Bike to Work prize puzzles avid cyclist

Every time I write about energy conservation, I get bombarded with e-mails from readers who accuse me of dastardly crimes against the planet.

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Published  June 26, 2007 by  The Denver Post
By Diane Carman

Every time I write about energy conservation, I get bombarded with e-mails from readers who accuse me of dastardly crimes against the planet.

They assume I live in air-conditioned splendor, that I recklessly squander gasoline by driving willy-nilly in an oversized luxury car and that I am a compulsive consumer who creates mountains of trash in order to feed some fundamental need to be on the cutting edge.

They're wrong.

My guilty environmental conscience burns about something else entirely: travel.

I hate it that I love it so much.

Rick Fuller understands my inner turmoil. In fact, he'd like to see a lot more of it.

Which is why he decided to launch a quiet protest over one of the prizes being awarded this week to participants in the annual Bike to Work Week.

Fuller has purchased carbon credits to offset the impact of giving one randomly selected bike commuter two round-trip Frontier Airlines tickets for travel in the continental U.S.

Encouraging bicycle commuters to fly is counterproductive, he said. "I'm not against plane travel. I understand how our economy works. I just believe it is sending a mixed message to give away airline tickets for biking to work."

Airline travel, it pains me to say, is a major contributor to the colossal inventory of greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere.

NationalGeographic.com estimates that each passenger on a coast-to-coast flight contributes a ton of carbon dioxide to the problem. That's twice what would be produced if each passenger made the trip alone in an SUV, three times the environmental hit of riding a train.

As Fuller put it, "It'd take a lot of miles in a Hummer to equal that one plane trip."

Not that anybody expects millions of travelers to forgo plane trips anytime soon.

"Let's face it, if you have to get to New York or Florida, it's not like you're going to ride a bike," said Frontier Airlines spokesman Joe Hodas.

Most people still need to travel for work or family reasons, and a lot of us do it purely for fun. For the most part, Hodas said, we're going to fly.

So, like most airlines, Frontier is working to reduce the environmental impact of air travel wherever it can. That includes purchasing fuel-efficient aircraft, supporting alternative-energy research and encouraging consumers to buy carbon credits when they travel.

"Obviously an airline is not trying to discourage people from traveling," Hodas said, "but we can encourage people on a smaller level to have less of an impact on the environment."

That's why giving free airline tickets to bike commuters is not entirely paradoxical.

Every little bit helps.

James Mackay, Denver's bicycle planner, said he was "dazzled with the fact that Fuller put his own money into the carbon-offset credits."

He spent $60 on the credits and applied for a corporate match from his employer.

Not that Fuller thinks carbon credits are a perfect solution.

Whenever possible, real energy conservation is more effective than attempts to buy our way out of the greenhouse-gas predicament, he said.

"I don't necessarily believe that carbon credits are a great thing," he said. "I think they give us a false sense of security. But they're a start."

For his part, Fuller is making a sincere effort to reduce his personal carbon footprint.

He has been biking to work daily for most of a decade, and "I've taken one flight for work this year," he said. "I'm not totally against flying or anything. I just haven't done it."

Fuller suggested that better prizes for Bike to Work Week participants might include rain gear for cyclists, bicycle fenders, an RTD Eco Pass, certificates for Xcel wind power or maybe a few carbon credits for those who need a way to ease their conscience about their inevitable air travel.

Mackay said he'd be delighted if the "green industry" would step up to support bicycle commuting by contributing those kinds of incentives.

Bike to Work Week is all about helping people to understand how much energy they consume and to make choices to reduce their carbon footprint.

Everybody has to give a little.

As that great philosopher Kermit the Frog so eloquently put it, "It's not easy being green."

Diane Carman's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 303-954-1489 or dcarman@denverpost.com.