Science Wednesday: Burning Environmentally Friendly Energy

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Barbara Klieforth is the Acting Associate Center Director for Drinking Water in the National Center for Environmental Research at EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She is also a life-long committed cycling commuter.

image of author standing next to her mountain bicycleWhile ‘being green’ is not the only reason I bike to work (it’s also fun and faster!), it is something I think about – especially since I do some of my best thinking on my commute into the office. As a scientist I was trained to be a critical thinker, but as an EPA scientist I have be more thorough than ever because we have to substantiate doing new research and our science directly impacts people’s lives. So, especially now during national ‘bike to work’ week, I find myself wondering how to quantify the environmental benefits of my 6.5 mile ride to the office. Economically, bike commuting is a no-brainer: I easily save thousands of dollars a year biking versus driving. But, in strictly environmental terms, is commuting by bike worth the risks it poses (including forgetting such things as dress shoes!)? There are lots of cool online tools that calculate the environmental benefits of biking (e.g., Go by Bike Challenge, EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator), but one of my favorite sites simply compares the energy costs per kilometer of different forms of transportation.

In other words, the bicycle is an extremely efficient mode of transportation, and I am definitely saving plenty of energy per mile (good thing I have lots of personal calories to spare!). Less fossil energy burned = less polluting emissions. I know from some of my current focus at work on the geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide that technological solutions to environmental problems we could be helping prevent in the first place are incredibly daunting. So I’d say no further research is needed to confirm that there are substantial environmental benefits to bicycling as a means of transportation. I can do something today to decrease pollution, reduce usage of fossil fuels, and have some fun on the way!