Tag Archives: Environment

Writing to my MP

I made a commitment to myself at the beginning of the year to write to my local MP, Keith Simpson, concerning issues that I feel strongly about.  I figure you can’t complain if you’re not willing to do something about it, and also it’s going to help me keep sane in a world that increasingly makes less and less sense.

I may still write to him about being paid to cycle to work and how the Government could contribute to this, but I need to do some more work on that; they already indirectly contribute via things like cycle to work schemes, I’m just not sure they work very well. In the meantime I’ve sent the below, and am looking forward to seeing what he has to say.

Dear Rt Hon Keith Simpson MP,
I hope this email finds you well, and like me looking forward to it getting a little more spring-like soon. It was good to see you in the local press recently alongside the announcement that the last bit of the NDR will be opening soon.
I am writing to you concerning the increasing number of housing developments that are being planned around Norwich, which are starting to eat up more and more green field sites. I understand there is a housing demand, however I want to make sure this demand is being satisfied in a well conceived and sustainable fashion, without too much impact on the environment and our beautiful countryside, something I’m sure you can agree with.
To let you know a little about myself. I moved to Salhouse just over a year ago, and am loving living in the countryside after being in Norwich since I moved from the South East to go to UEA in 1993. I now work for Virgin Money as a Project Manager.
I recently read an article in the EDP (http://www.edp24.co.uk/edp-property/councillors-approve-380-homes-sprowston-1-5459687) which claims that a housing development in Sprowston will only have 10% of affordable homes, despite the Joint Core Strategy policy having a target of 33%. I would like to know if this is true (the EDP isn’t always 100% accurate), and what the reason for this deviation is. Is it a case of the developer saying they won’t have a sufficient profit margin if the affordable housing ratio goes above 10%, and if so has this been independently verified? I understand this development falls within the Broadland district.
My concern is that whilst we have a housing shortage, and need to build more homes, what’s the point if people aren’t going to be able to afford them? People may also overstretch themselves on the borrowing front, leading to bad debt and repossessions should interest rates go up, which seems inevitable in the short to medium term. My suspicion from reading other articles on housing plans is that very few will meet the recommended percentage of affordable housing. Perhaps the strategy needs to be revisited on this, or pressure put on developers to change their plans?
I also recently wrote to the Broadland Planning department concerning a small housing development that is being planned for the field behind where I live (Application 20180360). I know they don’t reply to individual emails, however I’d like to make you aware of the points I raised, especially considering Salhouse again experienced issues with flooding this winter. I have copied in the relevant section of my email of 31 March 2018 below.
1) Access to the new development via Barn Piece Close. I’m not convinced the road is big enough to be used by vehicles accessing the additional site. It’s quite narrow, and access on to the main road could start to become an issue with the increased number of cars. There could be a risk this turns into an accident zone as cars don’t exactly travel down Salhouse Road to the mini roundabout slowly. Also the dead-end close has children who play in it at the moment, and safety issues might result from increased traffic. Is there an alternative route into the site that could be considered, perhaps directly from the main road?
2) Mains sewerage capacity. I read in the parish magazine about issues with the village sewerage system overflowing, and not really being fit for purpose for the current number of homes. Is there not a risk the increased number of dwellings could cause more overflow problems. Should the sewer system be improved and expanded prior to any new development being considered? The sewer system recently overflowed again, thus proving this is still an issue.
3) Other utilities. Aside from sewerage, are other utilities such as gas, water, broadband, electricity etc of a sufficient capacity to supply the new homes, with no loss of service to the existing homes in the vicinity?
4) Further expansion. Would this development pave the way for even more development in the immediate area, which would exacerbate the above points even further?
5) I assume the standard ecological surveys ref bats, newts etc will be completed? We have enough threats to the UK’s biodiversity as it is. I would really prefer to see more brown site development going on.
I realise development on brown field sites can be more expensive, and that affordable housing is not going to be as attractive to developers seeking to maximise their profits. However, with the challenges first time buyers and lower earners face with getting on the housing ladder, and the threats our countryside and environment are up against, would it be possible to initiate a review of the planning policy to ensure it is benefitting everybody, and doing what it can to protect our rapidly diminishing natural spaces and biodiversity.
A supporting argument for this may also be that the housing market is slowing down due to fears of interest rate rises and lack of affordability. Hopefully this means we have the time to review plans and make sure we get them right?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
James Harvey

 

I’ll share any response I receive. I have a feeling this may be the first of many pieces of correspondence to Keith, however I’ll always try and make them constructive.

In my next post I’ll get back to plans for summer cycling trips; bike-packing in Scotland on the horizon.

Get paid for cycling to work?

I thought the ‘Beast from the East’ was behind us when I went out for a pedal round the Norfolk countryside on Saturday, and to begin with that appeared to be the case. The snow was contained to small patches in fields, and I merrily splashed down narrow lanes full of melt-water. What remained of the previous week’s blizzards was quickly disappearing, with rivulets of water joining together to form larger streams, and in some cases torrents, flowing quickly downhill. Beneath the retreating snow crocuses and other spring growth were appearing, soon to replace the snow drops. The birds were in fine voice, celebrating the snow’s retreat by collecting twigs for nests and generally getting jiggy with it.

