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Burn Calories, Not Carbon

You can't pick up a newspaper or magazine without finding a story about the growing threat of global climate change or the obesity epidemic. But this might be the first time you've seen these two major challenges in the same sentence.

Why do I mention them together? Because in America today, a clear and troubling link has formed between the burning of gasoline in our cars and the burning of calories in our bodies. It's a kind of "energy equation," if you will. At present, the relationship is negative: More driving + less walking and biking = more tons of carbon in the atmosphere + more pounds around our collective waistline.

There are two reasons for situation. First, for the last 50 years we have designed our communities around the automobile. In many places it is difficult and even unsafe to walk or bike. Second, as walking and biking have become more difficult, driving has become second nature, so embedded in our culture and our behavior that we do it without thinking.

To punctuate this decline in mobility outside the automobile: 40 percent of the trips we take are two miles or less—well within walking or biking distance—yet 75 percent of those short trips are taken by car. While distressing, this fact is actually a source of hope. We have the opportunity to convert some of those short car trips to walking and biking ventures in our everyday travel, or what we at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy call "active transportation." By substituting human energy for gasoline, we can fight the obesity epidemic and the climate crisis simultaneously. We'll burn more calories and less carbon, creating a positive energy equation.

In short: More walking and biking + less driving = healthier people + a healthier planet.

That's a win-win proposition, one that is simply too good to pass up. This is why Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has launched a multi-year effort to build an active transportation movement, and not a moment too soon. If we are going to succeed in our goal to see 90 percent of Americans living within three miles of a local trail system by 2020, we must start laying the foundation today. We have to energize the nation to support more trails and more connections to trails.

We can't achieve this ambitious goal without you, our members and supporters. We need your financial help, but most of all we need your energy. Please visit our Web site at to join the active transportation movement or call our office at 202.974.5111.

Burn Calories, Not Carbon. Pass it on.

Keith Laughlin

Summer 2007

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
5th Floor
Washington, DC 20037