2019 Earth Day: the role of the bicycle

Apr 21, 2019, 18:01 PM

Monday April 22 marks Earth Day, which every year sees more than a billion people from an estimated 192 countries across the globe calling for more action to protect the environment.

The humble bicycle has its part to play in the message conveyed on this day of global observance.

The way goods and people move about the earth has a profound environmental impact, generating pollution and consuming fossil fuels. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the global car fleet is set to triple by 2050, and greenhouse gas emissions from transport are rising faster than in any other sector.

More and more, a shift to cycling and other forms of clean transportation is being recognised as essential. On Earth Day a call to switch to green transportation goes out, with many cities and regions encouraging their citizens to travel by bike on the day - and more generally in their daily lives. For Earth Day in 2018, the city of Austin, Texas, USA provided free passes for their bike share scheme.

While more can be done to advance cycling as an everyday mode of transport, the popularity of the bicycle is already delivering environmental good. In Europe, a recent European Cyclists’ Federation study found that cycling:

  • saves emissions of over 16 million tons of CO2 per year in the EU
  • results in reduced air pollution to the value of 435 million euros each year
  • at its current levels saves Europe over 3 billion litres of fuel per year.

By switching travel from emission- and pollution- generating fossil fuel vehicles, cyclists can achieve a ten fold reduction in CO2 emissions - down to 21g of emissions per km travelled.

Tales of Change

To mark 2018 Earth Day, writer and communicator Florian Reber rode his bicycle through the Alps, documenting the impact of climate change and extreme weather on the region. The impact of climate change was all too visible during his Tales of Change project, that saw him cycle 1900km from Trieste (Italy) to Cannes (France). Along his journey, he spoke with local residents, farmers, forest workers, conservationists, alpine climbers, athletes as well as other journalists and writers, who warned that climate change is already harming the Alps. The project saw him cycle through drought-hit regions, powerful storms, record October temperatures, forest fires and torrential rain: the visible impact of a changing climate all too evident.

Florian Reber’s project underscored the role of the bicycle not only as a potent symbol of environmental protection, but a vehicle to document the challenges facing the planet.

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Future of Earth Day

Looking ahead, 2020 will mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which this year celebrates its 10th year as a recognised official UN day.

Amidst the complex debate over the environment, climate change, sustainability and our impact on the planet, cycling can continue to offer its contribution: a green, non-polluting mode of transport, pastime and sport.