Is biking with my kids worth the risk?

(Shannon Johnson / BikePortland)

“Am I doing the right thing? Am I taking a frivolous risk and putting my children in harm’s way?”

It’s been a challenging few weeks. I have two newly independent riders: my hesitant nine-year-old daughter and my exceptionally eager six-year-old son. As we have memorialized the loss of a 12-year-old boy in our community who was fatally struck while riding his bicycle, the risks of cycling have weighed heavily on me. And my children can tell you that weight has burdened our rides. 

I have over-coached my kids, yelled out so many commands that everyone is left confused and frustrated, then had us pull over every two blocks to give a lecture on the safety risks we face and to correct riding mistakes. I’ve cried and worried, and I am still having nightmares about one of my kids not returning from a bike ride. 

So, why are we still riding? 

I ask myself that. I wrestle with it. Am I doing the right thing? Am I taking a frivolous risk and putting my children in harm’s way? What if the worst happens, what if… I can barely handle the thought. 

Then I approach it from the other direction: What would our lives be like if we stopped biking? And what kind of life, what kind of decision-making, would we use to lead our family? How are we going to make any decision in the face of risks?

To the first: I firmly believe that biking and walking more (and driving less) is a better way to live. It’s better for our mental and physical health, our engagement with our community, for our environment and society. Biking brings our family great joy, and it has helped me to avoid depression – bringing me great happiness instead, a happiness shared by my children. 

I am also a strong proponent of child independence: Currently my oldest son bikes himself to swim practice, youth symphony rehearsals, the library, and his favorite board game store. This is the lifestyle my husband and I dreamed of, and worked hard to provide for our children. We chose a house in an urban area where we could walk/bike to multiple places, and have access to public transit, specifically with the idea that we wanted to provide access to activities, friendships, culture and adventure for our kids — without them needing us to drive them in a car. 

Biking isn’t just a recreational activity that we could trade for something else. It’s an important piece of a lifestyle we’ve cultivated and it’s a manifestation of our values and beliefs. Giving it up would be giving up something of ourselves, of who we are, of what we believe and value and how we put those beliefs into practice.

But that question gnaws at me: Is it “worth the risk”?

The truth is, we face all sorts of risks. And death by car is a very real one. I won’t downplay it. But it’s a real risk when riding in a car too – giving up bike riding doesn’t eliminate that risk. And the leading cause of death for children has recently been due to gun violence or “firearm related injuries.” What am I doing to avoid that risk? How does one, individually, prevent the risk of getting shot? I don’t even know how to go about preventing that. Drowning is a risk too, and yet we still go to the coast and splash in the waves. Do I worry about that? Yep. But am I willing to let my fear of drowning prevent us from enjoying time in the water? Nope. 

Our lives are full of risks. I can’t prevent something terrible from happening to myself or my children, no matter what transportation decision or other life choices we make. As for how we handle risk as a family; I want to empower my children to pursue their dreams, and even to encourage them to take worthy risks and make sacrifices. I want them to learn to bravely pursue what they believe is right, and to work for what is right, to sacrifice for it, and even to take risks in pursuit of it – especially when those risks are for the common good, or the good of people beyond themselves.

Ultimately, I keep biking because I believe it’s the right way for us to live. And even though I am afraid, I am more unwilling to let fear dictate how we live. So when I get all the kids out on bikes, or when I wave my son off to bike himself to swim practice, I hold on to this: this is the right way for us to live. Sometimes living what we believe means taking risks, and it takes courage. But biking is good. And it’s right. And so, our family continues to bike.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of  five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via shannon4bikeportland@gmail.com

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Lois Leveen
Lois Leveen
22 days ago

I know that heart disease and other illnesses preventable through exercise are a tremendous risk to me — and I also know that the messages we get culturally teach us to associate being inside a hunk of metal going at enormous speed as “safer” than moving through our communities in ways that allow more exercise, more engaging with humans/nature, less environmental harm, etc. It’s true that as a bicyclist or a pedestrian, I often feel my safety is being endangered by drivers. But this weekend, I used my car on both Saturday and Sunday to get to destinations that were too far for me to reach by bike, It was just enough driving to remind me that what I need to do is keep biking, and try to persuade others to bike and walk and take public transit, rather than going with the broken-flow of driving. You are giving your kids something great, but you are doing it in a culture that will counter and undermine the value of what you’re giving. But as we all know, when the hill is steep, we gotta peddle harder!

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
22 days ago

Might not there be a more useful question: When your kids inevitably leave the family nest, will they be ready to deal with traffic safely? Wouldn’t you rather they leave by bike than by car?

