The earthquake and tsunami in Japan were terrible, and the unfolding nuclear catastrophe threatens to overshadow even those disasters. Our thoughts go out to the people who are affected, and we must do what we can to help them. Beyond that, Japan has shown me once again that there is no technological way to “build our way out” of the energy and climate crisis we face.
Renewable energy sources, especially wind, have great potential, but the simple fact is that we cannot continue to consume such enormous quantities of energy – nor do we have to. Here is how I have been trying to decrease the energy I consume, while improving my quality of life at the same time.
The majority of my energy consumption is in four areas:
Daily transportation: Some people tell me that electric cars are the answer, but if everyone drove one, we’d need so much electricity that nuclear power would be almost unavoidable. They batteries are toxic as well. When I ride my “Urban Bike” for deliveries, I get to go for a beautiful ride instead of sitting in traffic in my car.
Home heating/cooling: Keeping our heater thermostat at 67 instead of 70 degrees in Seattle cuts our home heating bill (and pollution) almost in half, while remaining perfectly comfortable. (And our house is much smaller than the one in the photo, so it takes less energy to heat.) Bicycle Quarterly’s offices are heated even less, and we wear warm underlayers at work. Simple and effective.
Airline travel: This is a big one. A commercial jetliner gets about 50-70 mpg per passenger, about the same as a small car. However, the distances I fly are huge. One trip to Europe consumes more gasoline than all my driving in 5 years!
To reduce the impact of my traveling, I focus on quality over quantity. Instead of jetting to places for a weekend, I make one trip a year, but take the time to make the trip worth while. When I went to the Cirque du Cyclisme, I spent a week in Chicago to visit friends and explore the city. When I go to Paris-Brest-Paris this summer, I will spend an entire month visiting family and friends and doing research for Bicycle Quarterly.
When possible, I take the train instead of flying or driving. Europe’s high-speed rail network allows me to travel extensively within Europe with minimal pollution. It would be nice to have such a system in the U.S.
Most of my travels are close to home. There are so many neat places to explore around here (see photo at the top). I find a week-long bicycle tour, starting from home, a much more rewarding experience than “36 hours” in an exotic location.
Manufactured goods: Everything I buy is made from materials that are carried around the world. I try to buy quality things that will last me a long time. This not only reduces pollution and saves money in the long run, but well-made things also are more enjoyable to use. When something breaks, I try to fix it, whether it’s cost-effective or not. I find this very satisfying. And when I order things, I select “Ground Shipping” over “Next Day Air.” (At Compass Bicycles, we also avoid air shipping as much as possible.)
All these choices not only reduce the energy I consume, but they also improve the quality of life I enjoy.