CLIMATE EMERGENCY – and how to fix it with your bicycle.

When I get on my bicycle, the enormity of life gets off my shoulders, and if I’m lucky, I get to spend a few hours, because in those hours, everything makes sense and everybody is a friend. It’s a time-travel device, because I’m 8 years old again, and nothing really is a serious matter.

I use my bicycle for 3 purposes: sport, transport and for unwinding. That’s the way my life is set up, but within that big choice, there then, is the smaller choice I make almost every time I leave home, of using my bike to get around. That choice, is what I’m going to talk to you about here. 

It empowers. Photo: Viharamadevi Park, Colombo/My own. (2017).

S.S. Wilson, a researcher publishing findings in the ‘Scientific American’ magazine (1973), wrote:

“If one were to give a short prescription for dealing rationally with the world’s problems of development, transport , health and the efficient use of resources one could do worse than the simple formula: cycle and recycle.

I’ll get to the point. Me, I’ve been regularly using the bicycle to commute, since March/2019. At the turn of the new year last, I was convinced I would be doing this for as long as I am able. 

Why am I so passionately trying to share this idea with you? Well it’s for two reasons. One’s the obvious wish to fix what’s broken in this world. The second, is the truly terrifying possibility of a 2050 in which –

We have no Galle road anymore. Unawatuna and Mirissa went under, a few years ago, and nobody really makes trips down South anymore. Power outages are frequent. Norochcholai closed down two decades ago, but rains aren’t reliable anymore because monsoon cycles are unpredictable. Two years ago, they didn’t come at all, actually. Remember how bad that was?
And we had major outages, but the Kalpitiya farms produced just enough for the commerce to keep going.
The wind farms sweeping Kalpitiya and Mannar now, have increased in contribution. Most of the power comes from wind and private solar now. Sri Lanka didn’t hop on board the nuclear-energy loan scheme funded in 2041, by the World Bank, and lost out severely. They talk of how a barrel of Brent Crude used to be $28 back in 2019, but those days are long gone. It hit $185 recently.
Having kids right now isn’t the best thing to do, is it?  Land prices are going up. There’s much less land to go around after sea levels totalled to a 1-metre rise in the past half-century, and nobody’s letting go of inland property. Colombo 4 property used to be prime real estate, but tidal surges from the frequent tropical storms, have driven people away. Nobody wants it anymore. Every two or three years, water comes inland about 100 metres, flooding everything. 

The beautiful beaches I speak of. Photo: Weligama, Sri Lanka/My own. (2015).

In an exact reflection of the degenerating condition of the outside world, the world inside your head is slowly degenerating. Taking care of your body got side-tracked, and you’re 54 now. Life’s slowed down now with a diagnosis of diabetes and the weight you’ve put on. You were lucky. Diabetes incidence in under-30s shot-up in the 2020s and 30s. The physical decline is taking its mental toll. The inside reflects the outside, and vice versa.

Of course, 2020 was 3 decades ago, but the face masks are still necessary. Colombo smog has gotten bad. Cars have long-since been banned within city limits but it’s congested. Toyota downsized a decade ago, and came down from their decades-long high. The automobile’s place in the life of the working man, is long-gone. 

Like I said, that was 3 decades ago. You were still studying then. The reality of today wasn’t reality then, and as young people are, you didn’t see this coming. To be true, I didn’t see it because I was afraid. I didn’t want to entertain the mere possibility, of it being true. You didn’t realise it. Neither did I, until we did.

The Galle railway line. Photo: Kolpetty, Colombo (2017)

Curfew is almost over now, and life’s not going to be the same as it was before.

Now’s a great chance. Naturally, we’ve been given a functional reset, and we’ve the space on the paper now to plan out how our days are going to go, and we get to start – more or less – fresh. We have a renewed chance, every morning we wake up and get out of bed. And it’s up to you and I to decide what we do with that chance. If the wrong decisions are made, that’s the kind of Colombo – and world – we’ll live in. And global change starts in the hands of people like you and me. We’re all revolutionaries, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t change the world. I may be 19, and I don’t know who you are, but I haven’t a single doubt, that you and I can start a revolution. Maybe it’s bicycles. Maybe it’s gender equality. Maybe it’s bridging religious division. Emmeline Pankhurst started and led the women’s suffragette movement: you can vote because she decided to take things into her hands. Her methods were violent, but that’s not my point: She had far more discouraging obstacles, but sure, we have our own. 

State funding for example. The money to build cycling infrastructure, is scarce. There’s public stigma about the social status of the individual who cycles to work (but that’s a matter of whose opinion you care about). “Is it because he has no money to afford petrol?” “I can’t sweat that much, aney! I’ll be smelly!” “What if a bus goes over me?” There are solutions, and I’m certain that you can already see, in your mind’s eye, how things will work out fine. 

A UN Environment Program article states:

“Switching from a car to a bicycle saves 150 grams of CO2 per kilometre. Each 7 kilometres by bicycle will save an emission of 1 kilogram of CO2 as compared to the same distance covered by car. In a five-year period, Dutch people avoided 1.41 million tonnes of CO2 each year through cycling. This saving is equivalent to 54.4 million trees being planted each year.”

Before I finish: I came across an interesting graph which I will share here. It tells the story of how the bicycle outdoes evolution: it is 5 times more efficient than walking, which is already one of the most efficient of mammal movement. It is second in manmade-locomotive efficiency, only to aircraft like the ‘Solar Impulse’, an aircraft attempting to fly around the world.

‘Scientific American’ magazine, 1973. Note the lowermost dot.

It is a shame to sideline such genius to child’s play and poor man’s resort. 

“Man on a bicycle can go three or four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calories.
Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well.
They can get the benefit of technological breakthroughs without putting undue claims on the schedules, energy, or space of others.
They become masters of their own movements without blocking those of their fellows.
The use of the bicycle is self-limiting. It allows people to create a new relationship between their life-space and their life-time, between their territory and the pulse of their being, without destroying their inherited balance. The advantages of modern self-powered traffic are obvious, and ignored.”

Philosopher Ivan Illich, in his 1978 pamphlet: Toward a History of Needs.

Soon, on another blog post, I will put the numbers down, explain what’s already happened today, and explain what’s possible for our lives, and therefore the country, and therefore the world, by travelling back in time to your childhood, for an hour before work, and an hour after.

2 thoughts on “CLIMATE EMERGENCY – and how to fix it with your bicycle.

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