Bike commuting, climate change and punk rock

January 13, 2024

I consider myself an environmentalist, and a quiet one at that - I've never chained myself to a tree or waved a sign at a rally - but for most of my life I've made decisions and taken actions to try and preserve the earth.

For example, while it's true that 30 years ago I started regularly bike commuting because I was a poor student, I also did it because I cared about climate change.

Heck, in university I even wrote my Honours Thesis about recycling!

I say these things because lately I've become even more aware of my and others' impact on the natural world. I've got to the point where I want to make drastic changes to long-standing habits. I hope along the way I can subtly influence other people, including my family to do the same.

As with all significant changes in society, really doing something about climate change will require a lot of time and global concentrated efforts. These are not adaptations that happen overnight. The really big adaptations require that people with influence, including government and industry, support and act together to make large-scale movement happen then the rest of society to see it through.

Environmental activists

Recognizing that, and knowing I cannot change anyone else's behaviour besides my own, here's what's been on my mind in terms of personal habits.

By the way, this is a useful tool to calculate your own emissions and carbon footprint.

Airplane trips

Airplane trips are often considered "essential" when you live in the Yukon. At least once a year, you have to "get outside" and go somewhere else to take a break from here. To swim in warm lakes, go shopping, see family and experience other places have been my personal reasons.

Remember that it's a 30 hour drive from Whitehorse to Vancouver, so flying is much more convenient than driving.

Yet, in order to stop climate change, the maximum amount of CO2 that can be generated by a person is 0.600 tonne PER YEAR.

A single airplane roundtrip, say from Whitehorse to Kelowna, BC generates 0.709 tonne per person.

Related, the average annual amount of CO2 generated by a person is 7.2 tonne.

Oh. My.

So, yeah, no more unnecessary airplane trips. That's a big one. I may fail at this.

Electric (e-) bicycles

My mind has also lately been occupied with the regular use of motor vehicles, especially for short distance excursions.

If 10% of Yukon residents replaced their short-distance vehicle trips (that is, less than 10 km) with trips on bicycles it would save 44,000 metric tonnes of CO2 per day.

Imagine that same change somewhere like the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) where more than 6 million people live!

According to a recent report 1,200 e-bikes have been sold in the Yukon since 2020. That is equal to about 2% of all Yukon residents. So, it's happening here, albeit slowly and at a very small scale. No matter, e-bikes remove barriers to riding a bicycle, and that's awesome!

Of course, e-bikes have their own issues with electric battery production and disposal, but it's better at least than people choosing a fossil fuel-powered motor vehicle for short trips.

It's also not easy to be a bike commuter in the Yukon, especially in winter, so I applaud anyone who is doing it, no matter what type of bike they ride or where they live.

Our family resides atop a series of hills, and the consequential grind often feels like making atonement.

Over the past 20 years, I've spent nearly 2,000 days commuting to and from work by bike, with a total distance of 33,000 km and 284,000 m (931,758 ft) of elevation gain.

In other words, I've climbed the equivalent of Mt. Everest 32 times. No wonder I'm so tired.

Photo of Mt. Everest by Hans Stieglitz
Photo of Mt. Everest by Hans Stieglitz

Of course, I recognize that me riding my bike instead of driving and not flying on an airplane won't be enough to stop climate change, but they are still choices that benefit. Some action is better than no action.

As riding a bicycle pertains to punk rock

I was a child in the 70s and 80s. I'm a lifelong skateboarder, and thus punk rock has forever been part of my world. I listened to a lot of punk rock music, went to concerts, rejoiced in anti-establishment thoughts and actions, and even had a mohawk for a while.

Like punk rock, bicycles and bike messengers have long been relegated to a North American sub-culture. Unlike in some European countries where bicycles are ridden by a lot more people, in Canada and USA they represent a very small portion of humans who make them part of their core identity.

Bike messengers

There are bicycle-related brands like Cars-R-Coffins and Surly that were born from this sub-culture. Both still actively leverage and make it a key part of their image. There are alternative undertones in this urban bike commuting article from Surly.

I also think about One Less Car which is something I recommend taking the time to read and consider.

