How the two best things you can do for the planet can add 6.4 active, vigorous years to your life. Why most towns and cities make these choices difficult. And how, with better design, cities could cut injuries, illnesses, and healthcare costs by 50% to 80%.
Dreaming bigger than life
Are your dreams bigger than your life? Is there more to experience or accomplish in this world than you will ever have time for? If you have this beautiful problem, it's time to ask yourself exactly what you would do with a few extra years of vigorous, healthy life. Would you earn a degree? Would you read more? Would you travel more, date more, take more yoga or dance or acting classes? Take up another sport? Would you finally write that book? Would you spend more time with people? Would you raise another child?
Most people spend much of their savings prolonging their last difficult year of life, the one they’re least equipped to enjoy. But aren't you better off prolonging your most vigorous years? And would you actually do what it takes, even if taking better care of yourself also meant taking better care of the Earth?
Sustainability through massive abundance, I'm Kev Polk, your guide to edenicity.
This episode is all about the two biggest things you can do for your health, which also happen to be the two best things you can do for the planet.
Living 6.4 years longer
If you drive everywhere; if you eat a lot of meat, eggs, cheese and milk, like most Americans, the good news is that you can add up to 6.4 years to your life expectancy, not at the end of your life, but at your current state of health or better. All you have to do is ditch that car, get around by bicycle and switch to a plant centered diet.
Yeah, I know bicycling seems scary and inconvenient, but that's mainly because of how our transportation system is designed. And nobody likes to be told what to eat or worse, what not to eat. And again, a lot of that is lack of meat and dairy alternatives at restaurants and supermarkets, though admittedly it's getting a lot better these days.
So from the perspective of Edenicity, we want to design cities to better support these healthier choices.
In the meantime, you can still choose bicycling and a plant based diet, and on the other side of the very real fear and resistance and inconvenience that you face, making these choices, is a longer, healthier life and a much healthier planet.
Health toll of cars
Let's talk about what would happen if we got rid of cars. According to the Association for Safe International Road travel in their online road safety fact sheet, crashes account for 37,000 deaths in the United States every year in about 2.35 million people injured or disabled every year. This is much more every year than the total U. S casualties in the Vietnam War.
Worldwide, the death toll is 1.25 million people per year, or 25 to 50 million injured or disabled. This is like an unending war worldwide.
It gets worse. Air pollution, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences from April 8th of 2019, accounts for 29,960 deaths per year in the United States, and a 2013 study by MIT put the toll at like twice that with 58,000 people a year. That's about the same as the number of U. S soldiers who died in the entire Vietnam War. And again, this is every single year. There's also road noise, which interrupts sleep, causes hypertension -- this, according to the Journal of Public Health, from June 2011 in an article called Are Cars the New Tobacco?
It's a big problem for mental health, and we're not just talking about road rage. That same Public Health Journal article pointed out the concept of "severance," and basically, this is the idea of neighborhoods that aren't very walkable. So in neighborhoods that are carved up by cars, children and elderly people are especially vulnerable because they're often stuck at home. They can't go out and get help when they need it. Car Free Cities author J. H. Crawford mentioned that children are growing up with much less time on the street than prior generations, which stunts their social skills.
Now, having grown up in a very walkable neighborhood, I know firsthand that adults on the street do not hesitate to tell off young children they suspect of cutting in line or jostling people, or pointing or staring or making rude comments. Nor do they hesitate to compliment a nice gesture, such as holding a door for someone. I also remember that from age seven on, my parents never bought me candy or comics. I had to save a small allowance every week to meet those needs and sometimes go and haggle with shopkeepers.
But nowadays, children are either home playing video games or being driven from one activity to another. And this is a big problem because I'm seeing kids who, literally, have never had to buy anything for themselves, never had to make their own transactions or negotiate anything for themselves out on the street and really never had to deal with anyone other than their parents telling them what to do. They have far fewer opportunities to learn how to behave without direct parental supervision, and teachers may actually be seeing this in increasingly severe behavior problems in schools.
