This week I am going to take a break from my regular topics around health, performance, exercise and the like to talk about something that has struck a nerve for me. I normally steer away from topics like what is best for our environment because they are highly controversial but also because I don’t like to speak to things I don’t have a lot of knowledge in. However I came across a recent article about a study that spoke to how activities like walking and cycling could be hurting the environment.
Yeah I had the same reaction.
The basic premise of the study is that if people are using more active forms of transportation, like walking or cycling, and less passive forms of transportation, like driving, they will need to consume more food. The demand for more food is not negligible when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. So the more people that use active forms of transportation, the more food they will consume, and therefore, the more greenhouse gas will be released into the atmosphere to produce and transport the additional food.
Seems outrageous at first, I know.
But it makes sense too, if people are going to eat more food there is going to be some cost in producing and transporting that food. So if we are concerned about the environment should we stop using active forms of transportation and sacrifice all the benefits associated with them, like our health?
The study does actually compare the greenhouse emissions of something like driving vs acquiring the extra food required for walking and cycling.
According to the study, walking adds an extra 0.26 kgCO2e/km worth of greenhouse emissions while cycling adds an extra 0.14 kgCO2e/km. Compare that to driving a car which adds an extra 0.08–0.21 kgCO2/km. So on face value walking appears to be more costly than even riding in a car whereas cycling might be slightly better. Of course if you considered something like a carpool than the numbers would even more favor the use of a car.
The study then suggests that people who are using more active forms of transportation consume foods that have the least cost in the way of greenhouse emissions. They argue that food items like from ruminants (think cows, lamb, pigs, etc) cost 5.6 gCO2e/kcal while things like sugar and legumes cost 0.02 gCO2e/kcal. Yay more sugar!!!
What do I think of all of this as a health coach?
Well telling people to move less in order to save the environment is unacceptable to me. It is not that I don’t care about the environment, that is not it at all. The reason why it is unacceptable to me is because we were meant to use active forms of transportation, what other choice did we have before the invention of things like cars, airplanes, trains? We had animals, but they needed food as well.
According to the CDC, 71.6% of adults are overweight or obese. If more people are using active forms of transportation and burning more calories than they would be driving in a car for example, do they really need to be eating back the calories they burned? For 72% of us, the answer is NO!
The fact of the matter is that people need to be moving more and eating less. Active forms of transportation help people in the moving more column, and not trying to eat back what they burnt by moving more will help them eat less. On top of that, they would not be putting any additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, so it is a win on all fronts.
I am not going to try and argue that ruminants are better for the environment in this post. That is a whole other rabbit hole that I don’t want to get in too. My gut feeling is that when you take a look at regenerative farming practices that it is actually not that bad, but I haven’t done the research to back that up.
Just for the sake of argument let say people who do use active forms of transportation do eat a bit more, what if instead of buying this extra food at the supermarket, they planted a garden at home with some fresh vegetables and they bought meat from a local farm, or just bought the extra food that they needed to eat back those calories from a local farmer’s market? That would greatly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from any extra food consumption, while also supporting your local farms and local environment!
To this end, I do not think we should be concerned about the effect on the environment from active forms of transportation. As always I think if we look to the way our ancestors lived we can find the answers to many of our problems. Our ancestors didn’t ship food from around the world, they grew, hunted, and raised it locally. Passive forms of transportation were not possible, their only choice was to walk, run, or row. OK maybe something like a horse or camel could be used, but a majority had to use their body in some way to get around. If we just ate less, moved more, and supported local farms and agriculture we would be both a healthier population and planet!
Do you have other ideas about how we can both improve our health and the health of our environment? I would love to hear them, reach out to me on Facebook Messenger or Instagram. If you would like to get content on ancestral health delivered to your inbox on a weekly basis, be sure to sign up for my newsletter.