US politician apologises for saying cyclists' heavy breathing helps cause global warming

Republican representative says his remarks, which met with mixture of mirth, incredulity and furore, were "over the top"

by Simon_MacMichael   March 5, 2013  

Smog over NYC… blame the cyclists…

A politician in Washington state has apologised for comments he made last week saying that cyclists’ heavy breathing causes air pollution, acknowledging that his phrasing when he said that cyclists were partly responsible for climate change because of their heavy breathing was “over the top.”

Republican party Representative Ed Orcutt, perhaps trying to exact revenge for all those jokes about politicians being responsible for global warming due to the amount of hot air they generate, made his initial comments in an email last week.

The email was sent in reply to local bike shop owner Dale Carson, who had criticised a proposal to levy a fee of $25 on the sale of all bikes in the state costing $500 or more as part of a wider $10 billion package relating to transport, reports the Daily Astorian.

Orcutt told Carson, who had written to more than 30 state politicians, that cyclists should pay their share of the cost of building and maintaining roads, because "the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider. Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride."

His remarks provoked a mixture of mirth, incredulity and furore. Jonathan Maus, editor of the Bike website in neighbouring Oregon, wrote to Orcutt  to ask him to clarify his comments.

Today, Bike Portland published his response, in which Orcutt, who studied science at university and was a forestry consultant before he entered politics, issued an apology for his statement about carbon emissions and agreed that his comments had been “over the top.” He went on to say:

"Although I have always recognized that bicycling emits less carbon than cars, I see I did a poor job of indicating that within my e-mail. My point was that by not driving a car, a cyclist was not necessarily having a zero-carbon footprint. In looking back, it was not a point worthy of even mentioning so, again, I apologize – both for bringing it up and for the wording of the e-mail.

"Second, please understand that I have not proposed, nor do I intend to propose, any tax – and certainly not a carbon tax – on bicyclists. There is little in the Democrat tax proposal that I support. However, the one aspect of the Democrat tax plan that has merit is their proposed $25.00 tax on the purchase of any bicycle $500.00 or more. I am willing to consider this because I’ve heard requests from members of the bicycle community that they want more money for bicycle infrastructure. The idea of bicyclists paying for some of the infrastructure they are using is one which merits consideration."

In Washington state, construction and maintenance of roads is largely paid for out of general taxation, with revenue raised from sales tax on gasoline representing only a tiny proportion.

The $10 billion proposed transportation funding package foresees increases in the gas tax every five years until it hits 50 cents a gallon – according to our calculations, that's still less than a sixth the amount most UK motorists would currently pay for the same amount of fuel.

However, just 0.01 per cent, $1 million, of that $10 billion is anticipated to be raised through the bike sales levy.

Arguments raised against it include that everyone pays for the roads, 19 out of 20 adult cyclists in the US also owning a car, that more people cycling saves local councils money in the long run, and that bike retailers would suffer.

That leads back to the man who had originally asked Orcutt his opinion of the levy, the bike shop owner Dale Carson, who according to the Daily Astorian said that while he welcomes the politician’s apology, he believes that Orcutt’s opinion "still seems way out there."

"Cycling has so many positive attributes to society," stated Carlson, who owns and runs three bike shops. "It should be encouraged and not discouraged."

Paleoclimatologist Dr Lonnie Thompson, who together with his wife runs the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University, described the politician’s thinking as "crazy."

Dr Thompson added: "We have to breathe whether we're riding a bike or not," and also made the point that a full gas tank with a capacity of 12 gallons will have resulted in the release of 314 pounds of carbon dioxide once it has been emptied.

20 user comments

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koko56's picture

posted by koko56 [335 posts]
5th March 2013 - 2:26


A "levy" on Bikes, really? LOL, this planet has gone crazy.

posted by northstar [1113 posts]
5th March 2013 - 7:30


Republican party Representative Ed Orcutt

If only his name was Ned Ircutt it would have made for a very apt anagram (apologies to those complaining about bad language.)

posted by ubercurmudgeon [170 posts]
5th March 2013 - 9:57


I'm sure an obese person who does no exercise will also end up with a higher breathing rate and CO2 output than a "normal" resting individual, too.

The "make cyclists pay for cycle infrastructure" thing is a little flawed, though. By and large, existing cyclists are those who are willing to take on traffic. Infrastructure is much more about people who currently don't cycle, but who want to, and about those who don't think they want to but may stand to be surprised by how agreeable it is once you actually try it on decent infrastructure.

So who should pay? Existing cyclists? Those who become cyclists after construction of infrastructure? Everyone? It's not really a cycling question, it's a broader tax ideology question. The right-of-centre view tends to be that the more you take the more you pay (so you make cyclists contribute an above-average level) whilst the left-of-centre view is that there should be less of a link between tax and expenditure (so you don't).

The progressive view, of course, is that it's not just cyclists who benefit - and certainly not just *existing* cyclists. Building infrastructure means higher uptake, which means less traffic, less congestion, less pollution, more disposable income to spend elsewhere, higher spend on high streets, reduced oil dependency (how much does a Gulf War cost these days?), fewer incidences of chronic health issues and associated costs, fewer and less serious RTIs with resultingly fewer deaths and fewer medical costs, and so on.

