Teen Pedals Across Canada for Climate Change

  • 17 year-old Malkolm Boothroyd rode a bicycle for 3 months across Canada. Here he is giving a speech at the end of his trip on Parliament Hill. (Photo by Karen Kelly)

All over North America, people
are becoming more concerned
about the dangers posed by
climate change. Karen Kelly
spoke to a teenager who comes
from the far north of Canada,
one of the areas of the continent
that’s already feeling the effects:

Transcript

All over North America, people
are becoming more concerned
about the dangers posed by
climate change. Karen Kelly
spoke to a teenager who comes
from the far north of Canada,
one of the areas of the continent
that’s already feeling the effects:

Malkolm Boothroyd is 17. He lives in Whitehorse in the Yukon, a province at the northern tip of Canada.

It’s a wild mountainous place, with huge caribou herds, moose, bear, and foxes. It’s also a place where climate change is already evident.

The winters are shorter. The permafrost and sea ice are melting. And for young people like Boothroyd, it’s a source of worry.

“Climate change is impacting wildlife patterns, tundra ponds are vanishing. We are one of first places that will feel the severe impacts of climate change. Growing up in the Yukon, you’re maybe more aware of that.”

Boothroyd says already the native Inuit tribes are having a harder time living off the land. And he felt frustrated by what he sees as the Canadian government’s lack of action.

The government has not kept international commitments it made to reduce the gases that cause climate change. So he decided to head to the capital city of Ottawa to lodge his complaint.

Ottawa is 3,700 miles away from the Yukon.

(sound of gears)

Boothroyd hopped on his bicycle.

“I think there are days when you question your sanity, when you’re sitting out in the rain with black flies all around your head and with a soaking wet tent and wondering, ‘why am I doing this?’ But I don’t think there was any time I wanted to go back or anything like that. I just wanted to see the project through and make sure we were here on Parliament Hill to give our message to the government.”

It took him just under three months to ride from the northwestern tip of Canada near Alaska to Ottawa, which is just north of New York State.

His mom rode with him for the first 1,200 miles.

Then he joined up with other young riders, arriving for a rally on Parliament Hill in late September.

“I’m 17-years-old, and that means I’m too young to vote. But I believe I should have a say in decisions that are made on this Hill because when Parliament makes decisions about climate and energy, its people my age – people who are too young to vote – who will live in the world determined by what decisions made.”

(applause)

About a dozen members of Parliament and maybe 50 cyclists showed up for the rally. Boothroyd talked to hundreds more as he rode across the country.

He says he wasn’t just doing it for a good cause, he was doing it to protect his home.

“You’re very protective over wherever you grew up, and the place you know very well and love, so if you see a threat to that, you want to do everything you can.”

Now, Boothroyd is a regular twelfth grader again.
But unlike most, he’ll be keeping a close eye on the climate change talks taking place in Copenhagen in December.

He’s hoping his effort convinced the Canadian government to do more.

For The Environment Report, I’m Karen Kelly.

Related Links

Biggest Health Threat: Inactivity

  • One researcher says we need to re-engineer physical activity back into our lives. And part of that includes making communities super walk-able and bike-able. (Photo courtesy of the National Cancer Institute)

We hear a lot about how pollution
and contamination can hurt our health.
But an ongoing study indicates the
biggest threat to our health is a
lot simpler. Kyle Norris reports:

Transcript

We hear a lot about how pollution
and contamination can hurt our health.
But an ongoing study indicates the
biggest threat to our health is a
lot simpler. Kyle Norris reports:

Many of us have engineered physical activity out of our lives. We sit in front of the computer, we sit and drive everywhere. We don’t move much.

That’s what Steven Blair says. Blair is a professor of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. And he says, more than anything else, America’s physical in-activity will cause this century’s biggest public health problems.

“You want to stay out of the nursing home, the best insurance you can take out is regular physical activity program – three ten minute walks five days week. I’m not talking about training for the Ironman triathlon or a marathon.”

He says we need to re-engineer physical activity back into our lives. And part of that includes making communities super walk-able and bike-able.

For The Environment Report, I’m Kyle Norris.

