When I haven’t ridden a trike in a while, I get nervous about getting back in the saddle: It’s a serious responsibility – never mind a serious amount of work – to pilot a 170-pound, 4-foot-wide vehicle on the streets of Manhattan. But once I’m out there pedaling – as I was this morning and Monday morning, after about a month-long hiatus – I recall the fun of it, the satisfaction of moving hundreds of pounds of cargo with my muscles providing one hundred percent of the power. Of course, it’s the virtuoso design of the trike that multiplies my load-carrying ability by a factor of ten to twenty, depending on the terrain (I can comfortably haul about 40# in a backpack over a distance of a few miles, as opposed to 400-800# on a trike). Nonetheless, I – not an oil well – am providing the energy. Which generates not only a sense of accomplishment, but also a sense of connection to a saner, more resilient future.
Breakfast reading this week has been the “Eco-nomics” issue of The Permaculture Activist. In “Design for a Sustainable Economics,” Context Institute co-founder Robert Gilman describes an economic model that recognizes not only credit capital (money, debt) and manufactured capital (the means of production) but also human, environmental, and social capital. “From the conventional point of view,” he says, “it is not rational [when choosing a line of work] to consider anything other than the amount you are paid.” From a sustainable perspective, however, it would be rational to consider a number of factors, including whether the job depends “on non-renewable resources or the unsustainable use of renewables,” affords “a healthy environment with clean air and water,” “has a low level of stress” and other health hazards, and minimizes “pollution and other negative inputs” to environmental capital.
When riding for Revolution – when navigating the gritty obstacle course of the Manhattan grid – I may not always be pleased with my working conditions (the company of thousands of cars and trucks doesn’t exactly make for clean air or a low stress level, for example), but I do feel as though I am conserving and creating environmental capital, and I do know I am contributing to an enterprise that is in turn contributing to shifting our city towards a more healthful mode of transportation.
That’s a lane change I can believe in!
And before I go, one more thought about renewable energy: A man on the street asked me today how far I could ride “that thing” before getting exhausted. Yes, triking uses lots of energy, but it also seems to generate energy of its own. I find the hardest part of my shift is riding up 30th Street to 9th Avenue, when I’m just getting started; by the time I finish, I’m flying!