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Why cycling is 10x more important than electric vehicles to reach net-zero emission

Man cycling.
Image courtesy: Mike/ Pexels

As per the data recorded in 2020, there is only one fully electric car for every 50 new cars. The data is one for every 14 car in the UK, much better than global numbers. Nonetheless, even if all new cars purchased in 2021 were electric, it would take us 15 to 20 years to replace conventional fossil fuel cars.

The reduced emission caused by replacing conventional cars with zero-carbon alternatives will not be sufficient enough to make a significant difference in the next five years. Given that the climate crisis is worsening every day, it will not be surprising to say that humanity doesn’t have much time left. Tackling the situation would mean curbing all motorised transports, especially private vehicles, as soon as possible. Focusing solely on electric vehicles is actually slowing us down and taking the zero-emission goal farther.

You must be wondering, why is she saying that electric vehicles aren’t helpful? Isn’t renewable energy the key to a sustainable future?

Well, yes, indeed it is. But electric vehicles are not truly zero-carbon. For manufacturing the batteries, electric vehicle manufacturers need raw materials mined, refining them and manufacturing the batteries produces emissions. Driving electric vehicles isn’t sustainable unless the energy used to run it produced sustainably. Given that transport is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonise due to its reliance on fossil fuels, it is necessary to find an utterly zero-emission solution. Remember, the goal here is to not only reduce carbon emission but to bring it to zero.

And a really cool and green alternative for vehicles is bicycles.

Temporary bike lanes are popping up across several cities around the world during the pandemic. Bicycles are cheaper, healthier, safe for the environment, and reduce traffic. Can you guess how much carbon you can save daily by just switching to a bicycle? How much does it impact our race to zero-carbon emission?

According to research conducted by Christian Brand, Associate Professor in Transport, Energy & Environment, Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford, people who walk or cycle have a lower carbon footprint than others. Replacing motorised journeys with active travelling is a great way to reduce emissions on an individual level. Christian observed 4000 people living in Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Orebro, Rome, Vienna, and Zurich for two years. The participants completed 10,000 travel entries of their journeys each day, whether going to work by train, taking kids to school by car, or travelling by bus around the town. Christian and his colleagues calculated the carbon footprint for each journey, and the results were excellent!

People who cycled every day had an 84% lower carbon footprint than those who didn’t. The research also highlights that the average person who switched from car to bike for even one day reduced their emission by 3.2Kg of CO2—equivalent to driving a vehicle for 10Km, sending 800 emails, or eating a serving of lamb. Emissions from cycling is 30 times lower than conventional fossil fuel-powered vehicles, for the same journeys, during the same time. The report also showed that urban residents who switched to cycling for just one day reduced their carbon footprint by about half a tonne of CO2. If only five urban residents permanently changed their travel preferences in this way, the emission would be reduced by 8% across Europe.

More than half the carbon emission reduction during the pandemic happened due to the lack of transport emission. It is not difficult to imagine how beneficial it would be for all of us if we all switch to bicycles, even for a day. The race to zero-emission isn’t going to be easy, but bicycles are a great way to ease it a bit.

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