Almost 20 years ago, when asked about the origins of Cars-R-Coffins, Hurl Everstone wrote an epic reply/rant on that pretty much sums it up:

Or like Corrosion of Conformity... you could "Vote with a Bullet." And rent a car and drive all the way to Fruita, Colorado for the 10th Annual Fruita Fat Tire Festivus. Oh, and to answer the original query, "what is/are Cars-R-Coffins?" Well it's like this, see: It's simply a way of looking at the car-dominant culture we live in, and making an observation. It's not wanting to be strapped behind the wheel of some 2 ton behemoth, stuck in traffic, going nowhere fast, and groaning about the price of gas because I have to drive to work at my dead-end job in a gray carpeted cubicle, just so I can make the monthly payment on this sweet metallic gold mini-thunderbird-toyota-prius-hybrid-all-wheel-drive-suv-escalade-playa-hatin'-chrome-22's-up-on-this-bizatch hot car that I only drive to work. It's whatever you want it to be, this CRC thing, but hopefully it will make you think about how you spend your time in the daily flux of life. Driving everywhere, single-occupant cars clogging up city streets and highways, and people crying about the price of gas, and why don't we just drill ANWR already, Jeezus! it's my god-given right to get 22 gallons per mile and get those damn toy bicycles off the road already. I'm on my way to the trailhead, fukker! Got change for the meter? Drive! Drive some more! Do it! Gas prices are at an all time high! Car commercials always show the open road! Get some! Drop your kids off at the Limp Bizkit/Sum 41 show at the Mega-Plex! Feel SAFE in your big vehicle! Feel the wind in your hair as you drop the top in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Be a "cool" kid and start a "cool" club that the "uncool" kids aren't allowed in! Define everything! Post questions on MTBR! Pontificate on how "cool" your new Jones-bar 29er is, and everyone else just rides "kiddie wheels." Yeah. Oh, and another thing. What does FUH2 mean? Don't eat the brown acid. Hollywood Roxx Ya! Turn ZEKE up to 11 and GO!

Ah yeah, a timeless rant. It makes me laugh and gets me pumped up to ride a bike.

Okay, so back to the main thread.

Electric vehicles

As for electric vehicles, I know drivers appreciate the cost savings and lower emissions. It's easy to say/feel you're taking action simply by not driving a less polluting vehicle.

It's also more effortless to hop in an electric vehicle and go somewhere, rather than gear up to ride a bike to and from work, do errands on it and really change your daily lifestyle and routines. Humans are creatures of comfort and habit, me included, and this is not an insignificant point.

That said, electric vehicles are expensive, complex and cumbersome things. I'm not sure they're the right answer, especially considering what it will cost to produce and dispose of their huge batteries but that's not my domain and I won't pretend to be an expert. But, if you HAVE to drive a motor vehicle, is electric even better than fossil fuel-powered?

Plus, pushing the sale of electric vehicles puts the duty on citizens to take action. They use the same road infrastructure currently in place. Vehicles don't require much re-thinking about how to improve the design of cities and their routes and paths. Instead, everyone is encouraged to get into a $50,000 or more multi-year payment plan as if it's the only way forward.

Public transportation in Whitehorse - that is, city buses - is getting better, and governments continue to battle over making it free to aid with adoption. Problem is, public transportation remains inconvenient.

Being tied to a pre-determined route and schedule, especially when the bus is late by 10 minutes and you have to stand outside for 20 to 25 minutes in -30 Celsius waiting for it is a tough proposition.

This is where bicycles shine and e-bikes, moreso.

Heating our home

In winter, heating our 1,800 sq ft house emits 7.1 tonne of CO2.

Remember that part above? In order to stop climate change, the maximum amount of CO2 that can be generated by a person is 0.600 tonne PER YEAR.

As a family, we can keep the heat turned down lower. We can also move into a more modern, super-green home. The heating change is easy enough, but to build or buy a new house? Oh man, that seems daunting but maybe it's something we need to do.

In summary

These are just a few things - here's a list of more - that I and others can do to reduce our carbon footprint and emissions, and support climate protection.

Some changes are harder than others, but I'm willing to try for my sake and yours.

Are you?