Columns / Discourse / February 14, 2018

Bike Nice: Can we pedal our way to the graduation pledge?

Sometime in the next few months, I expect that seniors at Knox College will be asked, as they have been in the past, if they would like to sign “The Graduation Pledge of Social & Environmental Responsibility.”

Specifically, it states: “I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work.”

I argue that the largest “environmental consequences of any job I consider” may be the places where I live and where I work, specifically the distance between my residence and my workplace.

I’ll leave aside the issue of what part of the country one chooses to live in . . . except to suggest that regions with lots of heat and little potable water — do your own research here — could be headed for a fall, despite the growth they’ve seen up till now.

But this is a column about biking and how it can help us be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Before we start talking about whether our boss is a first-class polluter or a first-class tree hugger and what to do about that, in terms of praise or protest, let’s talk about us. If we’re going to solve climate change and resource depletion by “leaving it in the ground,” it has to start with us.

The first “organization for which I work” is me. Before I can work for someone else, I have to get to work. My first job is not where I work, it’s getting to work. The “social and environmental consequences” which I need to “explore and take into account” are mine, not my employer’s.

Applied to the topic at hand — bike commuting — I’ll pose the question: how far am I willing to travel, how much of the world’s resources am I willing to expend, in order to make my living? Will I be able to get to work, to the store, to community activities and fellowship, by some human-powered form of transportation?

The Graduation Pledge website makes numerous references to actions “through,” “in” and “of” the workplace. But I contend here that the first “workplace” is not where we work, it’s where we live.

The Graduation Pledge website also talks about “pledge signers and alumni impacting the workplace and society to become concerned about more than just the ‘bottom line.’”

Maybe we could “become concerned about more than just the bottom line,” when it comes to our own options. How about taking a job for less money in a smaller town, where you can get to work and accomplish many other daily errands without a car?

Instead of a metro area suburb where the social scene is already made and waiting for you 24/7 every day of the year, consider a place where you may have to make your own social scene and maybe even make your own business. A place like Galesburg, maybe? This town needs your impact!

I understand that it’s not always possible to relocate, or to find the job close by that fits you, or to find affordable housing within a reasonable non-motorized commute. In fact, I drive for some errands. But I also decided to get by with fewer cars than drivers in our household.

I have nothing against taking the Graduation Pledge, among many other commitments, life-changing and otherwise, that one might make. But please don’t think that it’s enough to critique your boss’ environmental practices separate from your own. Before I start telling my boss about the need to make tough choices for sustainability, I hope the Pledge encourages us to make our own tough choices, closer to home.

 

Peter Bailley

Tags:  bike nice graduation pledge

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