Washington Republican: Bicycles cause more pollution than cars

By Stephen C. Webster
Sunday, March 3, 2013 19:18 EDT
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Washington State Rep. Ed Orcutt (R). Photo: Public.
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The ranking Republican member on Washington state’s House Transportation Committee thinks that riding bicycles causes more pollution than driving cars, the Seattle Bike Blog reported Saturday.

State Rep. Ed Orcutt (R), pictured, wrote an email to a constituent who disagreed with his support for a new tax on the sales of bicycles, a proposal being considered as part of a larger piece of transportation legislation. Reached by the Seattle Bike Blog, he confirmed the email is real.

In his message, sent to the owner of a bicycle shop, Orcutt wrote: “If I am not mistaken, a cyclists [sic] has an increased heart rate and respiration. That means that the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider. Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride.”

He added that when citizens drive cars they are helping to pay for the roads, whereas bicyclists “need to start paying for the roads they ride on rather than make motorists pay.”

Reached for comment, Orcutt told Seattle Bike Blog that “you would be giving off more CO2 if you are riding a bike than driving in a car,” although he admitted to having no evidence to back the claim.

Unfortunately for Orcutt, his claim is based on a debunked allegation in a book called How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, by Chris Goodall. Virtually all available science on the carbon footprint of driving versus biking says this is dead wrong.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that each passenger vehicle in the U.S. generates on average 4.8 metric tons of CO2 every year, not accounting for emissions resulting in damage to the vehicle and local infrastructure, along with the actual production of fuel. The European Cyclists Federation, however, puts CO2 emissions from biking at about 10 times less than driving a car (PDF), even after accounting for the emissions required to make the bike and emissions linked to food the rider eats to power the device.

The California-based Pacific Institute estimated in 2008 (PDF) that in order to match the emissions from cars, people who walk or bike would have to exclusively consume a diet of extremely greenhouse-intensive food, like beef. Even bikers who consumed the average American diet, largely considered to be unhealthy, produced far fewer emissions than people who drive vehicles.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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