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Walking for The Environment and Your Health

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By Kara A. DiCamillo

It seems like everyone is in a hurry these days. Look around while doing your daily errands. All of us have some place to be with not a minute to spare. Due to the pressure to keep a fast-paced lifestyle and the lack of reliable public transit, most Americans drive everywhere. Even if it is just to the store down the road, cars equal convenience.

The U.S. is home to the largest number of cars in the world, and the number of motor vehicles has been rising by an estimated 3.69 million each year since 1960. As we know, this increase in cars leads to an increase in carbon emissions and pollution. While driving efficiently, participating in a carshare, and investing in fuel-efficient vehicles are all important ways to help, much of the problem is how dependent we are on driving itself.

In a recent NPR article, writer Tom Vanderbilt explores pedestrian life in America and says that many parts of the U.S. are now designed specifically for cars, not pedestrians. He has been looking at the way towns are built, how Americans view walking and, most importantly, how to get them moving. Nonprofit organization America Walks says that 41 percent of all trips made in the United States are one mile or less, fewer than 10% of all trips are made by walking and biking.

“We’ve engineered walking out of our existence and everyday life,” Vanderbilt says. “I even tried to examine the word ‘pedestrian,’ and it’s always had sort of this negative connotation.”

There are many benefits to incorporating walking into our lives. Take the example of walking kids to school. It is a great way to get kids moving, and makes kids and adults alike feel more connected to their surroundings. According to America Walks, parents driving children to school comprises 20-30 percent of morning traffic congestion in urban areas. So organizing a “walk your kids to school” program would improve morning traffic, ensure that kids get their exercise for the day, and help people get to know their neighborhoods better.

Walking is the most environmentally-friendly mode of transportation. It does not produce any pollution, and it requires no supplies or maintenance (except shoes). In fact, walking contributes to your maintenance of you.

NPR reports that about 35 percent of adult Americans are obese, which equals more than 78 million adults. Add to that the estimated 12 million children who are obese. Walking is great exercise, and walking outdoors has been shown to positively affect mental health as well.

While we cannot necessarily walk everywhere we want to go, we can take the time to walk within our neighborhood and to appreciate using our own two feet. After all, when you are stressed out, how good does it feel to get out of the house and clear your head? It is, literally, a breath of fresh air.

Campaigns such as Every Body Walk and America Walks are aimed at getting us up and moving while Walker Tracker is a program designed to encourage companies and organizations to do the same. Explore some of their resources, and then let Sierra Club Green Home know how you increase your walking time.

For related articles, see:
Maryland Bicycle Symposium: Greening Our Cities 

Classes Make Bicycling in Los Angeles Easier 
San Francisco Wins Public Transportation Award  


© 2012 SCGH, LLC. 

2 Responses to “Walking for The Environment and Your Health”

  1. KJMClark Says:

    Heard of a “bicycle”? In a lot of urban cases, bicycles are more convenient than cars (1st paragraph). And actually, there’s a good deal of dispute over whether biking or walking is the most environmentally-friendly mode of land transportation (6th paragraph). Yes, the bicycle has embedded emissions, but while biking you burn 1/3 to 1/2 the calories as walking for the same distance. Since in the US, the typical diet has about 10 fossil Calories behind every food Calorie, the extra transportation Calories burned start to add up.

    Funny that the first two related links (“Maryland Bicycle Symposium: Greening Our Cities” and “Classes Make Bicycling in Los Angeles Easier”) point out the value of biking too, but this article barely mentions biking.

    Better to say that walking and biking are the most environmentally-friendly forms of transportation. Most of the points in the article apply to walking *and* biking.

  2. Juliet Blalack Says:

    KJM, we absolutely agree that biking is a great, green form of transportation! The calorie angle is an interesting one, and something we had not considered before. Perhaps we could do another article following up on this idea in more depth.

    The fact that this particular article focuses on walking does not negate the fact that Sierra Club Green Home agrees that bicycling is very sustainable, and sometimes more practical than walking. We encourage readers to either bike or walk (or both) depending on what is easier for them. The difference between the two in terms of sustainability is negligible when compared to the difference between walking or biking and driving.

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