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.

The Earthshot Prize shoots for the Moon and misses

I don’t want to be too critical of the Earthshot Prize; it did do some things right. But at the end of the day, the focus was almost entirely placed on innovation and green growth as our way out of this disastrous situation, rather than the real solution of slashing consumption and shrinking the economy. The parts about restoring nature were generally great; in particular the project to restore coral reefs by engineering corals that can cope with the increasing ocean temperatures. But then you had a project about reversing deforestation in Costa Rica, and it was predicated on the idea that it would attract tourists and lead to economic growth. So they fix one problem in order to exacerbate another one. There was another project in the Masai Mara doing a similar thing; protecting animals by getting wealthy tourists to fly around the world and spend their money on useless knick-knacks.

I think the undeniably best thing about the series was the name. Earthshot is a great name for the scenario we’re in. It makes perfect sense to compare it to the Moonshot decade, because it’s exactly the scale of ambition we need. The parts of the documentary series talking about the problems are also good, but they got the solutions part almost totally wrong. Yes, we need some technological solutions, but fundamentally, it comes down almost entirely to living smaller and more local with less stuff and with better diets. Neither consumption nor population were mentioned a single time throughout the 5 part series or award ceremony. The fact that not a single youth activist was involved tells you all you need to know. The more I think about it, the more it feels like it was made for sceptical boomers. Perhaps the moon landing nod was even more intentional than I realised.

Then there’s the prize money itself. Rewarding innovations with a million pounds each over 10 years seems like the wrong approach. Obviously, I believe governments should be in charge of the money and saving our world shouldn’t come down to the generosity of private finance. But, if you’re going to go down this path, at least do it better than this. Firstly, a million pounds is not that much money; and if you really believe in green growth as the solution to the climate crisis, and that these innovations can be key to our survival, then I would imagine you’d throw a lot more money at it than they are. I’m pretty sure there are enough rich people in the world who “care” about the planet to the point where you could raise billions for the prize pot relatively easily. Giving away only a million each goes against the urgent message about rapidly scaling up these businesses to save humanity.

Ideas like a solar powered ironing trike are nice, but do we really need to iron our clothes at all? It is a nice story that the young girl in question was entrepreneurial but it’s too small to make a difference on a global scale at this late stage. Having said that, it should definitely be put into production. As long as people keep ironing clothes at least. The project that allows farmers to cleanly burn their crops in a machine rather than setting their fields on fire gave me a similar feeling. Why do we need to burn crops at all? I’m pretty sure it’s not necessary.

There were so many moments I took issue with. They showed the ski slope power station in Copenhagen. But didn’t talk about getting rid of waste in the first place rather than burning it to make energy. They talked about global dimming in terms of reducing rainfall in some areas; but nothing about how dimming has limited warming and getting rid of pollution would actually increase warming. They talked about electric cars and an overall growth of vehicles. No mention of cycling whatsoever other than the ironing trike. There was a segment about tyre and brake pollution from cars and buses. Again, no mention of the key role cycling could play in reducing it. They show Singapore’s touristy green areas but ignore the huge roads and growth based economy. There was no mention of Bhutan’s model of economic stability and protection of nature over profit and GDP. At least they mentioned indoor and vertical farming. That’s something we definitely need to scale up urgently.

The city of Milan winning the waste free world prize was by far the most bizarre award of the evening. All they’re doing is redistributing food to prevent waste. This is being done in various locations all over the world already. There’s nothing unique there that deserves money. Sanergy (creating fertiliser from human waste with insects) and Wota Box (fountain with filter which allows water to be reused many times) were clearly the better ideas. It’s hard to understand why they were snubbed.

At the end, Prince William talked about how Earthshot is for young people. Well, it isn’t because young people want an end to capitalism and an end to economic growth. This does neither of those two things and you’ve just ended up patronising them yet again. Just like with climate anxiety, the establishment have proven that they don’t get it. They just can’t get past this failed model of treating the symptoms rather than the cause of our problems. Whether it be anxiety or our climate crisis, the root causes are capitalism and economic growth. Until they accept that, the young will see all of this as insult after insult.

And the final insult is to give Earthshot 2022 to the kingdom of unrestrained corporate greed, the United States. The country that is going to drop all climate funding from Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan. The only thing remaining is to see how far over 1.5c we are in 12 months time (by the 1750 baseline). Hopefully it doesn’t go ahead because they realise by then that green growth doesn’t work. Probably wishful thinking.

It will unfortunately happen again next year, but it really is debatable how long it will keep going. Prince William says it will award prizes every year for 10 years; but given how little time we have left to act drastically, what use will a prize be in 2030? Maybe they’ll need to take a page out of Bangladesh’s book and host the ceremony on a ship. Maybe one of the prize winners will be some kind of affordable houseboat. That would make sense by then. There will probably be huge demand.

As a final aside; as we were watching the episode of Earthshot Prize about clean air, near the end, I heard the neighbour’s petrol lawnmower so I had to rush around closing all the windows. You couldn’t have timed it better. But with any luck, he watched the award show and decided to buy a battery mower to boost our economy.

Two Months Car Free

Batavus Personal Bike: my daily driver

It’s been almost 2 months since I got rid of my EV and went car free. Because of the current situation I haven’t really had to go many places yet so it’s hard to give a real assessment of how practical it is, but it’s definitely a case of so far, so good.

