How Bad is Cycling a Mile? (Oct 2011)
Forget fast cars and high-speed trains, the smart way to travel for the people that can, is by bicycle. Quicker and requiring fewer calories than walking, the bike also has excellent shopping bag and PE kit carrying handles fitted as standard with optional child-transporters available.
But is cycling always better for the planet than driving? Sometimes it is not.
If two of you get the calories for your cycle ride from cheeseburgers, the carbon footprint of your journey is about the same as if you shared an efficient car.
This is because the fuel you use to cycle is, of course, the food you eat, which all has a carbon impact, and, as we discussed last month, getting your calories from cattle can be an inefficient and polluting way to eat.
Here are the numbers:
65 g *CO2e powered by bananas
90 g CO2e powered by cereals with milk
200 g CO2e powered by bacon
260 g CO2e powered by cheeseburgers
2800 g CO2e powered by air-freighted asparagus
For comparison, a banana is 80g CO2e and a return flight to Hong Kong is 3.4 tonnes CO2e.
The calculation is based on burning 50 calories per mile. This will drop if you are fit, or rise if you are heavy or cycling fast.
But you can choose a win-win breakfast for your journey! The lowest carbon food, bananas and porridge, also happen to be the best cycling fuel, and, in my not-so-humble vegetarian opinion, the tastiest too! And, with a heart-bypass operation costing 1.1 tonnes CO2e, we’ll all be better off if we eat less of the artery-clogging stuff.
Of course few would eat a plateful of air-freighted asparagus when carbo-loading for a ride, but the numbers demonstrate just how damaging flying vegetables long distances can be. If you did get all your cycling calories from this source, you’d be better driving a Hummer!
Please don’t let this stop you cycling! Eating a cheese and asparagus burger as you pedal along is, of course, heaps better than munching one whilst at the wheel of your car.
*CO2e is short for carbon dioxide equivalent which is the overall contribution to global warming of carbon dioxide plus all the other global warming gases emitted such as nitrous oxide and methane.
Data and inspiration from How Bad are Bananas? – The Carbon Footprint of Everythingby Mike Berners-Lee
Web Editor’s Note:-
Also consider reading the book “Comfortably Unaware” – Global Depletion and Food Responsibility – What you choose to eat is killing our planet -follow the link for description and extracts from this book.