Equality is in the air we breathe. –Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again”
Life’s greatest satisfaction is staying in good health. –Warren Buffett on Charlie Rose
I remember walking into the classroom at commercial driving school at age 21 and gagging on the heavy stench of diesel fumes wafting through the building. The classroom was next to the yard where old flat-faced Mack trucks with over a million miles were jockeying 48 foot long trailers, dark foggy plumes rolling out of their vertical chrome exhaust stacks. For three months I would know that smell. When I graduated and hired on to Cannon Express, they issued a company truck to me. I drove it across the country hauling loads for companies like WalMart and looking for parking spaces at night that were upwind from the rest of the idling trucks and vapor-letting fuel pumps. The smell of engine exhaust and fuel vapors remind some people of work, but for me I thought of cancer, asthma, and diminished health. I tried to avoid it as much as possible, but it is impossible to avoid completely, even for those that don’t work as drivers. I won fuel awards for high average miles per gallon in my company truck because I refused to idle it at night like the other drivers did for heat or air conditioning. I preferred clean and quiet.
My love for driving and the road is mostly funneled through cycling now. But I still get exposed to all kinds of fumes. We all do. There was an interesting article in The Guardian yesterday that tried to determine how bad air quality would have to be to negate the health benefits one creates from the physical activities of cycling and walking. The answer is it has to be pretty bad but in some cities around the world–particularly in India, China and the Middle East–the air has passed that tipping point. Bad air exacerbates the problem by suppressing healthier transport choices, unjustly impacting active and thrifty people. The Guardian cites a study in Preventative Medicine: “Since transport is an important source of air pollution in urban areas, mode shifts from motorized transport to active travel would not only improve health in active travelers, but also help to reduce air pollution exposures for the whole population.”
In America with the Clean Air Act of 1970 and increasing fuel efficiency standards for motorized vehicles, we are improving the air quality in most of our cities. This is an area where there is a great opportunity to lead, as a country and as individuals. We can make better protections, incentivize and make healthy choices. Vote with your legs if you can. Be a leader, cycle onward!
The most important political office is that of private citizen. –Louis Brandeis
If your stomach is sound, your lungs and feet in good order, you need no regal riches to make you happy. –Horace
The Guardian’s article on cycling and air quality: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/feb/13/tipping-point-cities-exercise-more-harm-than-good
“Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?” in Preventative Medicine
New York Times article on increasing efficiency and reducing pollution of large vehicles: