I love cycling, so why am I not doing it?

The only time I’ve ridden one of my three bikes in the last year was going to get my booster jab in mid December. Why? What’s wrong with me? Why would I have 3 bikes and not ride any of them? It sounds odd, but really I think it comes down to a mix of reasons that have just worn me down to where I’m at now.

Before covid, I was doing a relatively long ride once a week or so on a Monday or Tuesday. At that point I was working part time, and having those two extra days off a week was crucial to my mental health. It made working a pretty miserable, low paid job a lot more tolerable. But over time I was becoming more and more frustrated and disillusioned by the lack of car-light route options. Knowing that there was one somewhat enjoyable route to a location; and that taking any wrong turn would lead to stressful, fast moving traffic and the general feeling of being a second class citizen sucked so much of the fun out of these longer rides.

This wasn’t the first time I was feeling like this. I’ve had a couple of long breaks from cycling over the years. The first one was from about age 18 to 23, and then from 27 to 30. The first time was due to generalised anxiety disorder, and then the second 3 year gap was when I started a new job and I felt that I couldn’t cycle the 5 miles there because it wasn’t cycle friendly. I got a scooter for two years and then a car after that. Which brings me back to where I started doing those longer rides.

Looking back now on when my anxiety was the most incapacitating, I wonder how much of that time was attributable to what I now know about our unsustainable economic system, as well as that trapped feeling I had as a cyclist. Maybe subconsciously that played a big role in me feeling the way I did, but I couldn’t articulate it at the time. Maybe I knew that this society wasn’t made for people like me. When it came to the decision to buy a scooter and later drive a car, I was definitely very aware by that point that people like me who wanted empty roads and everyone cycling weren’t welcome here. Electric cars made me feel as if I wasn’t succumbing to society’s demand to drive, and that I was doing it on my terms. But I really wasn’t. I think it’s pretty clear that had I been living in a more accepting society rather than a closed minded one, I probably would have kept cycling all the way from childhood to now with no breaks. And my anxiety would have most likely been a lot more manageable too.

When covid came along, I felt a kind of relief at being locked down for months from April to June 2020 and being restricted to 30 minutes of exercise per day. It meant that I only had time to go from home to the seafront and back again to stay within the time limit. There was one route that allowed me to make it down there almost car free. It also allowed me to avoid the majority of pedestrians and other cyclists in addition to the few cars that were still driving around.

I continued in that pattern for a few months, occasionally trying some other local routes while the traffic levels were so low. When the full lockdown was prematurely eased, I went back to just riding that one route to the seafront. It became gradually less fun. The couple of busy roads I had to cross filled up again and took ages to cross, the noise returned, but it was still by far the best route to ride. I decided I wouldn’t go back to doing any long rides again until after the pandemic.

Then, the temporary covid bike lanes appeared in August and officially opened at the beginning of September, months after the full lockdown had ended. I decided to ride on those instead and change up my route. At first it was a novelty to have a whole car lane to myself going into town, but it wore off when I thought about how polluted it was with so many cars right next to me. I stopped using it even before it was removed at the end of November (just three months after being installed).

By that point, I had stopped riding long distances, seen drivers become more and more dangerous and anti-bike, experienced a (albeit fleeting and poorly executed) glimpse of what being given permanent dedicated space for cycling might feel like; and seen us return to business as usual while covid was still far from over. I started riding at night instead, but I couldn’t keep that up very long. I retreated from society even further and stopped leaving the house entirely.

Covid got worse and worse. All restrictions ended. The government became more and more openly absurd and anti-science. Scandal after scandal and yet they remained untouchable. No one in the mainstream challenged the anti-science stance that had seeped into the public psyche. Scientists who were doing that (such as Dr Deepti Gurdasani and others) were increasingly ignored and no longer able to get on major TV or radio. And that pretty much leads us to today. I still don’t want to go anywhere. I still don’t feel safe anywhere in public covid wise. I still have no intention of taking public transport anywhere.

Every day I just have this ridiculous hope that maybe soon we will come to our senses as a society and force the end of car ownership, so we can have empty streets to ride again. In my mind, getting rid of cars has become the symbol of when our insanity stops as a species. But it doesn’t feel like anything is going to change any time soon. Only the climate crisis or another deadly Delta-like covid variant have the potential to interrupt business as usual and maybe lead to lasting change to the benefit of cycling (and everything / everyone else sane left in this world). It doesn’t seem as if the current cost of living crisis is going to be enough to force any real change. People will just put up with it quietly, like the obedient little pawns in the economic game they are.

So I guess if I have to sum up why I’m not cycling, it comes down to lack of quiet bike routes, cars, psycho drivers, endless covid mishandling / corruption / stupidity, lack of infrastructure and my depression at the endless stupidity of our broken economic system. I think that covers it.

The cases are going down gradually at the moment according to the ONS / Zoe Covid Study, but they’re still remaining stubbornly very high compared to previous waves of the pandemic. Universal masking is a distant memory at this point, and the booster must be wearing off significantly by now.

I’m hoping that by the summer, things will have shifted significantly in a positive direction, and I’ll hopefully head back out on the bike again. I’m curious to know if I’m the only one who feels this way. There must be others out there who just feel so beaten down by all this shit.

What I would do tomorrow if I was in charge

After the last post where I talked about how much it feels like what we’re doing now is leading us straight to extinction; I thought I would indulge myself and come up with a list of things I would do immediately if I was in charge of the country (and assuming every other country was led by someone with exactly the same ideals). In the process show any doubters that I am in fact positive about the future. Just one where we make massive changes; rather than one where we waste precious time tinkering around the edges of our disastrous current system.

