It doesn't have to be this way; the time for change is now.
"There’s no easy way to say this: we’re risking the collapse of civilisation as we know it. Not tomorrow but potentially within the lifetime of the youngest generation alive today, maybe sooner. This isn’t news. Experts and activists have issued such warnings for many years. Back then we were frequently dismissed as rather deranged; now this gravest of threats to humanity is widely recognised amongst enlightened political, societal and business leaders. After all, how else to describe the humanitarian, security, and economic turmoil that will be caused by human-induced climate change - and by the parallel collapse of ecosystems caused by our rapacious consumption and pollution of the natural resources on which civilisation depends?
It was also a crazy idea, way back then, that renewable energy could power our future; that we could all live in warm, low energy houses; that our economies could be circularised to eliminate waste; that we could regenerate ecosystems; that we could relinquish our addiction to car ownership and switch to walking, cycling, public and smarter private transport. Today, these aren’t just ideas – they are coming to life. But it’s happening nowhere near everywhere, and nothing like fast enough.
Yet the really crazy idea, is that we should live in cities where vast swathes of precious real estate is given over to getting around in big heavy, low-occupancy metal boxes. Creating lethal levels of pollution, clogging up the arteries of our cities and contributing to a crisis of sedentariness that is damaging public health.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Back in 2012 LCC’s Love London, Go Dutch campaign was successful beyond all our imaginings in changing the minds of the Mayor and Transport for London in favour of a mass roll out of Dutch style cycling infrastructure and traffic restraint. But, despite the fact that the political and policy arguments have largely been won at London’s City Hall and with forward-thinking boroughs, we are going too slow. We remain far, far away from achieving the radical transformation of our urban landscape that is required.
If this torpidity wasn’t good enough before, it’s now reaching crisis point in the context of the climate emergency. The international climate change agreement reached in Paris in 2015 set a target of limiting global average heating to 1.5 degrees C to avoid unconscionable risks to us all. At present levels of carbon emissions, we only have until 2030 before the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (essentially irreversible with current technology) leaves us with a one third chance of breaching this target, with the odds worsening with each year of delay. We shouldn’t be gambling with the lives of future generations in this way.
We can and must do so much better. This isn’t about saving the planet, life on Earth always bounced back from every past mass extinction event. Instead we’re talking about clutching the opportunity from the jaws of catastrophe to clean up and retool our civilisation. A simple but profoundly important step towards that goal will be to make London, and all our cities, mass cycling metropolises. It can be done; and when we see how much happier, healthier, and attractive London is as a result, we’ll wonder why on Earth we didn’t do it sooner.
Dr Ashok Sinha is CEO of London Cycling Campaign, one of the world’s largest urban cycling campaigns, which is calling on London’s leaders to decarbonise the capital’s roads by 2030. He also chairs the London Sustainable Development Commission, an independent advisory body to the Mayor of London.
Find out more about our Campaign for Movement here.