11/28/2012 12:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

To Ease Climate Change, I'm Giving Up My Car -- Or That Was the Plan, Anyhow

Kermit the Frog was right. It's not easy being green.

As a science writer, I've long reported on climate change. I've talked with the experts. I've seen the convergent lines of evidence. That's a heavy burden on my conscience. Ignorance is bliss.

When I see people leave their cars running as they head into the supermarket with children in tow, I want to scream, "You ignorant, wasteful bastards! Don't you know what you're doing to your kids?" Me, I can't help being aware that every gallon of gasoline that runs through my car pumps out 20 pounds of carbon dioxide. Ack!

So, as a record-seeking drought wilted crops and cracked the earth under my feet, I vowed to change. When Sandy hit the Jersey Shore, my resolve redoubled. "World," I announced on Facebook, "I'm done with driving!"

Lord knows I've tried to give up my car, but I'm like a chicken-skin addict with a big stash of China White sittin' right there in my driveway. Every day, it seems, there's another excuse -- er, compelling reason -- for me not to hop on my bike and ride to work.

One challenge is that at 56 I'm not as boundlessly energetic as I used to be. Another is that as the chief executive of a nonprofit, I can't show up at meetings with state regulators all sweaty and grease-stained. It's just not done.

But I've found my methadone. I've invested in a new bike equipped with an electric assist motor. After examining the alternatives, I went with an innovative design called the Hilltopper, marketed by a company with the cheeky name Clean Republic.


It's an ingenious design. They sell you a front wheel, sized to your bike, with a motor built into it. All you do is swap out the old front wheel for theirs, run a cable along the frame to the point where you mount the battery pack, and another, thinner one to your handlebars, where you Velcro the activation switch into place.

You charge the battery pack up (which, depending on your electricity source, will add some carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, but surely less than driving), then pedal away until you feel the need of a boost. Push the button and the motor kicks in. (One criticism: The button is no bigger than an aspirin and sometimes hard to find.) On level ground, the motor is powerful enough to keep you going at a good clip without pedaling, but uphill it becomes a joint effort. Actually, "effort" is hardly the word. What a memorable pleasure to pedal gently and steadily uphill!

It really is that simple. If only the rest of life were. No sooner did I publicly issue my pledge to give up the car than a hundred reasons to keep it sprang up like drought-resistant weeds. Here's one: date night. Somehow, I overlooked the fact that if my wife and I are going to go out on a Saturday night, I'm either going to need a tandem bike or I'll to have to hold fast to the old jalopy. Somehow, I don't see my dear one hopping onto the second seat in all her finery and pedaling off with me to the opera.

Oh, sure, in Boston, New York, or Philadelphia (all cities where I've lived), you really can get by without an auto. Mass transportation and the abundance of cabs make that possible. Beyond the East Coast, however, the carless life is tough. I just got back from a visit to Phoenix, where even at highway speeds it can take an hour to get from one spot to another. Electric motor or no electric motor, on a bike my visit from the in-laws to my former college roommate would have taken about three days each way -- assuming I could haul enough water to survive the journey.

Back in Lincoln, however, I'm renewing my resolution to commute to work on my bike as often as possible. Maybe I can't give up my car. But every gallon of gas I save by biking is that much less greenhouse gas our kids will have to mop up. And that, Kermy, is my rainbow connection!