The social isolation of suburban, and in some cases urban, car culture can lead to a fourfold increase in overall mortality, according to the Journal of Public Health again. Sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s 2002 book, Heat Wave. A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, documented how a heat wave that killed 700 people was far more deadly in neighborhoods where people were afraid to leave their homes or reach out to each other. And again, in places where the density is low and your friends are far away and you need to travel a long distance to see anybody, it could be very difficult to get help when disaster strikes.
Okay, I've saved the scariest health effect of cars for last. It's actually a very insidious one, and that's inactivity. Again, from the Journal of Public Health: it pointed out that inactivity causes three million deaths globally, nearly three times as many as die due to crashes. So this is gonna become super important when we look at deciding whether or not to bike and what the health benefits are gonna be for us.
So basically, cars are scary. They cause crashes. They cause air pollution, road noise, mental health problems. They fracture communities. They reduce individual and community resilience and most significantly, for your health, they deny you the opportunity of getting daily exercise.
Environmental toll of cars
All right, let's talk briefly about the environmental toll of cars. Now cars emit some 15% of all the carbon dioxide that's causing climate change. Right now, cars pollute the air with their exhausts. They pollute the land and waterways with oil and gasoline and used tires and all that metal and plastic accumulates in junk yards. At the end of their lives. Cars destroy habitat. As we mentioned in Episode two, roads carve up the landscape and there have to be 4 to 8 parking spaces for every car, in addition to places for dealerships and the roads themselves.
Now I realize that bicycling in the town that's already built for cars isn't going to undo most of the harms that already exist, but it will at least reduce the carbon dioxide that you're throwing into the atmosphere. And more importantly, it will send a very strong signal to planners and developers that a bicycle infrastructure has value. And in fact, as I will point out in a later episode, neighborhoods that have solid bicycle infrastructure (so bike path and bike lanes) definitely fetch a premium price and developers are definitely taking notice of this.
Benefits of bicycle commuting
So let's look at the benefits of bicycle commuting. Probably the most stunning benefit to getting around by bike is a study that came out of the United Kingdom. The British medical journal. Actually, now it's called the BMJ, April 19th, 2017. And basically it said that bicycle commuting reduced mortality from all causes by 41%. I mean, that's a really big deal. They were looking at everything from cancer to heart disease to other cardiovascular diseases, and when they combine all of the different causes, there was again a 41% reduction in mortality and in some particular ailments of reduction of over 50% which is comparable to some of the results that you can expect from surgery or drugs. But in this case, it was just simply bicycling every day. Also in the BMJ, January 15th, 2018, there was an article about how bike sharing schemes massively increased safety except where people don't use them because of mandatory bike helmet laws.
Bike sharing and safety
So let's break that down. As you may be aware, in cities all over the world, now you can pick up a bike through a bike sharing company and through a mobile app. Usually you check it out and you bike it through the city, and then there's usually a place to dock it where you just leave it and you only are charged for however many minutes you spend bicycling. When bike sharing went into New York City, into London and other cities, what they found was that bicycle safety increased dramatically, and this was kind of a surprise. In New York City, there were actually fewer accidents, even though many more people were bicycling around the city. This was a really big surprise because you would think more bicyclists: more opportunity for accidents. But in fact, the reverse is the case because the vast majority of fatal crashes involved cars, and the more bicyclists there are, the more careful the drivers become. This may also help to explain why bicycling in the UK and Europe is 4 to 6 times safer in many places than it is in much of the United States, where there is much less bicycle commuting.
But okay, what about that little footnote that I mentioned? Remember that the safety increased, except where people don't use the bike sharing schemes because of mandatory bike helmet laws. What's up with that? Well, in Australia, which has bike helmet laws through most cities, the bike sharing schemes basically failed in Brisbane and Melbourne, and this is, ah, a kind of a shock. But what happened was, I mean, picture yourself going to use a bike in a bike share. Well, if you're not carrying around a helmet, then you could get a ticket. Now, suppose there's a helmet available on that bike. Well, you don't know who's been using it. You don't know, like, whose sweat or or worse is in that helmet. The ick factor got too much for people. They weren't using the bike sharing set up. Fewer people were biking, and safety did not improve.