Rob Galanakis
Rob Galanakis
22 days ago

Thank you for writing this! So well said and something I think all parents trying to do similar things struggle with.

Matt S.
Matt S.
21 days ago

I’m sorry, but I have to disagree, the risk is not worth it. You can teach a healthy life style by walking in the neighborhood, walking to the store. Going to the track and running while your children ride their bikes. Drive to a trailhead and hike/bike, swim in a lake with a life jacket, ride during Sunday parkways.
I’m glad you ride with your family, but if you’re worried about auto traffic, I suggest you listen to your instinct, whatever that means. I don’t want to be a naysayer, but this is an open forum and safety is a big subject for me considering I work in construction. Portland is fundamentally different than 15 years ago and I don’t think we’re a mega bike city like we used to be.

John V
John V
21 days ago
Reply to  Matt S.

I’m sorry, but what risk? When you say “the risk”, you should mention numbers. “The risk” is worth it not only because of idealistic reasons and creating change by being the change, but also because the risk is so small it just isn’t worth the loss of cycling. People have an understandable but irrational fear of certain small risks at the expense of attention to real risks. E.g. (as Lois mentioned) heart disease and car crashes. Those are real risks. Dying on a bicycle, while possible (and even with an uptick), is still very rare.
And besides, life isn’t worth living if you just want to do the safest possible thing that will maximize your length of life.

Matt S.
Matt S.
20 days ago
Reply to  John V

I know two people who were killed while riding a bicycle. Both were road enthusiasts. I’ve been hit by a car, it was extremely minor. I had a bicyclist run into the back of my car, he split his lip open and bent his forks. I ran into the back of a small pickup downtown, broke his rear canopy window, bent my brake lever and cut my hand. I was driving in an Albany, Oregon neighborhood years ago and a paper boy ran into my car and went over the hood, he was okay but it shook me up. My wife almost hit a bicyclist coming off a sidewalk (he came out from a blind spot). I know someone who was hit and dragged under a semi, he will never been the same. I wrecked on my mountain bike on a pump track in Albany, Oregon and dislocated my shoulder, I did it again a year later on a road bike when I went down on a turn, I had to have surgery. I was also part of a paceline accident years ago on highway 30, one guy got pretty messed up. My son went down on the pump track at Gateway Green and split his lip, luckily he was wearing a helmet. My buddy hit a tree on his mountain bike in Fall City and broke his collar bone and had to have surgery. His wife on a separate incident flipped a Bob trailer with their 4 year old, he was belted in and okay, but talk about traumatizing. You say accidents are rare, but I’m connected to several — some fatal, some involving children.

John V
John V
20 days ago
Reply to  Matt S.

I skinned me knees countless times as a kid. I broke my arm on a BMX. I cut my hand bad whittling a spoon. I sprained my ankle so bad I couldn’t walk for a week playing outside. A friend of mine was in a car crash he barely survived and has permanent damage.

What you’re describing is a mishmash of random injuries that people get simply being alive. It’s part of being human. You do “things” every day, know hundreds of people, hear stories about thousands who are indirectly connected. It would be bizarre if you never heard anecdotes about people getting hurt. You can choose to react irrationally to it and live in fear. It’s normal to feel afraid.

But look at the numbers. Check out that link Watts shared in this comment section. Riding a bike is extremely safe. Safer than many other things I also do and have done throughout my life. And unlike this other things, it’s also extremely good for me and everyone else. It also makes me happy. Given the knowledge of how safe it is, it is not a reasonable reaction to live in fear and not do it, especially because you’re still going to spend your life doing other things that also can get you hurt or killed. You can live in terror, stay inside, have your kids never play or run. You’ll cause more harm than good and never have lived a life.

Matt S.
Matt S.
20 days ago
Reply to  John V

I like how we draw comparisons of our children’s safety on the road around crazy assholes driving 3000 lb weapons as if it’s the same as them running down the side walk, “oooh, you’re worried about your child’s brains being squashed on the road by a Ford F350, but you let them walk on the sidewalk! There’s risks everywhere!” Come on, they’re not the same and we know it. Also, having children is very different than not having children. I have 25,000+ bike commuter miles under my belt in this city and didn’t think twice until I had kids.

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
21 days ago
Reply to  Matt S.

“Drive to a trailhead”
40,000 people killed by cars in The US every year, the great majority of them IN CARS. Getting behind the wheel is one of the biggest risks people can take, and yet they call out cyclists?

Watts
Watts
21 days ago
Reply to  Michael Mann

Getting behind the wheel is one of the biggest risks people can take.

