The bicycle is an amazing thing. It is, at its essence, one of the most simple machines possible, and like most simple machines, provides benefits that far exceed its complexity. Unlike most things, the bicycle's grasp far exceeds its reach. Like most things in this category, it is not adequately appreciated. I think it is time we stopped and thought about this for a moment.
I try hard to not succumb to the easy arguments in life. We should have to think about what we do, what we believe, what we buy, how we live. But sometimes that thinking can make living harder, and that is why so many of us, even me when I am tired, avoid it. Much of the time if you ask me why I bike I would probably tell you I enjoy it more, that I like the exercise, that it is faster and easier than driving in San Francisco. Those are all true statements, but they are easy ones to make. They form the ideals of most of us who chose to ride over drive. The more thoughtful answer would be that I am tired of contributing to the suffering around me- the noise, the pollution, the forceful takeover of public space that marginalizes all those who are not in a car, the sucking up of resources that need to be used in a more thoughtful and equitable way by all the people of the world.
The more I think about these things, the more insane so many of them seem. The list of items I find needless and destructive would not be appropriate in this forum, but one of them is very much in line with what we try to do here at the blog- the production and propagation of bio-fuel usage in the world. The two great hopes of the transportation industry, in all its forms, are electricity and bio-fuels. Even the American Military is looking at bio-fuel as a means of fueling its insatiable need.
It seems like such a great idea. Using renewable crops to grow our own fuel. Brazil is doing it in spades, and there are consequences to it most people do not want to think about. We can not make bio-fuels out of just anything when we are talking about huge industrial quantities. Reliable, high quality fuel requires consistent, high quality ingredients. Currently, no matter where you go in the world, those ingredients are sugar cane and corn (along with wheat and soy and palm oil). These used to be crops used to feed people and animals, and now the people and animals are having to compete for food with the bus fleets and old diesel vans of the world. And it is getting worse. Not only do these crops no longer feed people, they use up vast amounts of water, are grown with huge amounts of chemicals and they destroy the land they are grown in.
Not everyone in the world has the resources to grow enough bio-fuel for themselves. Many countries have started buying farmland in other countries to start growing fuel crops. The countries that are selling are poor (Rwanda, Ghana, Madagascar ...) and the countries that are buying are rich (South Korea, Saudi Arabia...). "In response, the importing countries negotiated and in some cases leased
land in other, more irrigable countries to grow grain and produce
biofuels for themselves. Countries like Saudi Arabia, China and South
Korea have all leased land in Africa, where the governments lease
irrigable land for as little as $1 an acre.(source)" Land needed to feed the growing population of the world is going instead to feeding our cars, our delivery trucks, our buses, and eventually, our war ships and airplanes.
So, that is what has become a huge part of why I ride my bicycle. My life and the way I live it should not contribute to the hunger of others. My needs are no more important than those of any one else. My share should not come to me because somewhere else in the world there are those desperate enough that they will give up theirs, or have it taken from them by those who are greedy and shortsighted enough to think their actions are justified.
This is a long post, and not quite as a light as some of you may have come to expect from me. I think it is worth it, though. There are a lot of links here and they will take time to read and get through. I encourage you to do it. I encourage you to start thinking about the choices that you are making. Listen to the story broadcast on NPR that spurred me to write this. Tell me what you think. Does this make you want to ride more? Does it make you angry enough to start making different choices? Does it overwhelm you?