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Bike Shop in a Box

  • A mechanic works on the bikes to make them as compact as possible - removing pedals, kickstands, and turning the handlebars (Photo by Karen Kelly)

So many of us have an old bike collecting
dust in the garage. More often than not,
they end up in the garbage. But, as Karen
Kelly reports, one group has found a unique
way to recycle them:

Transcript

So many of us have an old bike collecting
dust in the garage. More often than not,
they end up in the garbage. But, as Karen
Kelly reports, one group has found a unique
way to recycle them:

(sound of banging)

“That’s a sweet ride!”

A volunteer drops a bike into a pile at the back of a huge shipping container in Ottawa, Canada.
The bikes are stacked one on top of the other.

(sound of tools)

Just outside, a mechanic is stripping the bikes down to make them as compact as possible.

“If it has a kickstand, we have to remove it. We take the pedals off and turn the handlebars.”

In a few hours, this cargo container will be jammed with hundreds of donated bicycles, bike parts, and backpacks.

The gear is collected by a group called Bicycles for Humanity.
They have 20 chapters, most of them in North America.

Each chapter raises a couple of thousand dollars to buy a shipping container.
They pack it full of donated gear, and send it off to a community in Namibia, Africa. The shipping cost – another several thousand dollars – is also raised by the group.

A volunteer group there turns the container itself into a locally-run bike shop that provides jobs and transportation.

Some of the bikes are donated to health care workers who use them to pull patients on a stretcher.

Others are piled high with stacks of food and household items that defy gravity.

Martin Sullivan points to some of the pictures on display.

“These are the bakers who are able to sell their bread. And also wood, you can stack wood. It’s just amazing what they do, how they make use of these bikes that we take for granted. We throw them out, and they can do so much with them.”

(sound of traffic)

In Namibia, cars – and even bicycles – are scarce. Sullivan says these bikes make life easier for people who are used to walking miles to get to school, work, or to find the basic necessities.

Seb Oran is the co-founder of Bicycles for Humanity in Ottawa.

This is the fourth container of bikes that she’s sent to Africa.
Each one supports a local community group.
Sometimes its a hospital, sometimes an orphanage, sometimes a women’s empowerment group.
She remembers one run by former prostitutes.

“Six of them became bicycle mechanics now. And now, they don’t have to sell their bodies to put food on their plate.”

But there are some challenges.

Michael Linke runs the Bicycle Empowerment Network.
He helps the Nambians set up the bicycle shops.

“Because this is the first time a lot of these people have had formal ongoing work, it’s often difficult to get people to understand a long-term ongoing business.”

But with some mentoring, they’ve been able to make it work.
There are now 13 successful projects, with more containers filled with bikes on the way.

The group estimates that these bikes will last another 20 or 30 years in Africa. They might be junk to us, but in Namibia, they’re a precious resource.

For The Environment Report, I’m Karen Kelly.

Related Links

Going Car Free in a Car-Crazy Society

  • Kathryn Stewart and her boyfriend Roger Williams have gone car-free in Phoenix. They live 30 miles apart, so it can be a very long bike ride to see each other. (Photo by Rene Gutel)

The cars we drive pump out a lot of pollution. The average car puts out about 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year. So whenever we drive, we’re adding to the global warming problem. To cut down on that pollution, there are some people who are giving up their cars altogether. They’re joining a movement called the “World Carfree Network.” Rene Gutel reports on one of their members:

Transcript

The cars we drive pump out a lot of pollution. The average car puts out about 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year. So whenever we drive, we’re adding to the global warming problem. To cut down on that pollution, there are some people who are giving up their cars altogether. They’re joining a movement called the “World Carfree Network.” Rene Gutel reports on one of their members:

Kathryn Stewart doesn’t own a car. She’s never even had a driver’s license. She’s an editor at a publishing company and commutes mostly by bus and by bicycle.

And while you might think you know plenty of people like Stewart, especially in big cities such as New York or Chicago, consider this: Stewart lives in Phoenix – the land of freeways and strip malls and summers that top 115 degrees.

“Honestly it’s really difficult in Phoenix. It’s challenging but not impossible if you’re really committed to it. It takes a lot of advance planning.”