Hardly.

https://chessintheair.com/the-risk-of-dying-doing-what-we-love/

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Watts

I enjoyed the article you linked to. Anecdotally, but backed up by his data, scuba divers are the ones always having to be rescued by the life guards.

I spent high school hanging out with my boyfriend and his parents (and their middle-aged friends) at La Jolla cove. We were a ragtag bunch, but that > 40 crowd would regularly swim a couple miles across the open ocean to Scripps pier — and that’s some deep water. What used to make all of us laugh is when the scuba divers would show up. Tons of equipment, lots of set-up time, big production. 45 minutes in, and a life guard would inevitably have to go out to rescue them because they were in trouble too close to the rocks. Damn life was good in 1976.

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
21 days ago
Reply to  Watts

You’re talking statistical averages in terms of danger. I’m talking about actual numbers of dead people who were doing common activities most people participate in that can get you killed. Getting killed by a driver is in the top 3 “preventable injuries” category (the other 2 are falls and poisoning), and “preventible injuries” are the leading cause of death in people in the prime of life.
And it would be awesome if people treated getting behind the wheel as seriously as they take scuba diving or paragliding – activities that, unlike driving, rarely kill or maim others.

Watts
Watts
21 days ago
Reply to  Michael Mann

Driving is just not that risky; it only kills as many people as it does because we do it so much (giving smaller risks a chance to add up to a larger cumulative risk).

Likewise, if you showered 8x daily, your risk of an injurious fall would go up dramatically compared to a more rational shower schedule. That doesn’t make showering more (or less) dangerous.

Besides driving less, there are thing that you, as an individual, can do to reduce your risk below average (defensive driving, for example). There are also things you, as a pedestrian, can do to reduce your risk of being harmed by others while they are driving.

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
20 days ago
Reply to  Watts

Agreed.
Reduce driving = reduce carnage.
Sort of off topic from original article, but I’m always a bit incredulous that as a society we’re relatively complacent about a yearly death toll on our roads that’s 10x the number of Americans killed by terrorist on 9/11. And look at the billions of dollars that were invested and the lifestyle changes we’ve all experienced to prevent that from happening again.
It’s just not a priority.

Watts
Watts
20 days ago
Reply to  Michael Mann

I’m always a bit incredulous that as a society we’re relatively complacent about a yearly death toll on our roads that’s 10x the number of Americans killed by terrorist on 9/11.

It makes perfect sense to me. We get a lot more utility out of driving than we did by the attacks on 9/11 is just one of many reasons.

In many cases, the cost of making driving safer exceeds the benefits for many people. It may not be mathematically rational, but I think it makes sense given the way the human mind works.

John V
John V
20 days ago
Reply to  Watts

Looks like I was right to be afraid of mountain biking! Even though I’ve dabbled in it.

That’s good perspective. And confirms cycling is extremely safe.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
20 days ago
Reply to  Watts

https://chessintheair.com/the-risk-of-dying-doing-what-we-love/:

[Cycling is] 8x dangerous as commercial aviation

Considering that a large percentage of bicycle riding in the USA is not for transportation and involves higher-risk riding in higher-risk areas (e.g. road training/racing/cycling and mountain biking), these numbers almost certainly exaggerate the risk of riding for utilitarian transportation on a designated bike route.

I suspect that cycling is the safest way to get from point A to B in Portland (and in many urban areas).

Chris I
Chris I
20 days ago

Even if cycling is twice as dangerous as driving for a given trip, I’ll take those odds. The physical and mental health benefits are worth it.

blumdrew
20 days ago
Reply to  Matt S.

Life is filled with risks, and biking to get around a city just isn’t that risky, especially relative to cycling as a sport/hobby. All of my close calls on a bike have come from situations I got myself into as a result of either trying to ride faster than the context really allowed (plowing into a car on NE Couch – braked too late), or from sliding out around corners (usually on gravel lol). If I’m riding to the grocery store I make very different choices, and at least in my neck of the woods in Portland it’s plenty safe

R
R
21 days ago

It’s interesting contemplating risk tolerance and route planning when I tow my toddler in his trailer.

Sadly one still has to own a car and be strategic about their auto insurance (specifically un-insured/under-insured motorist and personal injury protection [PIP]) coverage to mitigate the financial implications of an incident.

