The “ME” in Environmentalism By Coulter Burch


I am a selfish environmentalist. I like all the ideas floating around conservation and environmental justice, but like many people I find it difficult to change my habits. I’ll do the easy things like recycle and maybe donate to a non-profit to make myself feel better (as if I can buy back the poor environmental choices I have made). But at the same time I must admit that I wonder if the milk cartons residing in a different bin is going to save the outdoor world I love so much…

I’ve been thinking. What if there were certain actions that were very feasible in modern life but also could be shown to have the highest positive effect on the environment that surrounds us? I know myself well enough to know that it couldn’t be too outlandish and that (selfishly, again) I would need to see benefit. I mean, what if I told you that I found something easy to do that wouldn’t just make a marked change in the environment of Western Colorado but that would also make you happier, wealthier, better looking and you would be doing right by all those around you. You would probably think I was an infomercial, but you would be wrong.

So I thought and I thought and I decided to buy my Truck… More specifically, I bought a Surly Long Haul Trucker that I affectionately call “my truck”. This bike came with 4 saddlebags called panniers and a trailer. I have yet to find something too big for me to carry. I choose to change my transportation habits because it occupies a very special niche in American society. Like many people I spent large chunks of my life in a vehicle. What if this time was spent exercising and doing something I enjoy? Imagine the health ramifications for our country if people started to consider bicycles viable transportation? Further, like many Americans I spend much of my paycheck on gasoline. Turning this expenditure into savings has greatly affected my economic situation (to the tune of $200 dollars a month!). Transportation also happens to be one of those areas where we most negatively affect our environment. I particularly love riding my bike on quiet roads with tracts of wilderness on both sides. While I am moving, I’m not leaving an emissions behind and I’m encountering the area as quietly as it is was before the road was there.

It turns out that I’m definitely not the first person to think of all this. In fact I’ve compiled a group of facts below that support this idea. Each one is just a snippet of a larger article that you are more than welcome to go read.


Americans spend more on transportation than any other category except housing. On average, 18% of household expenditures are for transportation.

U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, and Department of Transportation,

The average annual operating cost of a bicycle is $308, less than 4% that of an average car ($8,220).

Bike cost from Moritz, W., 1997. Automobile cost from U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2009

A NASA analysis found that motor vehicles are the greatest contributor to atmospheric warming because they release pollutants and greenhouse gases that promote warming, while emitting few aerosols that counteract it.

NASA, 2010

The transportation sector is responsible for 71% of all U.S. petroleum use.

Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2010

Half of U.S. schoolchildren are dropped off at school in the family car. If 20% of those living within two miles of school were to bike or walk instead, it would save 4.3 million miles of driving per day. Over a year, that saved driving would prevent 356,000 tons of CO2 and 21,500 tons of other pollutants from being emitted.

Pedroso, M., 2008

Cycling and walking commuters have significantly lower levels of exposure to harmful pollutants like benzene compared with car commuters and significantly lower levels of pollutant NO2 than bus commuters.

Chertok, M., et al., 2004

A 30 minute round trip bicycle commute is associated with better mental health in men.

Ohta, M., et al., 2007

An adult cyclist typically has a level of fitness equivalent to someone 10 years younger and a life expectancy two years above the average.

Paffenbarger, R., et al., 1986., and Department for Transport, 2007


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