(sound of street)

Stewart’s work is just a few miles away, but it takes her half an hour to get there.

She says one of the hardest parts of being carfree in Arizona are those broiling summer days. But she has a secret weapon – a heat-shielding umbrella that she daintily refers to as her parasol.

“My parasol is great. I don’t care how I look – it’s amazing.” (laughs)

But major cities in the US aren’t necessarily built for people who like to walk to work. This is especially true in the West.

Carol Johnson is a planner for the city of Phoenix. She says this is due, in part, to a theory that was popular in the 1960s, when everything was planned for the car.

“This is my opinion, maybe there were some efficiencies of scale in terms of infrastructure – if you only had to put one road in, even it was six lanes wide, that was more efficient.”

But a lot of cities now are trying to get people out of their cars. They want to cut pollution and ease traffic problems.

The mayor of New York, for example, proposed a fee on cars to get more people to take public transit. And San Francisco hosts “CarFree Days” where they promote walking, running, and bicycling.

(sound of biking outdoors)

Okay so this may all sound well and good, but what does being carfree mean for Kathryn Stewart’s social life? How does she meet people and have any fun in this city built for cars?

Turns out she manages. She and her boyfriend – Roger Williams – see each on weekends. They like to take bike rides.

“We going right or left, Roger? Take a left. After these cars.”

They live about 30 miles apart – not a long car trip, but by bike, the ride can take two and a half hours. Williams owns a car, but he figured out pretty early on in their relationship that a willingness to be carfree was a good way to impress her.

Williams: “The first real date that we did, I surprised her and she was asking me questions, oh what are we going to do? Where are we going to go? And I’m like, it’s a surprise but we’ll be able to walk the whole date.”
Gutel: “So you were like the carfree Casanova?”

Williams: (laughter) “I love it! I saw the opportunity and I seized the opportunity.”

Stewart and Williams also encourage each other to be healthy and have less of an impact on their environment by the foods they eat. But being carfree, that’s the main sacrifice.

“I really feel like I’m making a big dent, cause, you know, there’s a lot that people say you can do, make small changes, do this, do that, but when you don’t have a car, it’s automatically, like, a big change.”

Stewart says she realizes it’s big change most people would have a hard time with. But it’s a choice she’s dedicated to in order to do something about global warming.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rene Gutel.

Related Links

Co-Ops Get Bikes Road Ready

  • The Sopo Bike Coop - new bike coops are still opening around the country, even in cities that haven't always been seen as friendly to human-powered transportation in the past (Photo by Dana Goldman)

Partly because of the economy, bicycles are becoming more popular now with adults. Dana Goldman reports a growing number of bike cooperatives is giving hands-on lessons about how to make old bikes road-ready with the help of some used but still-usable parts:

Transcript

Partly because of the economy, bicycles are becoming more popular now with adults. Dana Goldman reports a growing number of bike cooperatives is giving hands-on lessons about how to make old bikes road-ready with the help of some used but still-usable parts:

Matari Yumoja isn’t the typical bicyclist – yet.

He’s young, African American, and lives in the suburbs.

But on a recent weeknight, he was in the city hauling around his un-ridable hand-me-down bike. And trying to figure out how to get it working.

“Ever since I got it, its been looking that weird. The metal part of the wheel is really bent. It’s got a lot of issues right now. I definitely need new tires.”

In fact, Matari’s bike tires kinda looked like they’d been run over – more than once. Matari didn’t know how to fix them, and didn’t have money to spend at a bike shop. But on this clear spring night, none of that mattered.

“We are working on – what’s your name? Matari’s bike. And I’m Big John.”

“Big John” Brazwell is a regular at the Sopo Bike Cooperative in East Atlanta.

Sopo is one of more than a hundred bike co-ops that have opened around the country over the last few years. They’re do-it-yourself community centers with tools and used, donated, and salvaged parts.

People like Matari can learn to take old wheels, or handlebars, or seats and put them on other bikes. They end up with a functional bike that’s cheaper – and more unique than what they’d find in a store.

“The frankenbike is an industry term to refer to a bicycle that’s put together out of parts.”

