerobic/anaerobic workout while the motorists around me were polluting and getting fat, stuffing McFatties into their mouths between cell-phone sentences.

I got particular satisfaction when I’d pull up at a stoplight alongside somebody in a hybrid, because I know how those hybrid people are. By and large, they’re a self-righteous bunch who sit in judgment in the driver’s seat from the moment they leave their driveways simply because their new car gets 10 or 20 mpg more than their old one, or yours. They therefore bask in their own glory and use phrases like "gas-guzzling SUVs" so that everyone knows how they’ve taken their place on the carbon crucifix in sacrifice for us all. They want us to pet them in reward.

What irked me was that those hybrid drivers pass their self-righteous judgment every day as they drive in to downtown from Pepper Pike and Avon and other upscale suburbs where folks can afford to pay a $7K premium for a car. By and large, the people who drive hybrids (here, at least) live totally car-centric lives -- driving from their residential-only enclave to the grocery store, their kids’ school three miles from home, their church/temple five miles away, etc.

So I could out-preen them. I was even farther up the purity continuum, so I would mentally put them in their place.

Another reason I discount hybrid owners' global contribution is that I’ve always considered it a bit of a fatuous tradeoff, spending thousands of extra dollars to get an extra 10 or 20 mpg. If you want to save the earth, or curb global warming, there are better ways to do it. Insulate your house, for example, to achieve greater greenhouse-gas reduction at a much faster payback rate. Or send the money to Doctors Without Borders or the Chagrin Land Conservancy or some other organization that really makes the world a better place. Saving gasoline for the sake of saving gasoline simply makes gasoline cheaper. Cheaper gas means there is no urgent social incentive to shift away from gasoline-powered automobiles. And cheaper gas accelerates the explosion in automobile use in China, where a century-long reliance on bicycle transportation is getting ground under the wheels of so-called "progress."

Such are the kinds of thoughts I’d churn around as I did hill repeats up to the moral high ground each day.

This all comes to mind today, as scientists produce still more proof that biodiesel is a big fat environmental hoax -- a colossal, politically driven transfer of wealth from cities to farm states. It’s probably worse than that: Biofuels, like hybrid cars, are a phony panacea designed to soothe our guilty consciences and let us think we’re doing something, while our carbon-based global economy continues to burn like a bomb fuse.

It’s been self-evident from the outset that biofuels do nothing to curb global warming – you still gotta burn ‘em, and release the carbon, to get energy. But because people buy into the "greenness" of it, they forestall the urgency of developing real clean-energy alternatives, such as wind, solar and fuel-cell technologies.

That’s the kind of hypocritical self-delusion I wallowed in as a bike commuter. Gradually, I realized that bike commuting made me much fitter and faster on the bike. When I got fitter and faster, I started to race. When I started to race, I started driving to Monroe Falls or Mansfield or Westlake or Dayton for races. When I drove to those places, my emissions savings from my daily commute started spewing out the tailpipe.

Not to mention that those rides to work substantially increased the frequency of flat tires, and when I flat out, I grab my CO2 inflater and release 16 grams of greenhouse gas -- the equivalent of a mile or more of driving emissions in my Honda.

Did commuting produce a net benefit, financially and environmentally? Perhaps. Well, probably, yes. But I got to feeling a little more self-conscious and a little less prone to gloat.

Now I've surrendered all superiority. I got a new job assignment in December that requires me to have a car at hand most days, so bike commuting has become the exception rather than the rule.

But I haven't given up on myself. After all, my daily bike commute comprised most of my race training. Now I'm a walrus -- fatter and more out of shape than I was a year ago. I'll probably get my ass kicked in races. When I get my ass kicked, I'll be even less inclined to race. If I'm disinclined to race, I won't drive all over God's not-so-green earth to line up. So I'll spew fewer greenhouse gases in pursuit of my passion.

Ahhh ... I'm feeling more haughty already.

And it occurs to me that I'm a hero of the environment in another way: I ride a bike with a carbon-fiber frame. That frame traps carbon that otherwise might have ended up in the atmosphere.

I'm feeling much better.

Damn all you people who drive your polluting cars!



Jodi said...

Just think of all the extra carbon you are sparing the world from in your walrus fat!



Ray Huang said...

Nothing to say except well written bloggig. Os is that bloggage, bloggige....