Environmental Conservation


Exercise-based transportation reduces oil dependence, carbon emissions and obesity

a1 1223[fraction one-half] O Street NW, Washington, DC 20005, USA

Article author query
higgins pa   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Societal dependence on oil leads to increasingly negative social consequences throughout the world, including climate change, air pollution, political and economic instability, and habitat degradation. Reliance on the automobile for transportation also contributes to a sedentary lifestyle, an obesity epidemic and poor health. These problems are particularly pronounced in the USA, which currently consumes c. 27% of global oil production and produces c. 25% of global carbon emissions, and where c. 65% of adults are overweight or obese. Other countries throughout the world that replicate or hope to replicate the automobile-based lifestyle of the USA face similar problems now or in the near future. This paper develops and applies calculations relating the distances that could be travelled through recommended daily walking or cycling with weight loss, oil consumption and carbon emissions. These straightforward calculations demonstrate that widespread substitution of driving with distances travelled during recommended daily exercise could reduce the USA's oil consumption by up to 38%. This saving far exceeds the amount of oil recoverable from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, suggesting that exercise can reduce foreign oil dependence and provide an alternative to oil extraction from environmentally sensitive habitat. At the same time, an average individual who substitutes this amount of exercise for transportation would burn respectively c. 12.2 and 26.0 kg of fat per year for walking and cycling. This is sufficient to eliminate obese and overweight conditions in a few years without dangerous or draconian diet plans. Furthermore, a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of c. 35% is possible if the revenue saved through decreased health care spending on obesity is redirected toward carbon abatement. As a result, exercise-based transportation may constitute a favourable alternative to the energy and diet plans that are currently being implemented in the USA and may offer better development choices for developing countries.

(Published Online December 1 2005)
(Received March 2 2005)
(Accepted October 1 2005)

Key Words: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; climate protection; energy policy; habitat conservation; Kyoto Protocol.

c1 Correspondence: Dr Paul Higgins Tel: +1 510 717 4088 e-mail: phiggins@nature.berkeley.edu