Why I’m cycling from London to Paris

It goes back to 1995 for me. I was a ten-year-old kid and I was already into all the big disaster and dystopian movies. Then along came Waterworld  starring Kevin Costner.

On reflection, not the best film ever made. But I wasn’t much of a critic at that age, and there was something about seeing the ice caps melt in the first scene from that movie which had me transfixed. How could they melt? Was it possible? How quick could it happen?

I’ve been pondering those questions ever since.

Waterworld, like every other film I know of that’s used climate change as a premise, ignored most of the science. No, if the ice caps melted, the world would not be entirely submerged. But I guess that in itself is a rather neat analogy for the way we’re dealing with the problem in real life – the science of global warming is being ignored.

Climate change as a concept is not being overlooked, of course. Few people are still stupid enough to deny its existence, and that the cause is the combustion of fossil fuels. Right now, leaders and representatives from 193 world governments are meeting in Paris to discuss reducing that consumption. It’s a significant moment.

But as for the actual severity of climate change? That is still only grasped by relatively few people. And I don’t blame them for it. The media has done an appallingly bad job at covering what is, essentially, the biggest news story in human history.

In 2003, climate change for me went from being something in a movie or something in a school textbook to something that was real and current. That summer the UK recorded its highest ever temperatures. It wasn’t high by Spain or Australia’s standards, but boy was I sweaty mess. It dawned on me that climate change was a factor in the weather we were experiencing right then and there. Disaster still seemed a long way off, but I began to understand how urgent this problem really was.

So I read up on the subject. George Monbiot, Mark Lynas, James Lovelock, Naomi Klein, all those sorts of people. Clued-up writers who understood the gravity of the situation. Of course, they proposed a variety of different solutions, but on the problem itself they were in agreement. Unless urgent action was taken, starting now, we were fucked.

That was a decade ago.

Where are we now? Even more fucked. Deep, deep shit. I can’t emphasise this point enough: WE ARE NOW LIVING THROUGH AN EXTINCTION EVENT.

Yes, an extinction event. It even has a name: The Anthropocene. In Earth’s history, there have been five ‘great’ extinction events in which most life on the planet has died. The last one was when the dinosaurs were killed off. And now, we’ve started another one. A recent analysis suggested that half the world’s wildlife has been lost in the last 40 years. Hundreds – and possibly thousands – of species are dying out every year. There’s so many we can’t keep count, but we know enough to know that it ain’t normal.

And I don’t know about you, but I feel a bit guilty about all this. I mean, they did actually name the extinction event after me. After all of us. I must, therefore, have something to do with it. Simply by living in a wealthy society, I must bear personal responsibility. My carbon footprint is low by British standards, but it’s definitely not zero. And unless I went off tomorrow to live in the trees or something, my contribution to this problem will only grow.

Tomorrow, I’m not going off to live in the trees. I’m going to cycle to Paris. To do this my parents had to dig out my old bike from their garage, covered in dust and cobwebs. I’m not what you’d call an experienced cyclist. But when thinking about ways that I could both raise awareness of climate change and travel to Paris, to make my voice heard at COP21, the big United Nations meeting now taking place, I figured that cycling was a good way to go. It is, after all, a pretty low-carbon mode of transport. And hey, it’s only 208 miles.

Since I’m making this journey and going to a lot of effort, along with a lovely group of people who have organised under the banner ‘Time to Cycle‘, I want to express my views about the COP21 talks taking place. Like the 20 previous COPs, they are geared up to fail. It might be that on 12th December, as these talks end, politicians are snapped smiling and celebrating a “breakthrough deal” which will “curb emissions and prevent dangerous climate change”.

Bullshit.

As I explained in a recent article for Huck, even if the Paris talks do end in agreement, they will fail to combat climate change. They will fail because they are approaching the problem upside down. Instead of looking at a problem caused by fossil fuel combustion and attempting to solve it by aggressively restricting the activities of companies that are profiting from fossil fuel combustion, COP21 is merely aiming to set individual targets for individual governments, and hoping these are somehow met.

How many governments do you know that are any good at meeting targets? I’d guess not many, if any at all. Now, imagine how likely it might be that 193 different governments will all meet the targets they agree to. You’re more likely to win the lottery, every day, for the rest of your life. A life that will end when a huge hurricane rips you into tiny little pieces.

As a global problem caused by global companies operating globally, individual national targets, in my opinion, are meaningless. Global solutions are needed. For starters, we need a global mechanism that ensures fossil fuel extraction is made unprofitable, and we need a global law of ecocide that prevents environmental destruction of any kind.

Sadly, COP21 is not going to produce these things. But I will be there anyway, making my point, protesting, and bearing witness to the meeting which proposes giving Kevin Costner a pair of gills. For real.