9watts
9watts
21 days ago
Reply to  R

Sadly one still has to own a car”

One does?

surly ogre
surly ogre
21 days ago

From 2012: Fear of traffic is one of the top reasons people don’t bike. But, statistically, biking is safer than driving, and wearing a helmet makes it even more so.
https://www.saferoutespartnership.org/sites/default/files/pdf/KWS-Sunset-Magazine-Article-June-2012.pdf
I’m guessing this is still largely true given that not much has changed over the last 12 years…

When I see the vision zero stats of Portland, I see a lot more people and kids getting killed in car-car crashes rather car-bike crashes…
same thing when I look at: https://bikeportland.org/fatality-tracker
Perception can have quite an influence, but statistics can tell a more accurate story.

Also, page one of the 2012 AASHTO Guide for the Design of Bicycle Facilities states a design imperative: “All roads, streets, and highways, except those where bicyclists are legally prohibited, should be designed and constructed under the assumption that they will be used by bicyclists.https://nacto.org/references/aashto-guide-for-the-development-of-bicycle-facilities-2012/

9watts
9watts
21 days ago

Shannon,
Im glad you answered your own question.
If you/we organize our lives around risks-as-typically-presented-in-our-media-landscape we might never do anything, might never leave the house, shower without a helmet, climb stairs, eat fish. Luckily most(?) of us worry a lot less about all those statistically real risks because, well, we need to get on with life, and we would miss out on a lot of interesting opportunities if we didn’t.

Matt S.
Matt S.
20 days ago
Reply to  9watts

It’s about other folk’s behavior that scares me, not how I or my family ride.

9watts
9watts
20 days ago
Reply to  Matt S.

Sure, but if you take this stance seriously you can’t really leave the house or even the couch. Driving anywhere there is a nonzero chance someone in the oncoming lane will be distracted and drift into your lane…..
…and even staying in your house a tree could fall on it, or someone could drive into your house, potentially killing everyone inside. Stray bullets; stray fish bones; stray stairs….

Kristin
Kristin
21 days ago

We specifically chose a daycare that was on our bike commute routes to allow us to continue daily biking as parents. Now, with a second grader, biking is part of our lives. I’ve had plenty of people question our choices but I believe that the risks of inactivity are greater than the risks of cycling for our family.

Matt S.
Matt S.
20 days ago
Reply to  Kristin

I suppose increased safety is linked to where you live and what you can afford.

Granpa
Granpa
21 days ago

Years age I rebuilt an old Raleigh 10 speed bike for my son. He is exceptionally bright (and now 40 years old) When he was a sophomore at Cleveland High he was cycling on residential streets in Sellwood to school when daydreaming as young teenagers do, he blew a stop sign and T-boned a Honda Civic, was flung over the car to land on his ass on the other side of the car. He, thankfully was not injured. I had coached him on safety but his, then, undeveloped brain was doing what teen brains do. Now, he is commuting to work by bicycle and that event became a life lesson. Your concern about your kid’s safety is a valid concern. As your aspiration to have them embrace cycling is also worthwhile. I have no guidance for you, just telling you a thing that happened.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
20 days ago
Reply to  Granpa

he was cycling on residential streets in Sellwood to school when daydreaming as young teenagers do, he blew a stop sign and T-boned a Honda Civic

If we taught young people how to safely “blow” stop signs, I suspect that the risk of this kind of collision would be reduced.

Instead many young people are exposed to “certified bicycling instructor”-type education that assumes a Dudley Do-right fantasy of how people ride bikes (that does not reflect real world conditions and is heavily influenced by “effective cycling” propaganda).

Granpa
Granpa
20 days ago

Well just bless your heart

Watts
Watts
21 days ago

Is it worth it? Absolutely. Changing your children’s relationship to transportation will likely have lifetime impacts, probably beneficial.

Nothing is without risk, but you are (I presume) a careful parent who will do everything reasonable to limit whatever risks there are.

If something bad does happen, you’ll blame yourself, knowing there was a different way, no matter what you do.

Attentive bike riding is pretty safe, despite what you read here.

PS
PS
21 days ago

And the leading cause of death for children has recently been due to gun violence or “firearm related injuries.”

If you don’t consider 19 year old people children and exclude suicides, its not even close.

The problem with looking at deaths in young people in our wealthy, developed society is that statistically, kids don’t die, so anytime they do, it places a perception of risk on something that just isn’t that much risk. We don’t have average ages of 78/81 with a bunch of kids getting killed on their bikes, with guns or in cars.