Not biking 17x more dangerous than biking
Let's get back to that statistic about inactivity and how it kills three times more people than car crashes. Only a small number of people actually bike in the United States. So not bicycling when I crunched the numbers is something like 17 times more hazardous to your health than bicycling, even when you take traffic safety into account.
Okay, those are the health benefits of bicycling. Let's look at the benefits to the planet. First of all, bicycles weigh at least 50 times less and use 50 times less material than cars. And when you look at how many calories it takes to get from point A to point B on a bike, some people give us bicyclists a hard time and say, "Hey, look, all that energy you're saving, not burning gas: you're just burning it up in calories with the extra food you eat getting around by bike, right?" Well, it turns out that actually, no, you can go several miles on the calories in an apple, but it would take you like 80 Apple's worth of calories consumed in gasoline to go the same distance, driving even a hybrid car with good mileage. So the environmental benefits of bicycle commuting vastly outweigh those of driving on car, even one with really good gas mileage.
Weirdly enough, the very people who fear bicycling the most are the ones who have the most to gain and the least to lose by doing it. I'm talking about American women, who are much safer bicyclists than American men. In many, many conversations I've had over the years, it was overwhelmingly women, not men, who voiced concerns about the safety of bicycling. And that, no doubt is a major factor that makes them better riders when they do ride. And let me be clear, unless it's against the law where you live, you do not need to wear a helmet to bike safely. That's important to note because when helmet laws went into effect in Australia, up to 80% of young women just quit riding. And when there are fewer riders, the safety of those who continue to ride goes way down because drivers are that much less used to bicyclists.
Now, believe me, I know how scary it can be. I've lived and commuted by bike in big cities, small cities, along country roads and everything in between. A friend from Los Angeles said she would never bike because "the drivers, they're insane! They'll kill you there!" I asked where she lived, she said. Pasadena, "Pasadena?! I used to live in Pasadena. It was the best place I ever biked! Mostly flat, and it hardly ever rained."
The famous blogger Mr Money mustache, who lived frugally and retired at, I think it was 30 years of age, crunched the numbers like this: every hour you spend on a bike or in a car for that matter, shortens your life expectancy by 20 minutes due to the risk of crashes. But it also increases your life expectancy when you're on a bike by 4.5 hours due to the benefits of the exercise you get being on that bike. When I plug this into my own bicycle commuting story, I found that I gained about a year of life expectancy every decade that I biked. So this was like being 20-something for a couple extra years.
When it comes to biking, the biggest danger is inactivity, not traffic. As I said in Episode two, we fear the wrong things.
Health benefits of plant-based diet
Let's turn to food. There have been many studies about the benefits of eating a plant based diet. I'm gonna refer mainly to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 1 2003, which pointed out that going vegan can add up to 3.6 years to your life.
For many of us, we far too few vegetables and fruit. Even the Atkins diet, the way it was originally framed still asked you to get as many leafy greens and vegetables as you could. The point being, whatever your dietary theory, increasing the amount of leafy greens and vegetables is a good thing.
Now. The other problem that we face in the way that most of us eat is to eat too much meat and dairy. And there's again numerous studies that point out the problems with this, which is basically cardiovascular disease and extra incidence of cancer. The China Study, the Seventh Day Adventist study the nurse's study, a lot of others besides.
In addition, the way food is grown, there could be pesticides as well as too few nutrients in some of the food that we consume. A lot of what we is kind of pumped up with water. And if you look at it with a refractometer, what you'll find is that their nutrient density is quite low. So eating things that are grown using organic techniques is a good way to improve your nutrition, as well as eating food that's organic and remineralized (that's even better).
How big a change can a plant based diet make well? Joel Furman, a doctor who advocates a really extreme a low sugar, low fat vegan diet, performed basically turn around miracles with cardiac patients who were at death's door time and time again. So diet can be as effective as many other medical interventions, according to Dr Furman. But you really have to stick to it, and that's where a lot of people fall down.
Environmental toll of food system
Now there's an environmental toll of the present food system. In fact, today, February 20th, 2020 Vox online ran an article called How to Reduce Your Food's Carbon Footprint In 2 Charts, and the bottom line is that CO2 Emissions from plant based foods are 10 to 50 times lower than animal based foods. And by the way, looking at the charts in that article, you can see that the same holds true for land use. And again, edenicity is designed to address these issues through local organic, mainly plant centric gardening.
