Ecowarrior Me

It was faintly depressing to be standing in front of a dozen young people – all students – and be faced with a dozen blank faces when I asked if any of them would consider themselves to be regular cyclists – particularly as I was there to deliver my guest lecture as an international cycle touring expert. It was even more depressing when I asked them why they didn’t cycle and they all looked at me as if I’d asked them why they didn’t have a chicken on their heads. Finally, one of the girls replied ‘Because I have a car? Why would I use anything else – it’s just easier.’ This from a year group that are, according to their professor, far more conscious and concerned about the environment than those even a single year ahead of them.

cycling the back roads

Yup – no idea why one might want to do this rather than drive a car …

It’s long been an article of faith among cycle campaigners that we should steer clear of emphasising the green aspects of riding a bike. Apparently any aspect of cycling – saving money, health, eating cake, the massive rush of adrenaline you get as a timber lorry overtakes you on a road that’s approximately as wide as a timber lorry – is to be emphasised over the whole saving the planet thing, in case we come across as dour and preachy.* And then suddenly everyone wants to save the planet and here we are promoting the most environmentally friendly means of transport there is, and the vegans – who of course are never dour and preachy** – are out there eating our lunch (or they would be, if our lunch was entirely plant-based, obviously). Because when it comes to saving the planet we’re suddenly all willing to give up all animal products, stop flying, and drive an extra 5 miles to the supermarket that allows you to put your lentils in your own container – but not to actually start riding a bike instead of getting in the car. Perhaps we’ve missed a trick here after all.

bikes not bypasses

So from now on I am going to experiment a bit with talking more about the environmental benefits of riding a bike as part of my campaigning (I’m sure regular readers of this blog have got the message already). I’ve no idea if it will have any more effect than waxing lyrical about the joys of cake, health, and turning your commute into an extreme sport, but it’s got to be worth a shot.

* Obviously, these people have never witnessed a helmet-related cycle-twitter dogpile.

** I know and love many vegans and this is actually true, in my experience, although not being on vegan-twitter I have no idea what they’re like on line. Can you even dogpile someone as a vegan anyway?

18 Responses to Ecowarrior Me

  1. meltdblog says:

    The biggest motivator for that group to ride a bicycle might be saving money, having one fewer car in a household is noticeable if you are paying for all the costs.

  2. disgruntled says:

    Sure, all the other motivators apply – I just find the disconnect odd between their clear and genuine concern for the environment and not seeing a bike as part of the solution, and I think that may be because we’ve shied away from making the case.

  3. Charles says:

    I find it odd that students have cars. In my day we all took the bus or walked, I rode a bike and that was still a minority choice even then, early 1980s Leeds. If you have a car you are not going to ride a bike. Cars are expensive I just wonder why a student would add that amount to their debt, unless the amount is so preposterous that they just do not care?

  4. Andy in Germany says:

    We are currently getting preachy messages from or local authority about being green.
    This is the same local authority that has spent a decade trying really hard to avoid building useful bicycle infrastructure or improving public transport in any meaningful way.
    I nearly sent them the leaflet back with “Glad you could join us” on the back.

  5. Jack says:

    Also worth noting that lots of vegans (myself included) are cyclists, and some (such as me again) have never had a car, even when living in the countryside (e.g. me again).
    I think your students might have had the benefit of a middle class upbringing, if cars is all they know!

  6. Lizzie says:

    You are so right!!!

    “This from a year group that are, according to their professor, far more conscious and concerned about the environment than those even a single year ahead of them.”

    Every time I see young people protesting about climate change and expecting the government to do something about it I wonder just how many of them are doing something themselves by choosing not to go by car and instead walk or cycle.

    I think the government would be far better off, in terms of both money and health, encouraging more people to GET OUT OF their cars, and onto their feet or bikes, rather than spending millions on getting drivers into electric ones. Spend the millions on improving cycle infrastructure instead.

    I’ll share this on Facebook.

  7. ballsofwool says:

    Now smugly feeling that I have “done my bit for planet earth” by merely appearing in the background of your publicity photo.

  8. stephaniMok says:

    I am trying to tone down my “cycle to be greener” messaging amongst my work colleagues- I am pretty sure I have put ppl off cycling who might otherwise have been neutral

  9. stephaniMok says:

    In a recent survey amongst 40000 or so NHS Greater Glasgow + Clyde health board employees on Sustainability, the over whelming majority voiced concern around cutting waste as the thing of concern to them. Less than 10% of respondents had transport as a key concern

  10. stephaniMok says:

    Btw, Since I am sleep deprived and care less at this moment– dogpile?? Explainer, please??

  11. welshcyclist says:

    Dogpile? I don’t know this term?

  12. disgruntled says:

    OK, wow, don’t normally get so many comments on my posts!

    – dogpiling is just when everyone piles into someone on social media because they’ve said something wrong (and sadly, cyclists on twitter seem especially prone to it)

    To be clear, I wasn’t intending to criticise the students. But yes, we need to be enabling and encouraging them, and the rest of us, to get out of their cars.

  13. Katrina says:

    Have you heard the one about how animal agriculture contributes more to greenhouse gas, than all the transport systems of the world combined? Or, am I just being too dour and preachy?

    • disgruntled says:

      I suppose the point I was trying to make was that we need to tackle both – especially as transport is the only sector where emissions aren’t going down in Scotland.

      • Katrina says:

        Those who give a damn about something will always trigger those who DON’T want to give a damn about it. Maybe we need to not give a damn about those who don’t give a damn? Put in the bit about

  14. Katrina says:

    oops – pressed ‘send’ too soon – to continue: Do put in the bit about the green aspects of cycling when giving talks, because there will always be someone who gives a damn like you, who you will reach. If not immediately, then later upon thinking about it.

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