Eric
Eric
20 days ago

These stats helped me. They estimated that biking is about twice as dangerous as driving, but it is far safer than many athletic activities. Scroll to the bottom to see the chart: https://chessintheair.com/the-risk-of-dying-doing-what-we-love/
The methodology isn’t perfect, but it gives you a good ballpark.

resopmok
resopmok
20 days ago

IMO the risk of teaching kids that car culture has no end is much greater. Even in electric form, cars are a frivolous waste of energy that we should focus on conserving if we stand a chance of stopping a disastrous climate change. Showing them there is a viable alternative to the current reality is a needed we can’t ignore teaching.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
20 days ago
Reply to  resopmok

Even in electric form, cars are a frivolous waste of energy

Given that Q1 EV sales sales decreased 7.3 percent versus Q1 2023, it seems that many ‘murricans agree with you.

I fully expect enthusiasts with “this bike fights climate change” signs on their bike to celebrate emerging barriers to transportation electrification,

(PS: You guys will really love the Trump administrations EV policies!)

resopmok
resopmok
19 days ago

That Americans are still buying cars in large quantity, electric or not, shows me that most Americans disagree with me that they are a frivolous waste of energy. Electrification is no panacea, even if it does manage to avoid some of the worst greenhouse gas emissions.

9watts
9watts
19 days ago
Reply to  resopmok

most Americans disagree with me”

I believe that it is actually less that, than it is a mind game (many) people are playing. To go there, to concede that we are screwed, to draw the inescapable conclusions from these realizations is too scary, so instead they choose not to go there, to pretend that everything is fine, will be fine; and to prove that to themselves and to each other they keep buying big honkin’ autos.
Like George W Bush in September 2001 told us all to go shopping, and we did. Making October 2001 the month with the highest ever car sales to date.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
19 days ago
Reply to  resopmok

Electrification is no panacea, even if it does manage to avoid some of the worst greenhouse gas emissions.

How to say you don’t care about the global south without saying you don’t care about the global south.

9watts
9watts
19 days ago

It seems to me you like pissing in people’s cornflakes.
What do you care about? How does your care for the Southern Hemisphere help us make transportation policy?
Do you see electrification as a panacea?

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
19 days ago
Reply to  9watts

Do you see electrification as a panacea?

Does the IPCC see electrification as a panacea????
Are earth scientists in bed with fossil fuel corporations???
I’m just trying to start a conversation.

9watts
9watts
19 days ago

I’m just trying to start a conversation”
Yeah I can tell. You remind me of MoTrG, always ready to launch one-liners, gotchas, potshots, but not inclined to take a stand, engage in any sort of conversation.

Watts
Watts
19 days ago
Reply to  9watts

Electrification is NOT a panacea. It is, however, absolutely essential.

9watts
9watts
19 days ago
Reply to  Watts

absolutely essential”

absolutely essential for what?

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
19 days ago
Reply to  9watts

essential for what

Transportation decarbonization in a world with billions of human beings.

The thing is, 9watts, that it is extremely unlikely that decarbonization could possibly happen the way I would prefer it to happen (hyper-ascetic minimalism) or the way some degrowthers want it to happen (economic degrowth, population reduction, crunchy localism). If one genuinely cares about the staggering amounts of human suffering that are being baked into our ecosystem, then one should be open to less-than-perfect mitigation pathways that are actually possible now relative to waiting another 10, 20, 30 years for people to see the [insert ideology] light.

If we manage to limit global heating to 2.3 C (or even 2 C) it will almost certainly occur via a hodgepodge of less than perfect (and even some dirty) approaches.

Watts
Watts
19 days ago

It’s probably worth adding that electrifying transportation does not foreclose hyper-ascetic minimalism or crunch localism. We can pursue multiple strategies simultaneously.

Electrification can provide a backstop should it turn out that convincing everyone to just not drive isn’t effective.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
19 days ago
Reply to  Watts

Electrification can provide a backstop should it turn out that convincing everyone to just not drive isn’t effective.

Every thousand megatons of CO2e we don’t emit is is unbelievably important. Many who claim to care about the climate crisis are still experiencing denial because they don’t viscerally feel how much suffering is embodied in each +0.1 C.

9watts
9watts
19 days ago
Reply to  Watts

electrifying transportation does not foreclose hyper-ascetic minimalism or crunch localism.”