How I went vegan
Now, none of this was on my mind when I went vegan in 2003. Food Just stop tasting good. I was in the habit of, I think, basically nuking chicken in the microwave and throwing barbecue sauce over it and having that with rice and some veggies. And as you can imagine, that got pretty boring. And I did some other things. I mean, I had been a pretty good cook, and I did what I could to try to breathe life back into my cooking. But the problem was that chicken in particular, stopped tasting good, no matter what I did to it, no matter how fancy I was. Ah, I tried other meats. I tried fish. It just wasn't working.
So on a lark I went vegan and suddenly it was amazing. Flavor returned. I wanted to eat again! The food that I ate focused very much on fresh produce and to my great surprise, my face cleared up. My stomach stopped hurting. All within about a week or two, and I thought, "Well, maybe I'll stick with it!"
Now look, I'm not a perfect vegan. In fact, people get mad at me. People who are card carrying carnivores get mad at my total hypocrisy for eating Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas ham. I'm even one of these bad vegans who won't freak out if there's beef broth in my soup. See, I still eat 99.5% less meat and dairy than I used to, and my impact on the earth is almost indistinguishable from being a pure card carrying, pain-in-the-neck, guilt-trippin' Vegan, which I'm definitely not. My view is I just eat the way I do. I try very hard not to shame anybody into eating in a different way, but over time, you know, I gradually learned about the advantages of veganism for the planet and for myself. I briefly joined a vegan society, and in their newsletter I have this really vivid image of a picture that was taken of three generations of women. So it was a grandmother, a mother and a daughter. And the daughter was in her twenties and they looked like sisters. They look maybe a couple of years apart. It was astounding. They'd all been vegan their entire lives. And it was just spectacular the difference it made in their lives.
If you do go vegan, I do invite you to be the kind that is very tolerant of people and of their own choices and decisions and just live by example. I've found that that has had more impact than scowling and growling at everybody around me for all their terrible, many mistakes that they make, you know. No, it's much better to live and let live. In fact, that's one of the reasons I went vegan too, is, I knew people who were vegan and didn't make a big deal about it. That meant that I wasn't in an out-group. They weren't making me the outsider in our conversations. I was very much an insider in the conversation, and I felt included. And so therefore, I felt welcome to try being a vegan. Does that make sense?
So please, you know, if you if you make these changes successfully, that's wonderful. First of all, wonderful for you and wonderful for the Earth. But do so in a way that's inclusive, please, rather than in a way that tries to tell people other people off. I think you'll find that it's just a lot more fun.
How Edenicity adds years to your life
Okay, let's talk about how edenicity is designed to add healthy years to your life. Edenicity is designed so there's no cars, just underground loop transit, footpaths and separated bike lanes.
Now the bike lanes are separated because there is some anecdotal evidence from the New York City experience with bikeshare programs that they have been more collisions with pedestrians. There were a few high profile cases that made the news, and I think the New York Post made a really big deal about how terrible this was and how bikes are really a terrible menace, and I haven't had time to research how true that is or isn't.
But it's fairly simple to design for the separation of bike and pedestrian transit, as much as possible. For one thing, bicycles have the ability to store energy, so if you run the bike lanes under major pedestrian crossings -- so you basically keep the sidewalk straight, but then have a little dip for the bike lane underneath the sidewalk, a little tunnel, if you will. Then bikes can go under and come out the other side without slowing down because they speed up on the way down. They lose a little speed on the way up. This is not true of pedestrians, so you run the bikes under the pedestrians, and it turns out that everybody's happy. This works well for the way that both pedestrians and bikes are built.
Anyway, with bicycle transportation and no cars, Edenicity cuts the trauma load in emergency rooms in half or more. I have tried to chase down the exact statistic and gotten a number of different numbers. But it seems really clear that the number of trauma cases in emergency rooms due to cars is rather high. Depending on the type of injury, it could be 50% or more.
Also, just getting rid of cars in and of itself will cut chronic diseases by 50% due to air pollution and more active transit, And finally, by cutting social isolation, we can dramatically increase survival odds of most people in a disaster.
