Happy “Bike to Work Day!” As many people did this morning, I used my bike pedal to get to work instead of my gas pedal. My reason was primarily environmental: why contribute to climate change when I can make the trip emissions free and enjoy some fresh air to boot? It’s a tiny thing in the fight against climate change, but I can’t help think that it’s still worthwhile.
These types of actions have been dubbed ‘light green,’ typically by people who think that the effort of encouraging people to bike to work on one day of the year would be better put to use on ‘deep green’ actions they see as more impactful. But I kind of love the ‘light green’ stuff. While we certainty need more effort put into legislative pushes, carbon limits, and pollution controls, there are many reasons that the ‘light green’ stuff shouldn’t be dismissed. Here’s five:
1. It’s something
Sure, the amount of greenhouse gas that I averted by biking to work today will probably be undone as soon as the nearest cow lets one rip, but it’s still something. When you multiply those somethings by the (hopefully) millions of people that chose their bike today, the results start to look meaningful. When you take all the of ‘light green’ actions that everyone takes throughout the year, it starts to add up to something real. Meatless Monday, reusable coffee mugs, hybrid car purchases; individually unimpressive but collectively meaningful.
2. It’s an entry point
If you are the type of person that considers the carbon impacts of all of your actions, who will go far out of your way to minimize your environmental footprint, and who spends the weekends campaigning for a green overhaul of our society, great. But you are in the minority. While those actions are undoubtedly more impactful than hopping on the bike one day a year, most people need that first step before they can scale the mountain. By organizing and promoting these ‘light green’ days on social media, it gives people who want to start considering the environment in their actions a simple place to begin. “You know how you like to ride your bike for fun and exercise after work? Have you considered making that your daily commute? Well, try it this Friday and see how you like it. It’s good for your health and the planet’s.”
3. It’s ownership giving
Once you get people that simple first step in the environmental door, you give them a way to say “I did that.” “I contributed.” Once they feel that taking ownership of their personal environmental impact is something they can do, they can start to consider it in other places. “It wasn’t so hard to ride to work, so perhaps I can start carrying a reusable coffee mug with me. And what about this light that gets left on overnight without a good reason? I can flip that off on the way out the office door.” Especially when you give people a platform like social media to be proud of their little steps, they begin to feel that their actions are amounting to larger ones. These people may start small, but some of them will be leading activists in a few years demanding that politicians move our world toward zero emissions.
4. It’s movement building
For every person that posts a picture of themselves biking to work on Twitter today, one potential ally is added for the environmental movement. When that pride is expressed, both online and off, an opportunity to form connections and share resources comes up. When someone posts today that they took their first step, we can be there to reach out and say “Hey! There’s a meeting of cyclists this evening and we are going to encourage the city council to make our town more bike accessible.” Humans are group creatures. If a simple bike commute can lead to social connections, then more and more people can be brought into the fold of the environmental movement.
5. It’s world changing
In the words of high school cheerleaders everywhere, “put it all together and what to do you have?” A vastly improved world, that’s what. If tens of millions take one step today, the world will change a little. If a million take another step tomorrow, the world will change more. And, day by day, if those who started small, with just something, continue to engage with the environmental movement, the arc of history will bend toward sustainability. Because the story of the environmental movement is the story of saving ourselves. If we change the way we see the world, we can ensure that people will be able to see it the same way in two hundred years.
So, I hope you rode your bike today. I hope millions did. This should not be the only thing we do all year, but it’s an invitation to those who have not yet engaged. If only 1000 take up the green mantle who wouldn’t have yesterday, I know that we will still be here riding for centuries to come.