Rachel Speewack is the founder of Sopo.

“Usually parts salvaged from bikes that aren’t functional any more. So it’s a term of endearment for one bike put together out of many.”

Speewack likes her Frankenbikes, and the bike coop model because they help people who want to start biking but don’t know where to start – like Matari Yumoja. And bicyclists like Big John are more than happy to teach what they know.

“Dude, we have to go in and find you a rim, because that one’s bent.”

“That’s what my biggest fear was.”

When Sopo opened 3 and a half years ago, Rachel Speewack couldn’t have known gas prices get so crazy – or that the economy would tank. But in car-centric, sprawling Atlanta, she and a few friends wanted to show that bikes could be a cheap, environmental, and practical.

We’re a community of people who already had our eyes on what gas prices were doing and the actual cost of being car dependent. To us the gasoline crisis was already here. And we wanted to do something proactive about it.”

When gas prices went up last year to more than $4 a gallon, Speewack watched as the number of visitors to its donations-only shop grew and grew. Just about everyone was looking for an option besides driving.

Now with more people out of work and pinching pennies, Sopo’s seeing even more people coming in with their bikes, looking for help.

During January and February, 275 people came to Sopo – even though the shop’s only open a few hours a day. Some came in a few times every week. But the bike coop’s popularity doesn’t really surprise anyone, including Speewack.

“We figure: how many people have a bike? Most everyone. How many have ridden them recently? Not many. Why is that? Flat tire, the brakes are kind of out. Minor repair issues. There’s an infinite supply of discarded bike parts and an infinite need for transportation and a lack of money. That’s where we come in.”

And there’s so much demand and interest it’s not just Sopo that’s coming in. New bike coops are still opening around the country – even in cities that haven’t always been seen as friendly to human-powered transportation in the past.

But these days all the co-ops – whether new or slightly less new – are happy to watch people who came in carrying their bikes leave riding them. After all, those same people often come back and help someone else looking for a new start on an old bike.

For The Environment Report, I’m Dana Goldman.

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Ghostbikes: Two-Wheeled Memorials

  • With more cyclists on the road, there is concern about keeping accident rates from going up as well (Photo by Corbin Sullivan)

There’s a grass roots effort to
honor people killed while riding bicycles.
It’s called “ghostbikes”. Chuck Quirmbach
reports:

Transcript

There’s a grass roots effort to
honor people killed while riding bicycles.
It’s called “ghostbikes”. Chuck Quirmbach
reports:

Only a tiny number of bicyclists are hit and killed. But some riders say the death toll should be
zero.

So, in about sixty communities across the US, bicycle groups are painting bikes all white. Then
they chain them to a post near the site of the bicycle fatality.

Rider Jessica Weinberg compares the skeleton-looking ghostbikes to white crosses placed where
people die in motorized vehicles.

“I think anyone who drives on the highway when they see a cross on the side of the road, that
does kind of make you think for a minute, ‘should I drive a little more carefully here, there was a
tragedy here, what was the situation?’ We want the same thing with the ghostbikes.”

Weinberg says with high gas prices putting more bikers on the road, ghostbikes may help keep
accident rates from going up.

For The Environment Report, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

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Pedaling While Reclining

  • Peter Stull making adjustments for prospective customers. Recumbent styles vary from very upright for easy cruising to very low-slung for serious speedsters. (Photo by Lucy Martin)

Bicycles are about as green as you can
get. They’re economical and provide great
exercise. But a lot of people draw the line
at hunching over those skinny, hard seats.
There are bikes that offer more ways to ride,
whatever your age or size. Lucy Martin reports:

Transcript

Bicycles are about as green as you can
get. They’re economical and provide great
exercise. But a lot of people draw the line
at hunching over those skinny, hard seats.
There are bikes that offer more ways to ride,
whatever your age or size. Lucy Martin reports:

“This pump gets used a lot, so sometimes it doesn’t want to stay on.”

(Sound of employee operating tire pump)

The air pump beats the gas pump every time. Bikes are pretty simple to use. No gas, no bus fare.
Check the tires and you’re good to go.

