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.

Talk about Climate Solutions (and make changes yourself)

The biggest problem with the youth climate movement right now is that there’s not enough talk about the actual solutions which we can implement in our own lives as well as from a political and business standpoint. The science is clear. And we have to unite behind it. But people don’t know what that means, and this is still the biggest stumbling block. I want to focus on individual action and list all the things I’ve done so far. Or at least everything I can remember. Individual action is incredibly important, and I’ve realised how much recently. Just going out on the streets to protest is effective, but without voting with our wallets and our behaviours, it’s probably not going to cause significant change in the short term. Politicians aren’t yet worried about kids who aren’t old enough to vote, and businesses are unlikely to change unless they see strong trends away from their current products or services. Or because they’re being forced by regulation, which is obviously less likely due to the previous problem I just mentioned.

Here’s everything I’ve done so far:

  • Decided not to have kids (obviously we need people in the future, just less than now. And I don’t want to put any kids I could have through our likely disastrous future)
  • Cut out red meat entirely and cut back on chicken and fish
  • Insulated home
  • Switched to green energy supplier
  • Bought an EV (smaller / more efficient the better)
  • Cycle (buy a nice bike or e-bike. You’ll thank yourself for it)
  • Bought a reusable water bottle (and don’t buy a bunch of them, just one or two)
  • Use reusable coffee cup or flask and ask Starbucks or Costa to fill them up
  • Avoid as much single use plastic as possible.
  • Switched to LED lightbulbs (Philips Hue)
  • Don’t buy stuff I don’t need
  • Limit new technology purchases where I can. I still have my iPhone 6 (2014) and iPad Air (2013), original Apple Watch (2015). Need to replace them all soonish though. But 5 years is a good lifespan for tech. Don’t buy a new one every year or two.
  • Buy only digital games and other media.

If many more of us did these and other things, it would be impossible for governments to ignore the calls for massively increased climate action.