Of course it does. We (our capitalist opinion makers) have spent the last thirty years promoting feel good, you-can-have-your-energy-efficiency-cake-and-eat-it-too nostrums. These promises specifically undermined, sidelined the conservation ethic, made it appear ridiculous. Amory Lovins pointed this out, before he forgot about it and jumped on various energy efficiency bandwagons.
Electrification is the next round, that dovetails seamlessly with the energy efficiency promise.

resopmok
resopmok
17 days ago

Because greenhouse gas emissions are not the only way human activity is affecting a rise in global temperature. The more energy we use, which is not already present on the surface of planet (e.g., sunlight, fossil fuels), the more of it stays there – we are not beyond physics and the conservation of energy – and the planet has a limit of how much it can radiate into space from the night side. For millions of years we’ve had plants to lock sunlight energy away into carbon bonds which allows the planet to stay cool enough to continue supporting life as we know it.
This part of the equation gets ignored because greenhouse gasses are low hanging fruit, but it’s why electrification is no panacea, and neither is advancements in fusion power. Wind, wave, and hydro power are the only truly “renewable” energy sources we have, because they depend on energy which is already a part of our surface dwelling system.
We are so far behind the curve of culturally understanding what our actions are doing to the planet’s environment, I honestly don’t have much faith we will be able to preserve the surface to remain habitable for human life. We can try, but (a lot) more people are going to have to wake up and start being reasonable about what constitutes reasonable use of energy and what is frivolous.

9watts
9watts
17 days ago
Reply to  resopmok

This!

Watts
Watts
17 days ago
Reply to  resopmok

Not this!

The earth is not heating up because of too much waste heat from burning fossil fuels; it’s heating up because we’re changing the atmosphere to trap too much of what arrives here from the sun.

Regardless of the underlying physics, if we electrify transportation, and power it from renewable sources, then it will no longer be adding to the problem.

We will need to do plenty of other things as well, but moving to electric transportation is not optional.

9watts
9watts
17 days ago
Reply to  Watts

“if we electrify transportation, and power it from renewable sources, then it will no longer be adding to the problem.”

people say this.

people want to believe this.

But the fact is it isn’t so simple. Not only that, it won’t work; is physically, materially, energetically impossible. To make this happen we need materials, energy, infrastructure, and time, and we don’t have nearly enough of any of those. Even if we somehow accomplished this—and folks have modeled what it would take—the CO2 emissions alone for the massive infrastructure buildout would swamp the current CO2 emissions.

Watts
Watts
17 days ago
Reply to  9watts

it won’t work

You keep saying this, in various forms, and you’re right, and everyone here agrees you’re right; there’s no need to keep repeating it. It won’t work on its own. Electrifying transportation is one step among many that are needed to get a handle on climate change.

Or are you actually arguing that we can slow/stop climate change without electrifying transportation? In that case, you’re dead wrong (or at least in disagreement with the consensus scientific view).

9watts
9watts
17 days ago
Reply to  Watts

This isn’t about switching our transportation over to requiring electricity not being enough – we can’t even accomplish that much. The chief constraints are biophysical (requisite material buildout would overwhelm our planet not to mention our economies), and overshoot (the requisite resources are either already used up, hard to get to, or would actually make things worth. Cf net energy.

Supply side solutions, which are always fun to dangle in front of Middle Class audiences, are self-defeating, just like widening roads to reduce traffic is.

The only thing I have any confidence in actually achieving the goal are demand side solutions – using less.

I know—since we’ve discussed this many times before—that you don’t think we will be persuaded to go for those. And you may be right.

…but the supply side stuff is physically impossible while the demand side stuff is (perceived to be) no fun.

When things get tough enough, I know on which one my money will be.

Watts
Watts
16 days ago
Reply to  9watts

The only thing I have any confidence in actually achieving the goal are demand side solutions – using less.

Yes, we need to use less, something no one disputes, and electrification will help with that goal. The only point we disagree on is whether we can make a meaningful change in our climate trajectory without electrifying transportation.

The collective epiphany you long for, leading the world to turn its back on modernity, is not coming, and I don’t think you would like it if it did.

Fortunately, the world will continue to move forward without input from either of us, so I’ll continue to do what I can, and I hope you will too, but neither of us will have much influence on our general direction.

You say that electrification is biophysically impossible (an opinion I have not heard elsewhere). Growing enough food to feed two billion people was once thought to be biophysically impossible too, yet here we are with 8 billion people and less hunger than at any point in human history.

I think you’re wrong, but one thing I’m sure of is that we’re going to find out.

PS If you think I’ve said anything that falls outside the mainstream scientific consensus, please point it out; my intent is to remain well within the bounds of what experts say is true and possible.