(Sound of blast of tire pump air)

A lot of people who don’t bike now wish they could too. And that’s where recumbent bikes can help.

(sound of entry bell chimes, door opens and closes)

“A recumbent is a bike where you sit down with your feet out in front of you and it’s comfortable like
your office chair. It’s comfortable like the chair you watch TV in. It puts you in a seated position like
the car you drive.”

That’s Peter Stull. Nearly 30 years ago he took a one-room school house and turned it into a business
called The Bicycle Man. The small store in Western New York has become a magnet for shoppers
interested in bikes that feel good.

Employee: “Where you guys coming from?”

Customer: “Ottawa, Canada.”

Employee: “Yeah? Locals.”

People regularly travel long distances to check out the extra-large selection.

“We have a couple kinds of customers. And one is the customer who is a serious road-bike geek for
decades and he just got a report, from the doctor, saying ‘you can’t’ because of wrist, neck, prostate –
something – you can’t ride anymore. Or, maybe runner, can’t run anymore. And they really want to
stay active. They come to us.”

Stull sees plenty of brand-new bikers too. They come in every age and shape. His motto is ‘Ride before
you decide’, because there are so many variables to consider.

“You know, if you look at a racing bike, you give up everything for speed. But did you want speed? Or
comfort? Or Durability? Or foldability? Or – would you like me to show you the compromises on our
design?”

Stull spends a lot of time testing and tinkering in the shop out back. He’s on a quest to build even better
bikes. No single style can do everything for everyone. But Stull says recumbents can solve a number
of common problems.

“If you’re uncomfortable–like have a pain issue on a traditional bicycle? This will probably eliminate
it. If it’s a hip or a knee issue, maybe it won’t help. If it’s a balance issue, then maybe a trike recumbent,
with three wheels.”

I had to try the cool trike bikes. I wasn’t sure what to expect. They were amazing. Really low and super
fast. But they need a lot of room to turn. Stull says trike bikes give some of his physically challenged
customers the bike freedom the rest of us take for granted.

(Sound of Stull greeting customers)

Saturdays get busy. I asked John and Deb Wegman why they bothered to drive 90 minutes from
Rochester.

John Wegman: “My wife. (laughter) Yeah. That’s it! Exactly!”

Deb Wegman: “Be honest.”

John Wegman: “Well, we wanted to try them because they’re supposed to be very comfortable and a
different kind of ride. And this is the place to come, because you can’t find them anywhere else. All
the other bike shops have maybe one. And you can test drive it in the parking lot for a hundred yards,
maybe.”

Lucy Martin: “And you’re about to go out on a ride of as long as you want?”

John Wegman: “Right. And we can come back and try another one, and do it again, if we want to.”

Recumbents are hard to find. They can cost a bit more too. But Stull says any good bike that’s cared
for should last for years.

(Sound of a car whooshing past.)

After maybe 20 minutes, John and Deb come back.

John Wegman: “That was a lot of fun – a very comfortable ride.”

Deb Wegman: “It was great! Yeah, I’m actually going to have them change the seat, on that one ’cause
I’m interested in the wider seat.”

Lucy Martin: “Try that bigger seat?”

Deb Wegman: “Yeah.”

The Bicycle Man carries basic recumbents all the way to slick racers. They sell regular bikes too.
Whatever buyers chose, Peter Stull recommends taking enough time to find the right bike for each
body. He says comfortable bikes get ridden. The rest just sit around and rust.

Recumbent bikes are beginning to catch on across the nation. But, active baby-boomers might just
make bicycle shops think about peddling more of them.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lucy Martin.

