It’s time to stop asking for Bike Infrastructure

At COP26, all I’ve heard from cycling people are calls for world leaders and governments to not forget that cycling is essential for any kind of sustainable future plan; whether that be the fantasy one they mean (green growth capitalism), or one that actually works (degrowth, equal society).

But what they almost always forget is that there’s a reason why the countries that have bad (or no) bike infrastructure are in that predicament. It’s because of the corrupt right wing governments we have, and the society that has been moulded by them and the media over decades. These governments are not going to fundamentally change now, and what change that does come from the system we’re under will be far too slow to make any difference in the grand scheme of the climate crisis.

Everything society does now has to take into consideration how little time we have to act. For example, no nuclear power, new airports or airport expansion. No new roads, and no new high speed rail in small countries. Anything we can’t do in less than a handful of years should be off the table, with a few exemptions where necessary. This of course includes cycling. We have potentially just a few years left to drastically cut emissions to as close to zero as possible and stop the planet breaching all of the climate tipping points. The only way that is possible is to immediately ban cars and use the roads predominantly as bike lanes. We will need to install some Dutch style infrastructure on certain roads where vans, trucks and buses will remain, but that can be done within a year or two, so it meets the criteria. Swapping every petrol car that exists now for an EV, while also building Dutch style bicycle infrastructure networks covering every busy road in every town and city around the world would do almost nothing to slow down the climate crisis; and it would take far too long anyway. The fact that this is presented as a legitimate solution to reduce emissions at COP26 by the cycling lobby is frankly ridiculous.

The Glasgow conference is a joke, as I’ve mentioned previously, and anyone who knows anything about the climate crisis will tell you the same. Every day that we refuse to accept the reality that capitalism, economic growth, fossil fuels, and the reign of cars dominating our lives must end, the harder we make it for ourselves. The harsher the cuts have to be. And they’re already incredibly steep as I type this.

Seeing as I’m watching the T20 World Cup Cricket right now; an analogy would be that we’re batting second and chasing 300 to win. The highest ever first innings score was 278, and the highest ever successful run chase was 245. That kind of puts our challenge in perspective. Everything we do, we have to hit for 6, and we have to do it fast because the runs keep adding on. Imagine if every day another run was added to the target. Technically the maximum score you could achieve if you hit every ball for 6 would be an absurd 720. But considering how unlikely that is, you quickly approach a tipping point after which the chase is mathematically impossible, no matter how many sixes you hit from 120 balls. I’m not going to get into extras like wides. That would be a bit much.

But just look at what we’re doing at COP26. We’re playing test cricket in a T20 when we’re chasing that record total. We’ve not scored yet and we’re in the 4th over. We’ve almost wasted a quarter of the innings and haven’t even got going. The coach will be losing his mind in the dugout. “Smash it you idiots! Stop blocking and dinking it around!” he’ll yell like a madman. You might say I should shut up about cricket and get back to the point. And that would be fair, but I honestly feel like this could be a good way to explain our crisis to a lot of normal people out there. Use analogies that they can relate to rather than just throwing a bunch of technical climate terminology at them.

Literally anything is worth a try at this point. Nothing we’ve attempted so far seems to get people to actually understand and care enough to hold the governments and corporations to account.

To get back to the subject of bike infrastructure, it’s going to be tough for cycling people to hear the counterintuitive message that infrastructure no longer helps us. I mean, many of these people have been saying this for decades now. But if we’re to move forward and get the best outcome for cycling, and humanity as a whole; we have to throw away everything we thought we knew about how societies operate. Once we all do that, we can create a new system from scratch that actually works; and finally bin this terrible one that’s been ruining everything for the last half century or so.

Green Growth And Vaccines Are Both Delusions

When you watch the mainstream media, you’ll notice this striking similarity between the climate crisis and the covid pandemic. The media can’t shake this firmly held belief that we have the solutions to both of these crises at our fingertips. The only issue is that unfortunately, neither crisis actually is actually being improved by these silver bullet fixes.

Solar is good. But not without slashing energy use.

To be clear, we do have the ability to solve these crises, as I’ve talked about ad nauseam. But the solutions are not vaccines and green growth. Conveniently enough, the solution for both is to end capitalism. Sadly though, the media will never tell you that. Or at least they won’t while we still have a chance to save ourselves. Presumably they’ll change their tune once it becomes obvious to everyone that it’s too late to avoid every coastal city in the world becoming a treasure trove for scuba divers.

Boris Johnson at the moment is talking about how frustrated he is with world leaders not doing enough about climate change. So much so that he almost managed to convince me that he cares about the environment. Of course that’s ridiculous. If he was actually mad at other world leaders, he would be mad at himself for pretty much everything he’s ever said and done regarding the climate.

Vaccines are good. But not without masks, distancing and paying people to stay home.

What he’s actually angry at is the possibility that he’s going to look bad when COP26 is a disaster and it reflects badly on him. He doesn’t care if any agreement is based on a fake solution of green growth with a ridiculous target of Net Zero in 29 years from now. All he cares about is that he can take the plaudits for “solving” climate change in Glasgow. Anything that happens after that (eg society collapsing, life on Earth ending) would just be a coincidence and nothing to do with him.

It would be really helpful if very soon we start to appreciate the real solutions, rather than glorifying fake ones.

The Paris Agreement Was a Failure. The Glasgow Agreement Will Be Even Worse

I remember watching that famous ending to the COP21 when Laurent Fabius hit his leaf shaped wooden mallet on the desk to signify the deal being accepted.

Al Gore was happy, and I was happy. I remember feeling emotional in that moment. Maybe this really would be the start of huge change to the way we live. But it wasn’t. Anyone who follows the up-to-date science knew that 1.5c was a fantasy, but we could forgive that because it showed real ambition. But it turned out that no one cared to live up to that. It was for show on that day, and nothing more.

COP26 however, is almost certain to be far worse. It will be a political affair, not a scientific one. The only job of the UK negotiators will be to get every country to agree on Net Zero 2050. A target that requires basically no government action for the next 20 years. It’s just a nice round date far off in the future. And you can be sure that the net zero target everyone agrees to will have all the loopholes you’ve come to expect. Wood burning? Of course. Shipping and aviation? You bet.

If you still have your hopes up for COP26, I would politely suggest that it’s time to lower them. All the way down. At least then you will be somewhat prepared for the bullshit that’s coming. You’ll still be angry when it happens. Such is the nature of being human. You can never fully prepare, but you can at least lessen the blow.

I’ve been thinking this way about COP26 for a while, but recently reading the book “A Chicken Can’t Lay A Duck Egg” really helped me to relax more. The realisation that nothing you do in the neoliberal political and economic system can save us from climate disaster really helps focus the mind. We have to change the system. That’s all.

Rich people buying electric yachts, electric helicopters, electric sports cars, electric private jets, eco mansions etc is not sustainable. The only way for them to be truly sustainable is to live small and live local like everyone else. We’ve all enjoyed the little things in life during the pandemic, and we have to make that a permanent lifestyle change if we’re to have any chance of having a future to look forward to.

COP26 has no intention of going in this direction. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure we do.