Bicycle versus helicopter

Now that I no longer have a child under the age of three, I find myself re-engaging with popular culture after a six-year hiatus. So please forgive me for writing about an event from September, 2009. Back then, I was heavily pregnant and deeply buried in dirty nappies.

Back in 2009, a challenge was presented to the city of São Paulo, Brazil: Get from point A to point B, as quickly as possible, during rush hour. The mode of transport was optional.

São Paulo is Brazil’s largest city and like other car-centric cities, it is choked with traffic. Residents spend almost 3 hours a day, motionless in their cars. The rich have taken matters into their own hands and opt to commute by helicopter.

Modes of transport used in the challenge: car, bike, motorbike, helicopter, bus, metro, walking, running and even a wheelchair.

Here are the results:
1. bicycle – 22 minutes
2. helicopter – 33 minutes and 30 seconds
4. runner – 1 hour 6 minutes
3. bus – 1 hour 11 minutes
4. car – 1 hour 22 minutes
5. walking – 1 hour 32 minutes

The bicycle is truly mightier than the chopper! Why anyone would choose to sit and vegetate in a car for 1 hour and 22 minutes, when they could walk the same distance for only an extra 10 minutes, is a mystery to me.

Car-infested cities around the world, such as Auckland, should take a leaf out of Jaime Lerner’s book (former Mayor of Curitiba, Brazil), and prioritise people over cars.

18 responses to “Bicycle versus helicopter”

  1. Brazil already prioritizes people over cars, and everything else as well. Their total population, according to the latest estimates, is a whopping 196,655,014 and that of Sao Paulo, 11.32 million which rather dwarfs Auckland’s 1.377 million. They also shoot street children.
    Now there’s a country that could benefit from a contraceptive pill in the drinking water, abortion on demand, and mass sterilization of its population for a few years.
    My heart weeps for the plight of the unwanted street children, and the continuing and growing extinction of more and more animal and plant species.
    The real issues are not gay marriage and how people can best squeeze in and commute but the destruction of the environment through over-population.
    I’d never want to take a leaf out of Brazil’s book.

  2. Neat and very sexist way to dismiss the huge problem of over-population. Another ad-hominem attack (by a left wing raving ratbag)on a stereotype that people like to ridicule and looking at that author, he looks like a big consumer himself, probably jet setting between destinations making him one of the biggest polluters of all and a hypocrite to boot. Don’t fly if you want to make a difference.
    Interestingly, the Chinese as they are getting wealthier are becoming big consumers and budding capitalists.
    Unlike Brazil, the Pope doesn’t have the Chinese by the short and curlies. But Brazil’s wildlife, what’s left of it, is stuffed.
    Monbiot can say what he likes but the endangered mammals of Brazil don’t have a voice and it is over-population that is leading to their extinction.

    • George Monbiot thinks most aeroplanes flying today, should be grounded:

      You really should check your facts before making your own incorrect assumptions. In fact, George Monbiot’s articles are always well-researched and extensively referenced and use reason and logic to put forth a point of view rather than “ad-hominem attack”. I’d say he has more integrity than any other journalist on the planet. I also don’t see how that article can be construed as sexist.

  3. No doubt, but he’s attacking a person here rather than the issue of over-population. As a middle class, well-off, stay at home mum, and consumer yourself, ready to jet set off on Sabbatical to York later in the year, don’t you feel he is attacking your lifestyle as well?

  4. I think he’s attacking a lifestyle, rather than a person. He’s challenging us to question the way we live and I think this is good journalism.

    I do feel bad about our flights to York this year. Ben is in the UK at the moment, after a long greenhouse-gas emitting flight. Attacking George Monbiot for pointing out the harmful impact of our lifestyles does not change the fact that flying long distances contributes to the problem.

    Part of the reason I dislike Auckland so much is that I can’t live the life I’d really like to. I’m forced to drive a car everywhere. I do feel slightly better however, about the fact that I do not consume meat or dairy products, both of which produce more greenhouse gases than the entire transport sector (cars, trains, buses, planes and ships) combined.

    Anything that makes us question our lifestyle, is a good thing.

  5. The gist of Monbiot’s argument in that article was that he met a rich, jet-setting dame he obviously didn’t like at a cocktail party who said the problem with the world was that people breed too much. By ridiculing that woman and her lifestyle, Mr Monbiot chooses to ignore the enormity of problems caused by over-population. What does Mr Monbiot say the problem is? And what is his solution?
    Part of Auckland’s problem is over-population.
    Have you ever seen”Central Station”? It’s a moving and wonderful, fictional account of the life of a Brazilian street kid.

  6. Sorry, I should have said this above but it is obvious he is picking an easy target to denigrate and give himself an excuse to ignore the over-population problem and move onto his own pet subject of Global Warming and Climate Change. Not very subtle at all, or ethical, for that matter. Not good journalism.

  7. Hi Rachel,

    The world’s human population would not be growing were birth control made available to the 200 million plus women for whom it is currently unavailable. Mr Monbiot might like to talk to a few of these women instead of ridiculing the views of a woman he meets at a cocktail party.

    A stable world population is based on a demographic extrapolation, and nearly forty years away. Population growth is the status quo and poses a problem for many.

