John Walker explains why he’s setting off on his bike to the COP21 in Paris.
Along with around 130 other people, I will be cycling to join the demonstrations around COP21, all the way from London to Paris. We will be taking five days, cycling from London to Brighton on Sunday 5 December, taking the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe on Monday and then taking three days to cycle to Paris from there, arriving on Thursday.
Why am I doing this?
I’m cycling to make two important points. Firstly, I’m cycling because the transport systems we have to live with, amongst other problems, are major providers of greenhouse gases. Second, I’m cycling to show that alternatives are practical.
We live in a society where private ownership of vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine dominates. This provides around 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in the USA and is probably similar across the developed world.
This is not the result of “lifestyle choices”. The transport system as a whole will not change just because a few people decide to give up their cars. Huge numbers of car drivers and owners do not have that choice, dependent as they are for cars to ferry children to school, drive long distances to work, etc.
It is the result of political decisions. Public transport services – buses, trains – have been cut as a result of political decisions, as governments seek to reduce the tax burden on big business. Tram services were completely abolished for many years in Britain as the result of a decision by the British government in the early 1930s, as they attempted to promote car ownership in order to boost the British motor industry.
And parents have to drive their children to school because schools are being closed. There are no longer local schools that children can walk to.
So too with many of the difficulties faced by those who might cycle otherwise. The lack of adequate cycle networks in our cities is a political decision. Cyclists have to navigate busy main roads, built for fast motor vehicles and not for them.
Behind all these political decisions is a society based on the accumulation and centralisation of capital. Local businesses are closed down and centralised to save costs, necessitating workers travel further to get to their place of employment, while more motorways are needed to enable lorries and juggernauts to deliver goods.
All this needs a revolution to change it.
A hundred and thirty people cycling from London to Paris are not going to achieve that. But we can make an important point.
Most of us are not sports cyclists (there is another group of those cycling to Paris in three days). Most of us are people who normally only use our cycles just for commuting.
But we are demonstrating that, given the political decisions that would remove many of the difficulties that cyclists face, given a political decision-making process that prioritises people before profit, a means of transport with a lower carbon footprint than the motor car is practical. We are showing that cycling is a practical means of getting from one place to another, even for the non-sporty.