The Hidden Giant #2: Transportation

Published on July 8th, 2008 | by

July 8th, 2008 by

Well, this may not be a hidden issue, but I think it is a highly under represented issue. Transportation is the leading contiributor to greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the country, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and is also the fastest growing contributor, at a time when we are supposed to be making a U-turn in our GHG emissions.

When we talk about addressing global climate change, the talk is often about greening our homes, changing our source of energy, and cleaning up industry.

In my previous post, I briefly discussed the critical issue of food in addressing this problem.

In this post, I am bringing to attention the great relevance of transportation and our transportation patterns and habits in addressing this critical concern for our planet and our future generations.

Automobile travel is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Department of Energy reported that the transportation sector accounts for approximately 33% of GHG emissions in the United States. Approximately 61% of these emissions are from automobiles and light duty trucks. The Department of Energy’s findings put the transportation sector as the largest contributor to GHGs in the country. Unfortunately, it is also the fastest growing contributor according to the DOE’s findings.

Efforts to develop more environmentally benign versions of the automobile are in progress, but viable and effective solutions are yet to materialize. A more immediate and probably more effective solution to these problems is to get people to switch from using the automobile to using more environmentally friendly modes of transportation, such as the bicycle. Traveling via bicycle, arguably the most environmentally friendly mode of travel, does not emit any greenhouse gases or any critical air pollutants. The United States Congress and others (Exploratorium; Lowe; Schinnerer; Whitt & Wilson; Wikipedia) consider bicycling to be the most efficient transportation mode. As one source explained it, on one slice of pizza a person could travel 10 miles by bike, 3.5 miles by foot, and 100 feet in an automobile. Nonetheless, transit and other non-motorized forms of travel are great alternatives as well. These all need to be pursued.

We need to bring this issue to the forefront of our discussions about solutions to global climate change and we need to start living the solutions! It is past the time for excuses, it is time for action. It is time for change to the way we live, the patterns of our daily lives and our environments. And if we don’t make the change, our environment is bound to force the change on us.

Let us lead the way.

Let us make that step, make that U-turn on bicycle, or on foot, or even riding on transit!

Let us be leaders and feel good about it.

Global climate change is the issue of concern facing our world today. The general consensus by climate experts is that we need to aim for a global temperature increase of no more than 2 to 3 degrees Celsius by 2050. (Even at this level, very serious environmental changes and catastrophes are predicted to occur.) To achieve this goal, we in the United States need to reduce GHG emissions to 60-80% below the 1990 level by 2050. We need to make changes now, and getting out of the car is one of them!

*For more on the benefits of bicycling, take a look at this post about bicycling in the city and EcoWordly’s whole series on bicycling and read the second article in this newsletter.


Exploratorium. (1997). Human Power. Retrieved on February 11, 2007 from:

Lowe, M. (1988). Pedaling Into the Future: Bicycles are the transportation alternative that can relieve the congestion and pollution brought on by automobiles. World Watch, 1: 10-16.

Schinnerer, J. (1997). The Most Efficient Engine. Retrieved on February 11, 2007 from:

U.S. Congress. (1978). National Energy Conservation Policy Act of 1978. PL 95-619. S. 682.

U.S. Department of the Environment(DOE)/Energy Information Administration’s(EIA) Office of Integrated Analysis and Forecasting—0573. (2006). Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States, 2005. United States Department of the Environment.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2006). Transportation and Air Quality. Retrieved on October 28, 2006 from:

Wikipedia. (2007). Bicycle. Retrieved on February 11, 2007 from:

Whitt, F. and D. Wilson. (1982). Bicycling Science. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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