The topic of global warming came to me during an early morning bike ride along the trustworthy Tamagawa River. Tucked in behind a not-so-powerful moped reaching a speed of 40 km (25mph), in an instant the image of my life as a 16 year old in my hometown of Edina, Minnesota popped into my mind.
My first decent bike was a 10-speed Trek and main mode of transportation. While I was excited to have a cool bike, all of my friends had mopeds. Edina was a middle, upper middle class community and at the forefront of cool and fashionable items to have – mopeds, Adidas shoes, Ralph Lauren and Levi’s. I had a bicycle, Adidas knockoffs and JC Penney Garanimal brand clothing. Consequently, for the longest time I felt I had the short end of the stick. Over time I reconciled the poor me syndrome and even came to see that it was a good life and learning to appreciate what I had.
As often is the case, my friends would call me up, “hey Al,” they called me Al (like Al Gore) in those days, “we are going to so and so’s house, wanna go?” I was glad to be invited despite having a ten-speed bike. We gathered at a prearranged meeting place. Arriving with their spiffy looking mopeds resembling heaven’s angels off we’d go. Before hitting the road, my friends would have to first start up their mopeds. I on the other hand got a head start with my bicycle. After a few minutes they would catch up and zoom past without slowing up. The onus was on me to stay close. I quickly learned the best way was to jump in behind one of the mopeds and use the draft to maintain speed. Often my friends would gun the moped to try and drop me, but the faster they went the easier it was for me to lock in my position. They were quite impressed.
As I reflect on this period of my life I realized just like the other Al that I was combating global warming long before it was fashionable. This must have been just around the time Al Gore started to make global warming his life’s purpose and long before “Inconvenient Truth.” Everywhere I went I rode my bike. Not only was I an unsuspecting pioneer, but this was also training for when I would eventually become a semi-professional bike racer a decade later. Unbeknownst at the time, the experience would also influence my thinking and choices later in life.
I lived in NYC for eight years without a car and now Tokyo for nearly fourteen. That’s a combined total of twenty plus years of not having to participate in the slow degradation of our planet and paying for gas, maintenance, car loans and insurance. Of course I cannot put a number on the effects automobiles have on the planet over time, I’ll leave that to the scientists, but I can on the tangible costs. If I bought a car every five years at the cost of $15,000 – conservative total price = $60,000. Monthly maintenance costs including oil changes and tune-ups = $40,000. Gas based on daily use – $20.00 per week for another conservative cost = $50,000. Insurance – $400/month is equal to nearly $100,000 provided I was accident free. The grand underestimated total of not owning a car for 20+ years, drum roll…at least $250,000 without taking into consideration inflation. Needless to say, what a racket! Before continuing, I do want to state for the record that each time I return to the US once a year for summer vacation I rent a car for a week or two at a time, but that is the extent of my participation.
Now many will say, “but you do other things that contribute to climate change.” This “do things to perfection” argument is just a way of justifying choices one makes and in my opinion does not hold up – we have a choice. Riding my bike, not owning a car, walking, taking the train, air drying my clothes, using pocket size hand towels instead of paper towels to dry my hands, buying locally, the list goes on and on. I am not perfect and I am always tweaking my life in order to minimize my footprint.
Let me ask you, what are you doing not to permanently destroy our future?