Cutting Carbon

Carbon isn't a bad thing at all. As a matter of fact, you can't live without it, as almost any kind of food contains carbon galore. Animals exhale carbon dioxide, but at the same rate plants fix carbon dioxide and use it as a building block to increase their biomass. Without a healthy dose of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases our planet would be a cold, unpleasant place that would not be able to sustain the life that we know: the energy-rich short wavelength rays of the sun pass the atmosphere almost unhindered, but the resulting longer wavelength radiation emitted by the earth's surface is partly absorbed by the atmosphere, causing it to warm up.

However, too much of a good thing isn't good either. Currently mankind releases more carbon dioxide than plants are able to capture, causing the greenhouse effect to become more efficient than necessary. In addition, other carbon-containing gases like methane (cattle burps and farts are a major source) worsen the situation. Most of us agree that something has to happen, except maybe a few nations that see pollution as an unalienable right.

I'm not going to dream up an elaborate plan that is going to save the earth. Instead, I'd like to share a few thoughts how everyone can help to reduce carbon dioxide emissions without sacrificing their lifestyle. I personally believe that it does not make any sense to wait for a bunch of diplomats to agree on large-scale plans which are inevitably overturned by reality. Instead, I prefer to do whatever I can do now, no matter how small the contribution is.

Today's installment provides a calculation of the amount of carbon dioxide which I don't release by riding a bike to go to work instead of using my car. We have about three months of sub-freezing or near-freezing temperatures over here. We have lots of rain during spring and autumn. My workplace is on top of a hill, approx. 100 vertical meters (300 ft) higher than where I live. There's 4 kilometers (approx. 2.5 miles) to go from home to work. Lots of excuses to not use a bike, but I still do. My car isn't exactly a gas guzzler, but it still releases 273 gram of carbon dioxide per 100 kilometers in the city (187 gram average). There are an estimated 240 workdays per year, equivalent to (4+4)*240=1920 kilometers (1200 miles) per year. That is, riding my bike prevents roughly 525 kilogram (1160 lb) of carbon dioxide, the mass of half a car, from entering the atmosphere each year. Besides, it is a nice workout and an effective way to make your brain wake up in the morning.


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