We Live in a Beautiful Place Ruined by Cars and Pollution

The beautiful South Downs with the English Channel in the background

We have the sea a couple of miles or so to the south of us, and the hilly countryside about the same distance to the north. You would think that it would be a paradise for cycling in the UK, but unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the case.

Between the hills and the English Channel are houses, roads and cars as far the eye can see. There are no bike paths, but there are drivers in huge cars who hate you because you’re on a bicycle. The air is thick with pollution from car exhausts, wood burning stoves, petrol lawnmowers, strimmers and chainsaws; even bonfires. I don’t know if the pollution gets worse every year, but it definitely feels like that. And it’s not even just when you’re outside that you feel it. During the summer garden work season, but mostly in winter, you get hit with it immediately upon cracking the window.

It’s really unpleasant, and you really get an idea for how bad it is when you go out at night. I used to like going for bike rides at 10 or 11 at night when it was quiet. At that time, there were almost no cars and therefore no exhaust emissions. But even then, the crisp, cool air was still incredibly smokey. You can only get that kind of continuous daily pollution around here because of wood burning.

In terms of open spaces, our parks are few and far between. They’re small, they’re basic, anti-cycling, unlit (and therefore scary at night); and have barely seen improvement since I was born 34 years ago. There aren’t really any nice sights that you’d find on a casual walk around the town either. It’s nothing like in Japan where you’re never far away from the next temple or shrine, or other beautiful piece of architecture or patch of nature.

In terms of alleyways and other pedestrian infrastructure, they’re narrow, dirty, and dark with high walls. Not the kind of place you’d want to go at night, and not really during the day either. They’re also not cycling friendly as you might expect. It doesn’t compare well at all to somewhere like Singapore, which has its PCN (Park Connector Network). The car free routes connect up parks in the city, as you would expect. They’re wide and open, with space on both sides. It never feels closed in like alleyways here, and Singapore is far from a bicycle friendly city itself. The reason for the huge difference is that a town like Worthing was built to maximise every bit of space for homes and other development. Nothing was left unused. Preserving natural beauty was not considered. They only considered a future of cars and houses. Nature didn’t matter, cycling didn’t matter because cars now existed and were supposedly better in every way.

It’s not hard to see how the way the town was designed and built has lead to one of the least progressive councils in the country, where nothing ever gets done. But the great thing is that, while it would be difficult to fix all of the disastrous design mistakes, there are things we could do to make the best of what we have. Banning private cars, banning wood burning, bonfires, petrol garden tools, private fireworks for example. If we only did these things, the difference would be massive and immediate. It’s not going to happen because of politics, but it can happen because of the climate crisis.

Even just in the last week, we’ve seen widespread flash flooding across the country. We’re seeing it more and more this year and it does feel like something has to give soon. We have COP26 coming up, and while I have no faith in any political action at either the local or national level, as I’ve mentioned many times; it does present a huge opportunity for people to realise that politicians and corporations aren’t coming to save us. We have to boycott business and make the lives of politicians a living hell to the point where they don’t want to stay in office. That’s basically our only chance now.

Doing Something about the Climate Crisis isn’t Better than Nothing

I’m not even sure this is true any more

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.

Trapped in a Covid Hellscape

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.

How To Get Worthing Cycling Without Doing Anything

Worthing council is famous for being unwilling to do anything to encourage cycling (aside from literally encouraging it). This is a special post for the powers that be over there. The definitive guide for getting people cycling in Worthing for the lowest possible price: free.

1. Introduce bicycle hire (including electric bike option) with docks everywhere. The Donkey bikes are good but no where near enough.

2. Introduce car free weekends.

3. When people realise the town is better without cars, ban private cars all the time.

You’re welcome.