So *now* who do you tax? Some ripple effects may be greater or more direct than others, but it's the sort of Interconnectedness of All Things that makes the right-of-centre ideology look pretty blinkered. And when you start actually valuing all those collateral benefits - which are significant, though admittedly in the US economy where healthcare is private they will be of less significance to the govenrment - it actually becomes counter-productive to start charging people more for them. If you value those, then it makes more sense to charge the people who *don't* use them.

But far be it from me to suggest that Republicans are in any way short-sighted or suffer from any kind of cognitive dissonance.

Bez's picture

posted by Bez [534 posts]
5th March 2013 - 9:59


So the representative studied science at University and then says "My point was that by not driving a car, a cyclist was not necessarily having a zero-carbon footprint"
Carbon dioxide emitted as a result of metabolism is not a contributing factor in human induced global warming

A glowing recommendation fro the American education system

posted by spen [126 posts]
5th March 2013 - 10:06


Actually, all he needs is a middle initial of L and he would be an Utter Clod, which is even more fitting, and "family" friendly, but it probably isn't an idiom that would be familiar to many Americans.

posted by ubercurmudgeon [170 posts]
5th March 2013 - 10:39


There's a N missing in his surname.

posted by Dog72 [108 posts]
5th March 2013 - 11:18


Much as I'd like to believe that Senator Haircutt, and his UK equivalents like North Somerset councillor Elfan Ap Rees (who described cyclists who ride on 40 mph roads as "arrogant"), are genuinely convinced that cycling damages the environment, I doubt this is the case.

Instead his comments are a debating-society rebuttal to cycle campaigners, kind of a more mature version of "I know you are but what am I?". They're not intended to stand up to scrutiny; instead they're aimed at pleasing his car-dependent constituents and getting back-slapped at the next Tea Party fundraiser.

posted by Mr Agreeable [162 posts]
5th March 2013 - 12:11


It seems increasingly acceptable for politicians - and public figures in general - to make ridiculous and unfounded statements that are later retracted, specifically in the hope that some of the original lie will stick in the minds of the gullible. The US Republicans seem to have taken this to a new level though as this example demonstrates.

On the topic of the carbon emissions of cycling have a look at this article -
and before you get on your high horse (or carbon horse) bear in mind the emissions involved in manufacturing and shipping all that metal, composite and technical fabric you own.

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [1112 posts]
5th March 2013 - 13:33


It's in the glorious GOP tradition of fuckwitted comments about pollution, the best example being President Reagan's famous comment that "Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do."

I'm a human being, God damn it! My life has value. I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.

posted by Carl [136 posts]
5th March 2013 - 13:34


What's a Bicyclist?


posted by TurboJoe [67 posts]
5th March 2013 - 14:16


like an automobilist but differenter.

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [1112 posts]
5th March 2013 - 14:21


'What's a Bicyclist?'

one who rides a bicycle. Not difficult, that one.

posted by andyp [1371 posts]
5th March 2013 - 14:57


TurboJoe wrote:
What's a Bicyclist?

One that swings both ways Wink

cidermart's picture

posted by cidermart [493 posts]
5th March 2013 - 15:15


I can see what you are all saying but maybe he has a point when you take the Danish seat-wa*ker and all his heavy breathing into account. Surly that's the responsibility of bicyclists as well?

posted by big shug [40 posts]
5th March 2013 - 15:18


spen wrote:
So the representative studied science at University and then says "My point was that by not driving a car, a cyclist was not necessarily having a zero-carbon footprint"
Carbon dioxide emitted as a result of metabolism is not a contributing factor in human induced global warming

A glowing recommendation fro the American education system

True, the actual CO2 you breathe out is part of a closed loop, but the CO2 to move that food, to make fertiliser for it, etc. will most likely come from oil (as others have pointed out). Live like a hippy and cycling really would be carbon-free.

It's actually a GREAT question to ask "how much CO2 does a cyclist create", because it shows how people think. You don't need much in the way of mathematical skills - basically just the ability to add/subtract/multiply/divide - just the ability to think something through logically, answer the question actually asked, and some basic research ability (by which I mean, ' knows google is a thing').

That someone can reach a powerful position in government whilst evidently lacking these skills (apparently preferring 'I want a reason to hate that doesn't make me look a dick - this one will do') is incredibly depressing.

posted by nuclear coffee [201 posts]
5th March 2013 - 15:53


I'm aware of that. Just an attempt a humour but thanks for your input.


posted by TurboJoe [67 posts]
5th March 2013 - 16:52


Well, coming from a politician in the country where one of the same said a female can shut down her body to prevent pregnancy when she has been raped, and the answer to the guns problem is more guns, what do you expect?

USA is a big country with extremes of everything, including ignorance.


posted by davebinks [136 posts]
5th March 2013 - 19:37


davebinks wrote:

USA is a big country with extremes of everything, including ignorance.

It is not just the US that has these sorts of numb nut idiots in positions of power we (UK) are not that far behind them. A very sad/scary (delete as appropriate) state of affairs. Worried

cidermart's picture

posted by cidermart [493 posts]
6th March 2013 - 11:45


[[[[[ Heavy breathers? Methinks Mr.Orcutt conveniently forgets the Bates family---Daddy Bates, Mummy Bates, and of course young Master Bates.


posted by PhilRuss [332 posts]
7th March 2013 - 0:40