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Study: Ditching the car for one trip a day makes a big dent in emissions

Friday, February 19th 2021, 8:00 pm - Active transport was confirmed to be an effective way to curb personal emissions from transportation.

Worried about your own contribution to climate change, but not ready to make the full-on jump to cycle culture? Even starting small has a big impact, according to a new study.

Researchers at Oxford University say switching to the bicycle (or ebike, or even your own two feet) even just one day a week can cut out as much a quarter of your personal emissions from transport, amounting to half a tonne over a year.

That doesn’t sound like much, but when we’re on a scale of millions of people, that’s enough to make a noticeable dent in individual emissions, according to lead researcher Dr. Christian Brand of Oxford’s Transport Studies Unit.

“If just 10 per cent of the population were to change travel behaviour, the emissions savings would be around 4 per cent of lifecycle CO2 emissions from all car travel,” Brand said in a release from the university. “Our findings suggest that, even if not all car trips could be substituted by bicycle trips, the potential for decreasing emissions is huge.”

The study found the biggest emissions savings from shifting to active travel was for business trips, followed by social and leisure excursions, and then commuting to work. That’s based on data collected from monitoring 1,849 people in seven European cities.

The study also included some participants who already cycled regularly. Their transportation emissions were found to be 84 per cent less than non-cyclists.

Flo Karr Unsplash cycling The Oxford study found a marked decline in personal emissions from transport when ditching the car for even one day a week. Image: Flo Karr/Unsplash

The researchers say getting travellers to cut down on driving would require boosting spending on cyclist and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, which would have benefits beyond simply bringing down emissions.

“Investing in and promoting active travel whilst ‘demoting’ private car ownership and use should be a cornerstone of strategies to meet ‘net zero’ carbon targets, particularly in urban areas, while also reducing inequalities and improving public health and quality of urban life in a post-COVID-19 world,” the researchers write.

Brand acknowledges that many climate change-concerned people respond to the crisis with positive action, such as planting more trees, but says those efforts, while well-meaning, aren’t effective enough on their own to bring emissions down without also cutting down on activities that actually contribute to those emissions.

“Doing more of a good thing combined with doing less of a bad thing – and doing it now is much more compliant with a ‘net zero’ pathway and preserving our ‘perfect planet’s’ and our own futures,” Brand says.

The Oxford findings were published in the journal Global Environmental Change.

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