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Ride a Bike, Ruin the Environment

Things that on the surface appear to be environmentally sound may not be after thorough analysis. The so-called life cycle costs of an intervention may turn a winner into a loser. A debate currently rages over whether adding ethanol to gas actually saves energy.

Now comes the disturbing news that bicycle riding may be an environmental loser. According to a paper authored by professor Karl T. Ulrich of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, there is an immediate energy savings by bicycle riding, since a cyclist is between six and nine times more energy efficient than a single occupant automobile. But Ulrich calculates that cyclists increase their longevity by 10.6 days for every year of cycling. And by living longer, they also stand to consume more energy over their lifetimes. Therefore, cyclists harm the environment more than they help it.

Ulrich acknowledges the paradoxical nature of his argument. "As a society, we value longevity more than long-term environmental impact," he writes. "If we did not, we might provide incentives for risky behaviors such as smoking, drug abuse and driving without seat belts."

That might be an enticing idea for the beleaguered tobacco industry. "Smoke Marlboros and Save the Environment."