9watts
9watts
16 days ago
Reply to  Watts

“Growing enough food to feed two billion people was once thought to be biophysically impossible too, yet here we are with 8 billion people…”

Precisely. The only way that (brief) feat was possible was to mine ancient sunlight in the form of fossil fuels to supercharge our agricultural system (fertilizer, fuel, agricultural equipment, etc.) Which is hastening the day of reckoning. We could have fed a lower number of people indefinitely if we had stayed within the budget of current sunlight and not eroded, ruined, wasted billions of tons of topsoil that will never return through our intensive agricultural practices. As it is the current population much less whatever population we may yet experience cannot be fed for very long. Agricultural yield (quantitative) is a fragile ratio, not to mention the qualitative decline associated with our switch to industrial inputs and the scale of our agriculture system. And we haven’t even mentioned water…

”Yes, we need to use less […] and electrification will help with that goal”

The exact opposite is true. Electrification is the predictable outcome, the perfect means by which our capitalist mindset convinces itself that we need not change anything about our consumption levels; our technical experts just need to fiddle a little with the propulsion systems, and everything (our material prosperity, our ability to keep enjoying all the comforts, pleasures, rewards) can continue as before.

9watts
9watts
16 days ago
Reply to  Watts

mainstream scientific consensus”

this is a rhetorical fig leaf with which you obscure the carrying capacity limits of our planet, limits which we have understood ourselves to have been exceeding since at least 1972 (Limits to Growth).
No one has yet shown the conclusions from the Limits to Growth modeling were off; in fact they were pretty damn close to what we have experienced in the decades since.

Consensus? I don’t know. But in a world where Cassandras are never believed I’m not sure that holding out for industry-funded scientists to publicly admit what they know in their bones is a prudent strategy.

9watts
9watts
15 days ago
Reply to  9watts

In 2016, the UK government established an All-party parliamentary group on Limits to Growth. Its initial report concluded that “there is unsettling evidence that society is still following the ‘standard run’ of the original study – in which overshoot leads to an eventual collapse of production and living standards”.[33] The report also points out that some issues not fully addressed in the original 1972 report, such as climate change, present additional challenges for human development.
In 2020, an analysis by Gaya Herrington, then Director of Sustainability Services of KPMG US,[54] was published in Yale University‘s Journal of Industrial Ecology.[55] The study assessed whether, given key data known in 2020 about factors important for the “Limits to Growth” report, the original report’s conclusions are supported. In particular, the 2020 study examined updated quantitative information about ten factors, namely population, fertility rates, mortality rates, industrial output, food production, services, non-renewable resources, persistent pollution, human welfare, and ecological footprint, and concluded that the “Limits to Growth” prediction is essentially correct in that continued economic growth is unsustainable under a “business as usual” model.[55] The study found that current empirical data is broadly consistent with the 1972 projections and that if major changes to the consumption of resources are not undertaken, economic growth will peak and then rapidly decline by around 2040.[56][57]
In 2023, the parameters of the World3 model were recalibrated using empirical data up to 2022.[58] This improved parameter set results in a World3 simulation that shows the same overshoot and collapse mode in the coming decade as the original business-as-usual scenario of the Limits to Growth standard run. The main effect of the recalibration update is to raise the peaks of most variables and move them a few years into the future.

All from here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Limits_to_Growth

Watts
Watts
15 days ago
Reply to  9watts

I didn’t read the LTG report, but it doesn’t seem likely to support your contention that there is a plausible course for slowing or halting climate change without electrifying transportation.

If this is not your contention, then we can wrap up this conversation because I am not interested in debating larger issues of how much growth is environmentally sustainable.

9watts
9watts
15 days ago
Reply to  Watts

It seems pretty clear that you see electrifying transportation as both feasible and able to significantly reduce transportation related GHG (presumably measured cradle to cradle).
I don’t happen to think either are true as I have tried to suggest already.
If we both live another ten or fifteen years maybe we’ll get to find out.

Watts
Watts
14 days ago
Reply to  9watts

Yes to both. Electric vehicles are tremendously more efficient at converting energy into oomph than conventional vehicles are, so even using our current power mix and driving habits, they will help, cradle to cradle. Improve either, and the picture is even brighter. This can be trivially verified with a Google search.

As to whether we have the resources to build a new fleet of vehicles, I haven’t read anything recent that suggests we don’t. We build lots of new vehicles as it is, and the primary difference is lithium, of which there is no shortage (search for “Salton Sea lithium” for one huge, low impact source). Also, at least one car producer is making cars using Li-free battery chemistry, proving lithium is not even a necessary ingredient.

Again, this alone is not nearly enough. But electrification is a very important step.

9watts
9watts
13 days ago
Reply to  Watts

“As to whether we have the resources to build a new fleet of vehicles, I haven’t read anything recent that suggests we don’t.”