I think at some point, the lack of electric buses, taxis, Ubers and EV car rental is going to start annoying me big time. That is inevitable. But so far it’s been fine. Generally, we get our groceries delivered weekly and that’s usually enough to avoid going to the local convenience store during the pandemic.

I haven’t had a “summer break” from Covid like most people seem to have had. I knew it was going to come back strongly as soon as I saw the Tories phasing out the restrictions. I’ve been careful the whole time as I was told to shield pretty early on as a precaution. Once my employer required me to come back to work towards the end of the furlough, I refused and quit. I knew I was in a good situation to live off my savings for a while, just as long as the pandemic doesn’t go on for years. And I wasn’t prepared to put myself in a really unpleasant situation that was worse than when I was initially told to stay at home. Especially at a time when it was clearly accelerating again with an even worse government response than in the spring.

The Smart EQ ForTwo was a fun car. But ownership is not the future.

I have had to make one essential trip which was easy enough by bike. Other than that, I’m going walking or cycling for fun and exercise and that’s really it. In the event that I have to go further than the 5 miles I can comfortably go on my non-ebike (because I can’t leave my e-bike anywhere) maybe I could buy an e-scooter or something like that. But even then you might not be able to bring it with you depending on the destination. We desperately need e-scooter storage lockers everywhere, in addition to the secure, indoor bike parks that are essential for growing cycling as transport.

I think it’s too early to say how this is going to play out. The covid and climate crises have the potential to change the way we do things massively in the coming year. Tesla is getting closer to self driving robotaxis seemingly every day, with other companies also making strides. It may be that by the time covid is over, car ownership will be steeply declining. That would be the ideal scenario, but we just have to wait and see.

I think even if nothing much changes, it will still have been the best decision for me. Even though I feel like a second class citizen without a car (which is very much by design), I also feel like I’m back to doing what I’m meant to be. And that feels great.

How I Would Turn Honda Around

I don’t have a lot of love for the traditional automotive industry any more, but I do have a soft spot for Honda. They don’t mind doing some risky things and they don’t take themselves as seriously as most other brands out there.

We’ve just seen that they decided to leave F1 at the end of 2021. They say it’s due to needing to switch to EVs faster than they thought. It was clear for a long time that their projections were incredibly off, so I’m not surprised they got a nasty shock. We don’t know how much Covid has to do with it. Whether the pandemic sped up the decision making process or gave them clarity. Maybe they even saw Tesla battery day and said “oh shit, we have to commit 100% right now”, although I very much doubt that.

The incredibly conservative motorsport media seem to think that Honda can now just buy out a team in FE and it’s problem solved for them. While they could join Formula E and I would personally like to see them do so, it wouldn’t be anything more than a marketing exercise. So here is what I would do if I was running the company right now.

1. Buy or merge with Yamaha Motor

The motorcycle industry is not going to thrive in the upcoming decade. In order to survive, they need to switch focus from powerful fossil fuelled machines designed for leisure use, to practical electric scooters and micromobility products. We know they’ve already been collaborating on battery tech, so a merger or acquisition would be a logical next step.Yamaha have the ability to be very innovative. We’ve seen that in many of their research projects. The two companies combined would complement each other very well in my opinion.

It would also give Honda an entry into the incredibly important e-bike market, which will be absolutely crucial in the next ten years. I also think one of the two companies should acquire the Stroke leaning cargo bike. Cargo is clearly going to be the most crucial of the e-bike segments, and that company is literally asking to be acquired. Someone needs to because it’s a great design that needs to be in the hands of consumers.

Yamaha’s ground breaking pedal assist bike from 1993

2. Immediately pull out of all fossil fuel motorsports

The day after Honda announced they were pulling out of F1, Indycar announced that they were going to introduce hybrid engines in 2023. We don’t need to get into the pathetic timeline for something they should have had years ago. We all know it’s a joke. I just don’t understand why Honda have committed to this. I think it must come down to either the relatively low cost of Indycar, or perhaps they signed a contract a while ago and want to honour it. That’s the Japanese way.

Any fossil fuelled race series they compete in, they should immediately stop. That means MotoGP, WTCR, GT3, Super Formula and Super GT. Although I would hope they’d find a way to make Super GT sustainable, because it’s the only fossil powered motorsport series I still enjoy.

3. Keep being weird

The Honda e is in my opinion the coolest car in the world. It’s not the best car in the world, but it’s the coolest. And that matters. Make it the centrepiece of your brand and replicate it in all your future products. Not just cars. Make them fun and make people smile. Honda does that better than anyone else. Just think of Asimo for example.

4. Immediately end all research and development relating to combustion engines.

Sell the existing models only as you develop EV products. This perhaps should be number one, but it basically goes without saying. And I guess it also should be mentioned that any model currently produced that is sold in hybrid and fossil only versions should immediately stop production of the non-hybrid version.

I think if Honda do something along these lines then they can survive the massive transition that’s gathering pace. But they haven’t got a day to waste. We’re still in the early days of the electric takeover. If they get caught with only the Honda e available when the market really goes crazy then they’ll be in big trouble. I think the key thing for them is just to be different and fun. If they try to do what Tesla are doing then they will cease trading long before anyone in the mainstream business press could possibly imagine.