    • Hi Bill, thanks for your link. It’s strange that it is the women in Brazil who have to undergo the sterilization procedure when it’s a much simpler and cheaper option for men.

      I think I need to clarify, that George Monbiot is not advocating for a policy of “be fruitful and multiply”. He says, “Population is a threat. But it pales against the greed of the rich“. And he has a very strong argument. He writes,

      A paper published yesterday in the journal Environment and Urbanization shows that the places where population has been growing fastest are those in which carbon dioxide has been growing most slowly, and vice versa. Between 1980 and 2005, for example, Sub-Saharan Africa produced 18.5% of the world’s population growth and just 2.4% of the growth in CO2. North America turned out 4% of the extra people, but 14% of the extra emissions. Sixty-three per cent of the world’s population growth happened in places with very low emissions(2).

      Many of the emissions for which poorer countries are blamed should in fairness belong to us. Gas flaring by companies exporting oil from Nigeria, for example, has produced more greenhouse gases than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa put together(3). Even deforestation in poor countries is driven mostly by commercial operations delivering timber, meat and animal feed to rich consumers. The rural poor do far less harm(4).

      The paper’s author, David Satterthwaite of the International Institute for Environment and Development, points out that the old formula taught to all students of development – that total impact equals population times affluence times technology (I=PAT) – is wrong. Total impact should be measured as I=CAT: consumers times affluence times technology. Many of the world’s people use so little that they wouldn’t figure in this equation. They are the ones who have most children.

      The full article, with references is here – The Population Myth

      I thought I’d go back and re-read the first Monbiot article I linked to, The Great Unmentionable, because I don’t remember anyone being ridiculed in it. Perhaps I missed something. He includes part of the conversation he had with the woman, “I agreed that population is an element of the problem, but argued that consumption is rising much faster and – unlike the growth in the number of people – is showing no signs of levelling off.” And he’s right. There’s no ridicule, just a reasoned and logical discussion. This is what happens when people disagree. It is my view that he is right and she is wrong.

      Like George Monbiot, I also agree that population growth is part of the problem, but the rich have far more to answer for when we consider the pressure on Earth’s resources and the degradation of the environment. And all too often the rich use population growth as an excuse to disavow themselves of the things they do that cause far more damage to our environment.

      On the issue of population growth, I think it probably requires more than just handing out condoms to people who don’t have them. although there are people working on that too. It requires a whole cultural shift which is something that is very evident from the Brazilian article you provided where surgery is required by women and not men.

      • Hi Rachel,

        Monbiot’s view is that the wealthy are destroying the world with their consumption to a far greater extent than the world’s poor. But his view of an impending Armageddon is a technologically pessimistic extrapolation. What is evident in the present is that the poor are suffering needlessly for want of basic health care.

        And yes, I do think it ridicule. The reasoned and logical discussion is more of a prejudicial fantasy. In the present, high consumption can equate to a good life and a lack of birth control makes life for the world’s poor much harder. But through Monbiot’s glasses, the poor are denied the empathy of the wealthy and instead become their scapegoat.

        Armageddon is a prediction. A stable world population is a prediction. Population growth and suffering from a lack of birth control are happening right now.

  8. The current rate of population increase in Brazil is 0.86%. The current fertility rate (number of live births per woman) is 1.81.

    The current rate of population increase in Australia is 1.13%. The current fertility rate is 1.77 but the population of Oz is growing faster due immigration, of which boat arrivals represent a totally insignificant proportion.

    If anyone wants to point a finger at a developed nation where contraceptive use is patchy and fertility is consequently high, try the United States (fertility rate 2.2), where it’s certainly true that the poor are suffering needlessly for want of basic health care.

  9. That is very selective plucking of figures, Mike. I would be more likely to point a finger at places like Africa where the lack of contraception, especially condoms, has allowed AIDS to take such a hold. Compare them with Thailand with its marvellous “Dr Condom” program. You can see more about it on YouTube and see what one man alone has done for his country. Then there are the Roman Catholic countries such as The Philippines where women living in shanty towns, through a lack of education and ignorance, are denied effective birth control measures in the name of religion. This influence by a multinational corporation, the Roman Catholic church, is criminal!
    There are so many places in the world where the standard of living could be improved by the birth control available to developed countries were it not for religion and a lack of action by their own authorities.
    And to get back to Monbiot, I agree with Bill – ridicule and fantasy are part of his argument.

  10. And Bill, I prefer your writing style to Monbiot’s. Your critique is succinct and brilliant! You don’t send Tweets calling innocent people you don’t like paedophiles either! If you should ever tire of dentistry….

  11. Hi Rachel,

    Brazil’s population isn’t declining, but is growing by over 1.5 million per year. A look at Brazil’s population history also reveals population increases of 20-25 million per decade since the 1950s. That sort of growth does not make life easy, and the decline in fertility cooincident with the availability of less than ideal contraception suggests that Brazil’s women at least agree.

  12. Just been watching the French News which has been showing the terrible rioting in Brazil. Evidently, over $12 million euros has already been spent on hosting The World Cup and yet there is no public health insurance and a kilogram of tomatoes costs 3.80€, making them as expensive as meat in that country. Corruption is rife. Bicycle policies are small beer by comparison with the big picture.

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