Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Why do we ride?

Cyclists are on the road for a wide variety of reasons. By far, the majority simply enjoys bicycling as recreation. Some use bicycles as basic transportation. But others ride for some different reasons, chief among them are the health benefits or concern for our environment.

I ride to work for many of those reasons. We have one car and one teenage driver. Need I say more? Actually, riding to work saves our family a lot of money. And it’s good for me. I’m fond of using a tool analogy – use the right tool for the job – and for short trips, the bicycle is the right tool.

But today, I’d like to focus on the environmental issues of transportation. We all know that bicycles are a tiny fraction of the vehicles polluting our air, land, and water, and that most of the pollution arises from the manufacturing and maintenance of our machines. This is miniscule by comparison with motor vehicles.

I’ve written previously about the connection between our purchases of petroleum-based fuels and terrorism. The New York Times had something about it over the weekend. I suspect the Times is more widely read than CycleDog, but I prefer to think of my readers as a, um,…more select group. As the incomparable American philosopher Foghorn Leghorn said, “That’s a joke, son! I say, that’s a joke!”

I grew up in western Pennsylvania. There was a strip mine just over the hill from my elementary school. I could see the smoke and dust when the steel mills were pouring over in McKeesport. The fire lit up the horizon. Most of the streams and rivers were little more than industrial sewers. The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire now and then from all the solvents. That’s unimaginable today.

Does riding a bicycle make an appreciable difference in air and water quality? Probably not. Even if a hundred thousand motorists switched to bicycles, it probably wouldn’t make a measurable difference except in their own lives.

Government regulations have a major effect on environmental quality. Many of those streams and rivers in Pennsylvania that were dead, stinking toilets now support game fish. The state government and the people were dedicated to cleaning up the mess. So it really got me thinking when I read Molly Ivins’ column about mercury pollution.

Originally, the Clean Air Act was set to be fully in force by 2008. But the Bush administration changed the rules to delay that until about 2025. The changes allow polluting industries to buy and sell pollution ‘credits’. It’s window dressing. It gives the appearance of doing something about pollution without actually reducing pollution levels.

Polluting industries will continue spewing poisons into our air and water, poisons like mercury that causes fetal deformities. Pregnant women are still advised to limit their consumption of all freshwater and saltwater fish due to high mercury levels. The Bush administration would protect a fetus from abortion; yet not protect it from mercury. If abortion is murder, as some of the right wing crowd insist, is encouraging business that harms unborn children less immoral? The blatant hypocrisy should disgust Americans.

“The love of money is the root of all evil”…1 Timothy 6:10

That sums up the neo-cons and the present administration. Their over-riding concern is money. All else is secondary. They would have us believe they are good, moral people while they allow industry to degrade our air and water. The Bible says we’re to be stewards of the earth, not conquerors. A steward protects and defends his superior’s property. So which is the moral choice: giving our children a better planet or a worse one?

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not anti-business. I know that there’s no going back from our modern industrial society to a simple, agrarian one. I wouldn’t want that, nor would most Americans. But I cannot countenance an administration that wraps itself in false morality while ignoring the real needs of the American people. Clean air and water should be as basic to our rights and freedoms as any in the Bill of Rights. Oh, let’s see about getting them back too.

“By their fruits ye shall know them”…Matthew 6:20

What are the ‘fruits’ of the Bush administration? A war based on lies. An energy policy formulated by the petroleum industry in total secrecy. An unprecedented loss of civil liberties. An abrogation of international law, indefinitely confining prisoners without trial or charges. A lawless, ‘the end justifies the means’ approach that rivals the Spanish Inquisition and engages in torture of prisoners of war, ‘enemy combatants’, or anyone else so bold as to challenge the administration.

These people are supposed to be the ‘moral’ choice in politics? As compared to what – Joseph Stalin?

It’s our country. Let’s take it back.


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