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Car Sharing Gets Profitable

  • Through car sharing programs, users rent cars on an hourly basis. (Photo courtesy of Zipcar)

There’s nothing unusual about renting a car by the day.
It’s commonplace at airports nationwide, but for most Americans,
renting a car by the hour is a strange notion. Renting a car by the hour
is often called “car sharing.” Car sharing is good for the environment
because its users only get the car when they need the car. They usually
take buses and bikes to get around. Car sharing has caught on in a few big
cities on the east and west coasts. That’s largely due to the efforts of a pair
of private companies, Zipcar and Flexcar. Now those firms are poised to
expand their operations. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Todd Melby
has this report:

Transcript

There’s nothing unusual about renting a car by the day. It’s
commonplace at airports nationwide, but for most Americans, renting a
car by the hour is a strange notion. Renting a car by the hour is often
called “car sharing.” Car sharing is good for the environment because its
users only get the car when they need the car. They usually take buses
and bikes to get around. Car sharing has caught on in a few big cities on
the east and west coasts. That’s largely due to the efforts of a pair of
private companies, Zipcar and Flexcar. Now, those firms are poised to
expand their operations. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Todd
Melby has this report:


For the past six months, a nonprofit called the Neighborhood Energy
Consortium has had the Minneapolis/St. Paul car sharing market to itself.
The non-profit group has raised about $450,000 to buy 12 cars. Those
energy-efficient hybrids have attracted about 140 people to join the
HourCar program. That’s Hour with an “H.”


(Sound of bus stop and rumble of passing truck)


On this Saturday morning, Mary Solac is shivering at a bus stop, waiting
for a ride to go pick up her HourCar. Despite the obvious inconvenience,
she says it’s worth it.


“You don’t have to worry about insurance. You don’t have to worry
about gas. It’s like okay, I’m paying what I’m paying and I don’t have to
worry about fixing the blasted car either.”


After a short bus ride, Solac does have to worry about more mundane car
concerns… such as scraping the ice and snow off the window.


(Sound of ice/snow scraping on the windshield)


To date, Solac’s only choice for renting a car by the hour has been
HourCar. That’s about to change.


The nation’s largest car sharing company — Zipcar of Boston — is
invading HourCar’s Minneapolis turf. Nearly 50,000 people now take
turns driving about 500 Zipcars, mostly in Boston, New York and
Washington, D.C.


Scott Griffith is the CEO of Zipcar.


“Over the last several years, we’ve really focused on those cities and getting
them past profitability, past the break even point, to prove that at the
metro market level, that we can make money in this business.”


That track record enticed a venture capital firm to invest $10 million in
Zipcar.


Another big new company is also getting an influx of cash. The nation’s
second-largest car sharing company — Flexcar of Seattle — is about half
as big as Zipcar. It too has a new investor: AOL Founder Stephen Case.
He rented a Flexcar, liked it and bought the company.


In Chicago, Flexcar has paired with a local nonprofit to put 47 cars on
the street.


Zipcar, meanwhile, is also trying to get into Chicago. It wants
government agencies in the Windy City to commit to using its cars
before entering the market. The company hopes that happens sometime
this year.


Business professor Alfred Marcus at the University of Minnesota says it’s
not unusual for emerging businesses to seek government help like this.


“To get this sector going, to stimulate it, it makes sense for their to be
some public involvement, but you would hope this could take off on its
own. I think this is transitional – these public and private partnerships,
and that’s very typical when industries start.”


In Minneapolis/St. Paul, the University of Minnesota is guaranteeing
Zipcar a $1,500 per month per vehicle subsidy, but once Zipcar meets the
$1,500 minimum, that subsidy goes away. Zipcar says it expects to do
just that in three months.


At the moment, Zipcar is growing fast. It had revenues of about $15
million in 2005. CEO Griffith says it expects to double that this year, but
Alfred Marcus with the University of Minnesota says over the long-term,
Zipcar faces big hurdles.


Zipcar has only had success in large, densely-populated cities. Its target
market is young people without cars who are highly price sensitive, and
then there’s the question of where to keep the cars. They have to be
conveniently located to the people who might want to use them.


Marcus says that if these start-ups continue to grow, someday they might
be gobbled up by bigger companies.


“The ultimate aim of Flexcars or Zipcars may be to build up a fringe
business, get it going and have a rental car company buy them or have even
have a conventional automobile company by them.”


But the car-sharing company owners say they have other plans. Zipcar
boss Scott Griffith says he’s working on a 10-year plan to make Zipcar an
international company. Flexcar owner Stephen Case says he bought that
firm “to build it” and not to “flip it.”


For the GLRC, I’m Todd Melby.

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