Today is Earth Day, a chance to appreciate the beautiful blue marble floating in space we all call home. One way to honor our home today is by choosing a sustainable mode of transportation – walking, biking, carpooling, scooting, rolling, or taking transit – as a way to move as part of daily life and committing to do so regularly. Every few years, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases a new report, a portion of the report entitled, “Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change,” reviews 18,000 scientific climate change papers and offers a glimpse into the future of the world amidst global warming if we fail to take action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate solutions are already here and becoming more accessible for many each day. The report highlights renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and electric vehicle (or bike!) use; but a surprising solution is relatively simple – walking and biking. Leaders all over the world are already advocating for electric vehicles and buses, but we need to go further if we want to really limit greenhouse gases. One strategy is to move our bodies by walking and cycling more to get where we need to go, building a healthier planet and society along the way.
Supporting walking and cycling – zero-carbon emitting activities that have the added benefit of supporting our health – seems like one obvious solution. Yet, too often, current policies and urban designs prioritize car-centric planning and spaces. If we can induce vehicular traffic by building roads and parking lots, then we can induce walking, biking, and transit by design as well. If we provide vehicle capacity to make driving cheap and easy, people will drive. If we provide safe, comfortable, and convenient ways to walk, bike, or take transit, people will use those modes. We need systemic changes, like a widespread adoption of safe bike lanes, to support sustainable lifestyle changes.
In order for sustainable lifestyle changes to truly make an impact, it’s not enough for people who already live in pedestrian-friendly areas to shift from commuting in cars to bicycles. Instead, we need to take action to develop a people-centered urban design that supports pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, as well as green spaces that can store carbon and cool cities. BikeMN’s work, alongside advocates and people across Minnesota, to encourage more walking, biking, and rolling use has never been more important and urgent than today. Our planet is at risk because of policies and practices that assume—and then induce—perpetual traffic increases without considering the impacts on human beings and our planet now and in the future. We need to boldly design sustainable networks and commit to the community engagement and education needed to get people to use them with a fervent effort that matches the intensity of the threat we are facing.
The truth is, without drastic and immediate climate change mitigation efforts, climate change could warm the Earth by 3.2 degrees if nothing changes. If Minnesota and 12 other states of the American Midwest were their own country, it would be the 5th-largest carbon emitter in the world. Transportation is the biggest source of climate pollution in Minnesota, and we cannot afford to roll back vehicle miles traveled (VMT) goals, or continue to put building bicycle and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure statewide on the backburner. BikeMN joined Move Minnesota, Our Streets Minneapolis, Sierra Club Northstar Chapter, and other advocates to call on Minnesota to adopt a 20% VMT reduction as recommended by the Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council last month.
BikeMN discussed biking and walking as one solution to mitigating climate change in our Walk Bike Leadership Network webinar in January of this year, featuring Dr. Laalitha Surapeneni and Dorian Grilley, who both served the past two years on the MnDOT Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council. We encourage you to watch the replay, available on our YouTube page, for more information and a wonderful presentation capturing the nuances of climate change mitigation.
We are all feeling concerned, anxious, or overwhelmed by climate change. The threats to our world are numerous and growing more complex each day. While so many people care deeply and want to help address the problem, the enormity of the challenge can feel dispiriting and disempowering. Riding your bike, walking, rolling, or taking transit offers you a way to make a difference while experiencing your corner of Minnesota in a sustainable way, building new friendships and connections with others, and moving your body in celebration.