Ramblings on cycling, the pandemic, and climate change

I had such a busy week this week that I haven’t had the chance to write since last weekend. It has been mostly work-related busy but also some cycling advocacy busy-ness too.

We at the Aberdeen Cycle Forum published a list of ten suggestions for the city council to implement for social distancing. So far we do not know what the council is planning in terms of popup cycling infrastructure. The Highland Council which is based in Inverness has some very ambitious ideas and they’ve invited input from the public – https://consult.highland.gov.uk/kse/event/35394/section/. I’ve sent this link to my local councillor and if you’re in Aberdeen please do the same just in case they’re looking for inspiration. The Aberdeen City Council is phenomenally unambitious when it comes to cycling infrastructure. Cycling UK also have a web form you can submit to your councillor – https://action.cyclinguk.org/page/59646/action/1?ea.tracking.id=web

Restrictions are starting to be eased in England and I suspect Scotland will follow in the next couple of weeks. The government is still struggling to increase testing capacity beyond 100,000 tests per day but I do accept that they are trying. Meanwhile, the Chinese are planning to test every resident of Wuhan – 11 million people – after a resurgence in cases there. That is a lot of tests!

My view is still that South Korea has the best strategy but it’s also worth noting that it’s a constant battle even for them as they yo-yo between lighter and tougher restrictions. A recent outbreak caused by one man visiting some nightclubs over the course of a weekend has led to an outbreak so far of 153 people infected – 90 club-goers and 63 friends, family, and colleagues. The number is likely to be higher because people are reluctant to come forward for testing in this case since the nightclubs are gay and there’s a stigma in South Korea associated with being gay.

I’ve discovered a really great news site called Unherd. This article from Mary Harrington is particularly good – Not every death is a tragedy.

On the surface, much of the response to the government’s measures has treated the situation as a continuation of the Brexit wars. But beneath this displacement activity lurks a consensus that cuts across culture war lines for all but the youngest and most staunchly libertarian: swivel-eyed horror at the realisation that we haven’t, after all, vanquished death.

Of course we know in theory that death comes for us all eventually. But for the most part, our culture treats death as abnormal, even outrageous — not the inevitable fact it still is.

And this at the end:

No rules can be devised that will banish death altogether. And no amount of prophylactic regulation will stop the coronavirus in its tracks, only slow it and try to ensure medical facilities are not overwhelmed. There’s no guarantee we’ll ever have a vaccine or cure. Until that changes, if we are to begin living again, we may need to re-learn some forgotten lessons about how to walk in the valley of the shadow of death.

The British philosopher, Derek Parfitt, can provide some comfort for us. He became less concerned about his own death when he realised that personal identity is not what matters.

When I believed [that personal identity is what matters], I seemed imprisoned in myself. My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. Other people are closer. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others.

When I believed [that personal identity is what matters], I also cared more about my inevitable death. After my death, there will be no one living who will be me. I can now redescribe this fact. Though there will later be many experiences, none of these experiences will be connected to my present experiences by chains of such direct connections as those involved in experience-memory, or in the carrying out of an earlier intention. Some of these future experiences may be related to my present experiences in less direct ways. There will later be some memories about my life. And there may later be thoughts that are influenced by mine, or things done as the result of my advice. My death will break the more direct relations between my present experiences and future experiences, but it will not break various other relations. This is all there is to the fact that there will be no one living who will be me. Now that I have seen this, my death seems to me less bad.

According to Parfitt, what does matter now is

we rich people give up some of our luxuries, ceasing to overheat the Earth’s atmosphere, and taking care of this planet in other ways, so that it continues to support intelligent life.

We can choose what we do with the time we have and it’s clear that we must minimise our impact on the earth as much as possible. There’s a strange symmetry to the coronavirus pandemic in that it overwhelmingly affects the old while the very young are mostly spared. This is the exact opposite of climate change which will overwhelmingly affect the young while the old are spared. Both sides claim the other is being selfish. My generation is in the middle. Young people around the world are complying with lockdown restrictions at great cost to their education, mental health, and financial stability all of which will have an impact on their physical health in the future. Old people need to do the same for climate change and take action as individuals – use renewable energy, cut down on energy use, reduce waste, replace car trips with trips by bike or on foot where possible, support zero-carbon businesses, invest ethically, adopt a plant-based diet, and lobby politicians for greater action on climate change. We can’t expect our children to pay the cost of climate change and to spend their lives repaying the debt from this pandemic. But the good news is that if both sides act altruistically for the other then we all win.

5 thoughts on “Ramblings on cycling, the pandemic, and climate change”

  1. The UN has identified four things that we as individuals can do right now to mitigate climate change:

    Reduce air travel
    Be car-free
    Have no, or fewer, children
    Adopt a plant-based diet

    Of those four things, adopting a plant-based diet is the easiest, if we live in a country where we won’t go hungry by doing so, yet it is the one thing that people are most reluctant to do.

    I like the passage by Derek Parfitt. We have been encouraged by those who gain the most from rampant consumerism to think primarily of ourselves and our wants, because then we spend more in the pursuit of fulfilment, instead of also looking outside of ourselves. Maybe we’ll see a change in this going forward, as a result of this virus forcing us to take stock of our lives? One can only hope 🙂

    1. Yes, I totally agree that a vegan diet is the easiest of all those things. It’s cheaper too. I think there has been an upswing in veganism since the pandemic started. It was already growing but perhaps this will accelerate the change. Let’s hope so.

  2. Do you have local councils in NZ? I think they are a flaw in our government system. We are lucky in Lewes, which has a fairly green population, that we have Green councillors and they can push for change together. However my understanding is that local government councillors aren’t paid and this generally leads to wild variation in outlook/commitment/understanding. Although there are elections, I don’t think you can really say that councillors are accountable. I hardly ever know who I am voting for when I go into vote, I usually end up voting by party, and I’m lucky that now I actually know the Green councillors so I know they will do a good job. Best of luck with continuing to push for better cycling.

    1. NZ does have local councils but they mostly manage bin collection and other local issues. Councils here do much much more which I think is a mistake. Education, for instance, is managed by local councils in Scotland and I think this has made it harder for schools to respond during the pandemic. Our local council is very unambitious with transport and what I’ve seen of their handling of eduction is similarly very disappointing.

      1. Collecting bins is pretty much the right level of things councils should be trusted with. However it could be argued they have been set up to fail by local government, who do not provide any money and stop them from raising local tax too much.

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