by Keith Couture
“There is no worse neurosis than that which derives from a consciousness of guilt and an inability to reform.” - Anthony Burgess
Riding your bike gives you the ideal pace to observe city life. For instance, I can always linger long enough to read bumper stickers. I read a lot of bumper stickers. Bumper stickers make me chuckle because there is no more obvious an example of talking the talk (it's even more passive, since you don't have to talk. When one uses a bumper sticker one is literally “letting the writing be read.” That's pretty weak as far as affecting any kind of meaningful change).
I have seen bumper stickers like the ubiquitous “Obama 2012” or “CHANGE” or “HOPE” in red, white, and blue. I've seen stickers that say “I'll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one,” or “Question Consumption,” or “Treehugging dirt worshipper,” or the ever popular “Put the fun between your legs” and the corresponding picture of a bicycle. Let me clarify that I am not against these clever little one-liners themselves—odd as it is that they are worn on cars like t-shirts. It just seems that their method of display is at odds with the viewpoints they are trying to propose.
Before I receive a backlash from truly pious progressive people (who very well may put me to shame because they pay for wind energy, or have solar on their off-grid home, have a vegetable garden in their backyard where they also raise chickens and bees, etc.), I'd first like to bring to readers' attention that while one bumper sticker may differ from another in its progressiveness/conservativeness/environmentally-friendliness/environmental-hostility, all bumper stickers no matter their message require the same venue for display: the bumper, and by extension:
My observation is merely that many who profess a “liberal” attitude and love for the environment are dependent upon and unable to change from their lifestyle of car. Did I forget a word in that sentence? No. I wrote lifestyle of car intentionally, because lifestyle of car is something that both liberals and conservatives alike are trapped in. Disgruntled moderates, progressives, conservatives, anarchists, middle class, lower class, upper-middle class, socialists, religious fundamentalists, those in favor of revolt or something just short of it, even truly rich progressive Boulderites often don't know what they have in common with one another; they are car owners. One of the frustrating rants I hear from this large group of people is that they are powerless to keep money out of the hands of oil companies and thence out of the hands of policy-makers who have failed repeatedly to do anything meaningful to ameliorate climate change. They whine about how their emails to representatives are met with robot response messages. They whine after nothing changes because that big vote that's about to happen doesn't pass the legislature. They whine when the enormous marches that take place in major cities (also, how did all those people get to that march?!) prompt no one to bat an extra eyelash on the issue of climate change, conservation, or environmental preservation.
The time for whining is over. I'm not saying it's okay that our government doesn't work. But I'm suggesting maybe we start working for ourselves. I think everyone would be surprised at how much good it could do. We're talking burning calories good. Cancel your gym membership—save money good. Never pay for gas good. Never pay for car insurance good. Never pay for parking good. My suggestion? Bike everywhere.
I don't know what percentage of oil companies' profits are directly related to gas sales for cars, but in the U.S., the bike friendly cities are still barely escaping 80% car transportation. Cars run on gas. You do the math. Exxon-Mobil made $45 billion in 2008, during a recession! But you shouldn't feel weak because of this. You should feel strong because that 80% or whatever the number is in your city might include you. That 80% helped pay for that $45 billion and it has the power to refuse cars and significantly reduce that $45 billion next year.
Bike everywhere. Don't get defensive. No buts. Sure, you're doing other great things: composting, CSA memberships, etc. It doesn't matter. You should be doing this, too. Guess what you can do to help make a positive change that isn't sitting and waiting for a bill to get tabled in Congress for months? Bike everywhere. Guess what you can do that doesn't require a tax or a law to be passed to raise money to save a rainforest? Bike everywhere. Guess what you can do that will reduce the particulate pollution in your neighborhood without a single call to city council, state Representatives, or a Mayor's office? Bike everywhere. Guess what you can do in dress clothes with zero spandex? Bike everywhere. Guess what you can do in the winter? Bike everywhere. It might be harder. But only at first. After a while it will just be normal—a different normal than before. And you can do it.