Edenicity's food system is local, organic and largely plant based. Now, the Vox article says that local doesn't matter in terms of CO2. But in my view, local does a lot for social cohesion and the efficiency of farm to table operations, reducing the need for packaging and therefore packaging waste, and also promotes social justice. And this is because the food growers are not hidden from view. So the problems that we've had throughout the world, really, with imported labor -- and this has throughout the world through many centuries now, of labor being imported and people really suffering out of sight and out of mind of most of the people who consume the food -- could be alleviated by just having the production really close to home, where it's much harder to hide abuse.
Now Edenicity's food system is also largely plant based. It does use animals to control pests and cycle nutrients, but this produces much less meat, milk and eggs than the typical American diet. But again, this design cuts chronic disease by as much as another 70% and increases social connection via its garden-to-cafe culture.
Affordable health care
Bottom line in edenicity: the total cost of health care should plummet to less than half of what it is today, and maybe a little is 20% of what it is today. We're talking about 50 to 80% fewer cancers, incidence of heart disease, and other chronic illnesses; fewer injuries than what the medical profession has to deal with today.
If you want affordable health care, one way to begin is to design better cities.
You might be wondering, Okay, when can I move into one of these edenic cities? Well, actually, car free housing is going up in Arizona, as I mentioned in Episode 3, and urban farms are well underway in cities such as Detroit in New York City. This field is just exploding right now. And if you want to keep up with it, be sure to visit edenicity.com and click the news link to subscribe to our free newsletter. As a bonus, you'll also get a copy of the latest edenicity reference design.
Your action plan
But wherever you are, you can carve out your own slice of Eden by eating a lot more vegetables and fruit and a lot less meat and dairy. And again, I urge you do not look for perfection. One of the things they found in the Seventh Day Adventist study was that people who ate a little bit of meat -- we're talking about a small portion once a week -- actually had slightly better health outcomes than people who were purists and ate zero meat and zero dairy.
If you're a vegan, if you do go vegan and really get rid of meat and dairy, you're going to need to supplement with vitamin B 12. You need three micrograms in your food daily or a 10 micrograms supplement, or a weekly 2000 micrograms supplement. And this is all detailed in the Vegan Society's Web page: "What every vegan should know about Vitamin B 12." This is the one area where you really do need to supplement. Now. On the upside, if you're eating whole plant foods, lots of them, cooked or raw, chances are you're getting a lot more other vitamins and nutrients that are gonna be lacking in most people's diets. But B 12 is one you really are going to need to supplement if you go vegan.
The next part of the plan is to ditch that car and walk or bike. Now, this is hard to do in a low density environment with detached houses. Next time you're planning a move, here's what I'm going to suggest. Go to walkscore.com and look up whatever addresses you're thinking of moving to.
Be ready to be shocked! Most neighborhoods are not very walkable, meaning that if you want to go shopping for food, if you wanna go to school or to a clinic, you've got to get in the car to do it. But if you want to make this change, this tool can help you do it. Now, as a disclaimer, my neighborhood has a Walk Score of 49, which is not very good. But I'm a lifelong, avid bicyclist, and I will put up with a lot more traffic than most people.
So finally, this brings up my final caution, which is: middle aged american males should really cool it out there on the bicycle. We actually have 4 to 6 times higher mortality riding our bikes than everybody else. Maybe we just overestimate our abilities out there, ride like we think we used to as teenagers, and we just get slaughtered out there.
So if you're like me, a middle aged American male and you do this thing where you ditch the car and get around by bike, which is a great thing to do for you in the planet, by all means, be careful out there.
But I think it's still worth doing.
Dreaming bigger than life [music]
If your dreams are bigger than your life, you owe it to yourself to make your life a little bigger. In this episode, we've discussed the two best ways to do that: bicycling and a plant based diet, which also happen to be the two best things you can do for the planet.
If you enjoyed Episode 4, please be sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode. And please join me for Episode 5, when I'll reveal design secrets behind disruptive companies like Tesla Motors that could totally transform other sectors such as housing, food and energy. You've never heard anything like this, and you won't hear it anywhere else.
I'm Kev Polk, and this has been Edenicity.
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