Thursday, February 14, 2008

Madison's Triple-Win Biking Project

Scientists generally agree that the rapid increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) due to human sources is contributing to global warming. One of the major contributors to CO2 in the atmosphere is from burning of fossil fuels for transportation. There are many ways to reduce the amount of CO2 used for transportation such as driving less, car pools, public transportation, and riding a bicycle. Of all of these options, the most carbon neutral form of transportation is bicycling.

Fairfax County has two efforts underway to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the county, the Cool Counties workgroup and the Cool Hunter Mill District Committee. Both groups are developing suggestions for residents to reduce their carbon footprint, including biking more.

Most other communities are doing the same. A major thread that runs through these efforts is understanding the linkage between the causes of greenhouse gas emissions and human health. According to Jonathan Patz, UW-Madison professor of environmental studies:
“Lifestyle changes to reduce energy and fossil fuel dependency in the United States will not only help to decrease greenhouse gas emissions but can also help improve the health of a country plagued with a variety of diseases caused by the largely sedentary lifestyle of Americans.

“The biggest problem with public health in the U.S. is obesity and the repercussions of obesity,” Patz said. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than two-thirds of all Americans and 15 percent of children are overweight, 7 percent of the population has diabetes and 60 percent of Americans do not meet the recommended levels of exercise.

“Yet, get this: More than 40 percent of trips made by car are less than two miles,” Patz said. “Couldn’t that be bike-able or walk-able?”

“We have an obesity problem because we’ve replaced human labor with fossil fuel energy,” said UW-Madison nutritionist Pete Anderson. “We’ve produced two problems: global warming and obesity through the same act.”

“The 10 leading causes of death in the United States are related to sedentary lifestyle, air pollution, or motor vehicle crashes,” Patz said. “So, if we can redesign our cities to get cars off of the roads and replace that with walking and biking, [imagine] the disease burden we would reduce.”

Patz and others are working to promote the “Triple-Win Biking Project,” motivating community members to use biking for personal fitness, and help to reduce local air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Patz said early calculations show that if 20 percent of commuters were to travel by bike each year, Madison would see a reduction in ozone, nitrogen oxide and particulates, thus decreasing respiratory problems and saving money from respiratory health issues and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 16 tons.
From the article Snapshots of global climate change from the University of Madison The Daily Cardinal. See also Ecology and Public Health: Global Environmental Crises Yield Dangerous New Health Challenges.

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