After a year and a half of covid chaos in the UK and around the world, I think it’s fair to assume at this point that covid-19 will not end until we get serious about the climate crisis. Specifically, that means ending capitalism and reducing consumption drastically and immediately.
Technically, New Zealand has proven that you actually can continue with capitalism while still keeping covid at bay and protecting your citizens. But you need to do short and sharp full lockdowns every time local cases begin. We’ve seen just today Jacinda Ardern putting NZ in lockdown for one locally transmitted case. That might sound strange to people in the UK for example since we currently have 30k cases per day (officially) and no restrictions, but it’s what a good government does.
But because most countries seem incapable of learning that very simple lesson, we won’t end covid globally that way. And even if we could, it wouldn’t solve the aforementioned capitalism and consumption issues that are wrecking our climate. So that leaves climate action (specifically system change) as the only option.
If we end capitalism, and we move to a type of system where we live more local lives and people are provided the basics to live, then it would be incredibly easy to stay away from others and end the spread. People wouldn’t be forced to go to work where they could catch or spread the virus. A roof over their head, food on the table, water, heat, etc would be guaranteed. Poverty and homelessness would be consigned to the history books.
Every day we keep doing nothing, we’re making both crises worse and worse, leading to unnecessary suffering and the deaths of a huge number of people. We have to ask ourselves whether this is really the way we want to live when we can have so much better. Will we say enough is enough and force an end to the type of politics that is unwilling and incapable of doing anything about covid or climate?
I really hope so, but it has to be soon. COP26 can’t be a green growth summit with weak goals for 2050. This system isn’t working. Take a look around you and ask yourself how much of what you see is making your life better and happier? And when you realise not very much of it is, stop living the way society wants you to.
Recently, people often tell me that I should accept any progress that is being made towards sustainability. But I always push back on that. The climate crisis is now so dire that only huge, immediate change can give us any real hope of a future we can look forward to.
We know that we have to get emissions to zero as soon as possible, capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and deploy solar radiation management techniques. That’s what the latest science is saying. Switching to EV ownership, or slowly electrifying bus fleets over decades aren’t things I’m going to support. They’re arguably worse than doing nothing. Because when you don’t understand and consider the whole problem, and just take various measures that aren’t part of a joined-up strategy, you take your focus off of what must be done, and waste precious time as well. Two things we absolutely can’t afford.
Obviously I don’t want to actually do nothing. But if we took the time to understand the full scale of what we’re facing, society would be far more likely to come to the collective realisation that the entire system has to change.
The more I think about this, the more I realise how much of a problem it is. It applies to almost everything. From trying to build bike lanes when in reality the only thing we have time for is banning cars; to net zero carbon targets where planting forests that could later burn is seen as a solution. The entire system we have right now is just trying to present guaranteed future failure as a solution we should get behind.
It’s time we started talking about real solutions. The big solutions. Banning cars, banning domestic flights, cycling, public transport etc. The types of things that can have an impact now, when we really need it. Not in 30 years when it will be too late.
Back in the April-May 2020 full lockdown, I felt scared, but I never felt as trapped as I do now. Back then, there was a sense of community. People were taking the stay-at-home message seriously and when I did go out for my 30 minute exercise, people were wearing masks and generally showing some compassion for those around them.
Fast forward to the present and cases are still ridiculously high, we have the delta variant, the restrictions are totally gone, and everyone seems to think the pandemic is over. I haven’t been out on my bike for a couple of months now. I haven’t even left the house. During the Olympics, I did nothing else. I Just dived headfirst into sports all day, every day for 16 days. I didn’t even go outside to relax in the garden.
I still haven’t gone outside except for a few minutes today. I put the deck chair down, but then realised the neighbours (who haven’t taken covid seriously from the start) were sitting in their garden and the wind was blowing from their direction straight towards me. So I gave up and went inside. No way to relax when I’m imagining covid particles floating my way.
You might say that’s paranoid, and you’d probably be right to say that. But living in this country over the last year and a half has taught me to always assume the worst. Assume the pandemic will never end, assume there will be more and deadlier variants that spread easier and evade vaccines. Worry that I’d somehow contract the virus from our selfish neighbour through a garden hedge! It all sounds perfectly logical in this open-air nut house of 67 million.
At least if the roads were empty, as they would be if we took either the covid crisis or the climate crisis seriously (too much to ask of the Tories I know), I could get outside and ride my bike. It would still be unpleasant if all else stayed the same, but at least I would feel comfortable enough. If I lived in a modern country, maybe I could even dream of a nice, quiet bike lane into the countryside. You know, those ones the Dutch have literally everywhere you see a field in their country.
Trolleybuses seem like a really good idea. They don’t have to carry around big batteries and they never need to stop and charge since they can just run on overhead wires. But do they make sense in our cities now that we live in a dangerous world of extreme weather?
Because the Trolleybuses run on set routes that can’t be changed, what happens if you get localised flooding from extreme rainfall? You can’t just divert the buses around the flood like you could with a battery bus.
Maybe you could fit them with batteries small enough that would allow them to circumvent a flooded area but not too big to increase the weight by a huge amount. There’s also a potential problem with the overhead wires being affected by extreme heat. But that is also a risk for trams and trains so not really relevant here. Although perhaps the way Trolleybus pantographs hold the wires rather than lift up to touch them makes them more resistant to sagging wires than pantographs on trams and trains.
I think we’re going to see a lot of variation in bus drivetrains. We’re already seeing hydrogen buses up in Scotland which are at the moment pretty well suited to the rural routes, and EV buses in city centres. I don’t see new trolleybuses being installed in places that don’t already have them unfortunately, but hopefully I’m wrong about that.
But cities that do have them really need to promote the buses to the people once private cars are finally banned. Let them know that we were right the first time about public transport, and that car ownership was an epic mistake we can recover from.