It isn’t, primarily, the new fleet of EVs that presents the challenges I’m talking about; it is the buildout of the necessary renewable infrastructure to power this new fleet: wind turbines, transmission lines. Of course to do what you are suggesting we need to do both and a dozen things more.
In both the case of the EV fleet and the electricity infrastructure we know how to build turbines & EVs, but that is not the same thing as scaling this up to the level we would need to accomplish what you are imagining, calling for.
I don’t think you grasp the staggering scale of what you are advocating.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
13 days ago
Reply to  9watts

I’m talking about; it is the buildout of the necessary renewable infrastructure…I don’t think you grasp the staggering scale of what you are advocating.

Hi renewable energy doubter,
let me introduce you to fossil fuel infrastructure where subsidies alone total 7 trillion dollars per annum!

9watts
9watts
12 days ago

I’m not following your train of thought.
Are you suggesting because we have plenty of money to waste on fossil fuel subsidies we could easily spend it on renewables instead?

Why don’t you spell that out a bit, elaborate, Who, what, when, where….

Watts
Watts
10 days ago
Reply to  9watts

It’s not what I’m “calling for”, scaling up renewable energy is both a national goal and an essential step to limiting the damage of climate change.

You claim it is impossible, but I am glad there are so many very smart people who disagree and are willing to invest their time and money to prove you wrong.

And even if you’re right, getting halfway there is a lot better than not taking the journey at all.

If somebody does figure out how to do the impossible, helping stave off one of humanity’s largest catastrophes, will you complain if they get rich along the way?

9watts
9watts
10 days ago
Reply to  Watts

I think I will always be fascinated how differently we see the world, you and I.

“scaling up renewable energy is both a national goal and an essential step to limiting the damage of climate change.”

You have been advocating that we ‘electrify transportation.’ If you now want to call that ‘scaling up renewables,’ OK. To me those are very different claims, objectives. I have inferred that you are imagining this to be brought about (by 2040? 2050?) So far you haven’t said.
Eradicating hunger, inequality, war, disease are also national goals, or at times have been. I submit we are hardly any closer to achieving any of those (arguably easier) goals than we are plausibly going to ever be with respect to electrifying transportation, and for reasons I have already explained.

“You claim it is impossible, but I am glad there are so many very smart people who disagree and are willing to invest their time and money to prove you wrong.”

People love to proclaim mellifluous goals, and people also love to spend money, lots of money even, for purposes of selling EVs or charging stations, or wind power. But that is not at issue here. I never said we/someone couldn’t make tons of money manufacturing and selling pieces of this Electrify Transportation pie. But making money selling slices of an Electric Transportation Pie is not the same thing as accomplishing the goal. This is what I mean about you not apparently grasping the scale of investment you are talking about.

“And even if you’re right, getting halfway there is a lot better than not taking the journey at all.”

This is the same argument we had years ago when the issue was e-scooters. Emphatically no. Spending trillions on Electrifying Transportation only to find out that it was too little too late, or a bridge too far, or that the project fell short in some other way is not without costs, regrets.

The time it takes to try and fail; the resources committed to something that didn’t pan out, are forever gone. They are no longer available to us to do the simpler thing we should have done in the first place, like starting in 1972. In your world we just throw money and resources around and if nothing sticks we keep trying. But the time for that sort of cavalier profligacy ended generations ago.

“If somebody does figure out how to do the impossible, helping stave off one of humanity’s largest catastrophes, will you complain if they get rich along the way?”

I don’t even know how to respond to that.

9watts
9watts
17 days ago
Reply to  Watts

 in disagreement with the consensus scientific view”

I am not sure what exactly you have in mind (scientific view of what?) but this whole thing—avoiding/mitigating climate change—is as much political as it is scientific. Impossible to tease these two dimensions apart. Politically most everyone I know is hoping that solutions can be found, and having long ago jettisoned demand side solutions we *want to believe* that this is possible. But these solutions to which you like to point are a bandwagon, not a program. And as such it is easy to hop on, much easier than to actually articulate how/who/where/when.

Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
Will the last bike commuter turn off their lights
17 days ago
Reply to  Watts

The earth is not heating up because of too much waste heat from burning fossil fuels;

I think they were arguing that we should not electrify because renewable energy generates heat (and therefore more warming).
Sigh…

guy berliner
guy berliner
13 days ago

You don’t have to watch fauxnews nonstop like most 70+ year olds do nowadays to know it’s a dangerous world out there! So I don’t recommend braving the roads in anything less than an M1 Abrams. And if you want to really be on the safe side, install a “cope cage” to protect against the latest generation of shoulder fired antiarmor weapons, too!