Friday, March 14, 2008

Biking--A Slow Shift in Thinking

As you can see, now that everyone is feeling an urgency to do something about climate change, even the neighborhood lawn ornaments are taking to their bikes.

In fact, if people are changing their ways, it's hard to tell from this outpost, where the stream of cars passing by appears unabated. Even living right in town, where the shopping center is four blocks away and schools are a ten minute bike ride, there always seems to be some excuse to jump in the car. Maybe we're running late, or the clouds are threatening, and besides, it's just a short drive, not much gas consumed, so no harm done.

People are faced with a double abstraction: that the oft-declared global emergency of global warming will dramatically affect each of us and all we care about, and that our individual actions can actually affect the course of global warming. Though government can have an influence, the human impact on the planet comes down to the cumulative effect of individual actions. As individuals we feel peripheral, inconsequential, but are in fact central--the only show in town.

Self-denial is not in the national psyche, so any change in individual behavior needs to be driven by positive, self-actualizing factors rather than a willful forgoing of comfort and convenience.

Tipping the balance towards jumping on a bike, rather than crawling yet again into the stylish metal hulk, requires a cumulative change in thinking, until the pros of riding a bike in any given situation start to outweigh the cons. It helps to be aware that short, in-town drives are not good for a car, since the engine never quite warms up. The $50 refill at the gas station the other day was a fine wakeup call.

For those who can connect the dots between personal action and the nation's future, it's also possible to view walking and biking as patriotic acts, a way to incrementally reduce all sorts of undesireables: dependence on foreign oil, the national trade deficit, gas prices and inflation. There's also the unsettling thought of what sorts of corrupt regimes all that gas money is supporting.

Factor in a desire not to add to global warming, air and water pollution and the congestion of local roads, and before you know it the sway of your thinking has you on your bike, feeling empowered to change the world in some small way, immersed in the richness of the great outdoors, improving your circulation as you circulate through town.

The more one chooses the bike over the car, the more it becomes a habit, until the first response is to head for the bike rather than grab the car keys. There's also an expansion of acceptable weather that happens gradually, until even a light drizzle is no longer a deterrent. Water, I discovered after a couple years of periodically biking around town, is not toxic, and there was a raincoat hiding in my closet that is actually designed to shed it. Such are the rediscoveries that await in the long process of shedding car-dependency.

And then there is the fun aspect, which I discovered after reconditioning a trailer bike that someone had left on the curb (shop local). Get a kid on the trailer seat strong enough to contribute to the peddling, and the sensation is of flying down a sled run, or team rowing. Even if the cold weather discourages biking to school in the morning, I can still pick up my daughter with this rig in the warmed afternoon.