Rather than write a lot about each policy idea, I just want to simply lay out the basics of my plan, and perhaps go into more detail in future. Especially on topics I haven’t previously covered.

  • End capitalism
  • Nationalise all essential industries, and shut down all businesses that don’t bring a clear benefit to society.
  • Bring in a universal income so work is optional and only for the benefit of society as a whole; not for individual gain.
  • Ban all new and begin rapid phaseout of existing fossil fuel infrastructure
  • Implement the MEER Reflection Framework, Marine Cloud Brightening, Ocean Pasture Restoration, and other Geoengineering / solar radiation management techniques.
  • Tax the rich 99% (everyone lives the same way)
  • Ban all unsustainable building materials
  • Ban private cars for everyone except for those who couldn’t live without one today (disabled etc). Begin rapid phaseout of diesel taxis and the small number of private cars that will remain in favour of EVs.
  • End deforestation and give back vast areas of grazing land to nature.
  • Ban all cryptocurrencies, mining, NFTs etc.
  • Ban pesticides
  • Ban meat production
  • Ban all new road, airport, port, and other developments intended to increase trade and GDP.
  • Ban all new single family homes, luxury apartments and mansions, and begin the process of converting existing large homes into many tiny apartments or buildings for other societal purposes.
  • Ban landlords
  • Begin rapid phaseout of fossil fuelled vans, trucks etc. Aim to replace most vans with cargo bikes. Demand for vans and trucks will drop due to massively reduced consumption levels.
  • Ban private jets, super-yachts and all other privately owned luxury transport.
  • Ban second homes
  • Severely restrict flying. Mandate that people may only take one return flight per year, regardless of wealth. Only holidays, visiting family, moving overseas permitted. Business travel by air banned.
  • Mandate that ground transport must be used for all trips where the destination can be reached within about 24-36 hours. Air travel only when absolutely essential.
  • Immediately invest massively in public transport, bicycle parking, and begin the phaseout of diesel buses, coaches, trains.
  • Immediately begin phasing out plastic and mandating the use of reusable containers and schemes to return them to shops for reuse.

I could probably go on endlessly listing more and more things, but I think this covers a lot of bases. Imagine a real politician coming in day one and doing all of this. It would be incredible compared to everything we’re used to. But we shouldn’t forget that what I’m talking about here isn’t some crazy nonsense. What politicians do right now is pure insanity. What I’m proposing is entirely logical and urgently necessary. The people talking about net zero 2050 are the crazy ones.

What are you NOT doing to fight the Climate Crisis?

Just do less

What are you doing to fight the climate crisis? That question drives me nuts. Are you driving an EV? Are you buying sustainably manufactured products? Are you powering your five bedroom detached house with renewable energy? These are the questions you hear all the time.

What you never hear is “what are you doing less of?” Are you switching from working full time to just a couple of days a week? Are you buying less clothes, less shoes, less tech, less stuff? The focus almost always seems to be on “sustainable consumption”, which is basically an oxymoron. Yes, we need to consume certain things to survive, but that’s not what people mean when they say that. It’s about continuing to over-consume things we don’t need, but in a slightly less bad way than before. That’s not going to do anything to stop our climate predicament getting out of control.

We’ve been hearing recently about 4 day work weeks and UBIs. I’m certainly in favour of both of these policies, but while they promise positive things for quality of life, mental health and reducing poverty; they don’t really do anything about our rampant over-consumption. A 4 day work week with the same pay as now would reduce emissions from commuting, but presumably it would lead to an increase in leisure consumption and long weekend travel.

As far as a UBI, I think that concept is something that would have been great if it was implemented decades ago. Now, it feels like far too little, too late. It’s not about providing people with a great, simple, high quality of life. It is intended to allow people to actually get by when they’re unemployed. It’s basically a decent level of unemployment benefit similar to what you can get in numerous countries now.

I think what we need now is more like a full universal income that can provide people with everything they need to live a healthy and sustainable life, rather than an unemployment safety net. And I think that should be the way everyone lives. The only people who will work in this scenario would be people who make a real positive difference to society, and they wouldn’t be doing it for money. We would all live in a broadly similar way, with different hobbies, interests, opinions and so on to differentiate us. We could get rid of currency entirely. I’ve talked about that before.

The general point I’m trying to make is that it’s the big things that we don’t talk about reducing or eliminating. To be fair, we do hear people talking about eating less meat and dairy or flying less, or even eliminating those things entirely (very rare when it comes to flying). But when do you ever hear people talk about how we need to have less kids to reduce the population, or live in the smallest homes we can? I don’t hear it. Sometimes you see people talk about the insane emissions of the richest 1%, and how we need to tax them 99%; and that’s true. But people never talk about how not only do they need to live like the rest of us; but that we all need to live much smaller and simpler lives than almost any of us do currently.

Many people get frustrated when activists like Greta, scientists like Paul Beckwith, or nobodies like me tell them how bad our situation is. They want to know what they can do. Well, here you go: just do less. While it’s true that certain elements of sustainability require you to do something differently, like ride a bike or use reusable containers, fundamentally it always comes back to living simpler, smaller, and more local lives. All of the things we need to do differently come naturally once you’ve made that decision to just do less.

It’s really that simple. The media, politicians and neoliberal economists want to make it sound so complicated, but the truth is that it couldn’t be simpler. Just do less.

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.