I’ve recently rejuvenated my Ridgeback Panorama used for my Bike around Britain tour in 2013. My Oxford Bike Works Expedition Bike is off the road at the moment awaiting wheel repairs and a general post winter rebuild. It’s good to be back on the Ridgeback, despite it being a bit creaky these days; it brings back good memories and the larger wheels mean I’m a bit speedier on the morning commute.

So, the Ridgeback and I were speeding along, having taken in Woodbastwick, Ranworth, South Walsham and several other small villages, when we turned down a road near Burlingham which obviously hadn’t seen much sun.

No road closure signs required

No road closure signs required

Determined not to be defeated by this impasse, I decided carrying my bike over the still significant snow-drifts was the way forward. The drifts must have been at hedge-height level prior to the thaw.

Ridgeback portage required

Ridgeback portage required

I made it to the other side with feelings akin to those Amundsen must have felt on reaching the South Pole in 1911, however perhaps shorts hadn’t been the best choice of clothing for this outing, and my shoes were on the damp side by the time I hit tarmac again.

As well as weekend rides I’ve been using my Ridgeback for the daily commute, determined not to have to resort to driving which tends to leave me in a grotty mood for the rest of the day. I was snow-bound for a few days during the Beast from the East episode, and not being able to get out for a ride left me feeling irritable and fidgety. It took me a while to realise it was because I hadn’t been having my daily dose of exercise. Cycling has so many benefits, as I’ve extolled before, that I find it difficult to understand why you would drive if you have an alternative. Here’s 10 reasons to get on your bike:

  1. Health and fitness – stronger and better endurance, helps you lose weight, and keeps me prepped for my next tour
  2. Reduced risk of cardio-vascular disease and cancer, and no doubt many other diseases. Some studies have shown it’s better for your lungs than driving, as you avoid more fumes. It also appears to help maintain brain function due to better blood flow, reducing the risk of dementia
  3. Boosted immune system; read an article this week about pensioners who cycle regularly having the immune system of people in their 20’s
  4. Keeps you looking more youthful – or so I like to think
  5. Improved mental health – from exercise, being outside in the fresh air and nature, and taking some time-out each day
  6. Cycling has less impact on your body than, for example, running, so you save your knees! I know this to be true because I went for a run for the first time in ages on Saturday, and still haven’t completely recovered
  7. Less polluting than other forms of transport, so better for the environment and more sustainable. We really need to reduce our CO2 emissions
  8. It’s actually quicker than driving in cities, and you find places you’d never see in a car. It improves your navigational skills and sense of direction to boot
  9. You can eat more cake; other foodstuffs are available (and frequently taken advantage of)
  10. Improves your sex-life; apparently it’s all about muscle groups

There are other benefits to be had, however if that isn’t enough I don’t know what is? If you’re still not convinced how about being paid to cycle to work? In New Zealand one business owner has taken it to a new level and is paying his employees $5 a day if they commute by bike for 6 months, rising to $10 a day after that, paid as an annual basis. He’s paying for it out of business profits, and says it’s covered by the improvement in employee productivity and better health.

Here’s a link to the article on this:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/07/new-zealand-cycle-cash-10-a-day-employees-work-company?CMP=share_btn_tw

This got me thinking about whether we could do this in the UK. People are often more motivated, at least initially, by monetary incentives rather than the 10 benefits listed above; I know, weird isn’t it, you’d think you’d cycle for those alone with any money being a bonus. If companies can’t afford to do this themselves perhaps the government could offer grants to at least partially fund it. Their incentive to do this would be less stress on an already straining-at-the-seams heath service, as well as improvements to the transport network due to less road erosion, and less traffic jams. It really has to be a win-win for everyone. I suppose the government already pitches in via cycle-to-work schemes, which give you tax breaks, however there have to be the opportunities to encourage cycling.

I’m wondering how I can turn this into some sort of business case to present at work, however it might be a bit tricky to assign an actual £ value. Got to be worth a go though, as my gut instinct says the benefits of a more motivated, healthier and happier workforce would outweigh any costs.

And perhaps instead of all the money being paid in a bonus to employees they could opt for some or all of it to be paid to charity instead, with Gift Aid on top of these donations.

I’ll do some more work on this and maybe float the idea at work. It would mean we’d probably need more places to lock bikes, and maybe more showers, but these things are all doable. In the meantime if you have any suggestions or comments please let me know, all gratefully received; let’s get more people self-propelled!

Where do we go from here?

I love it when it snows, and after several years of nothing significant the ‘Beast from the East’ brought buckets of the stuff over the past week. The only draw-back, from my point of view anyway, is that it makes cycling a little tricky; I don’t have any studded tyres.

Imagine if we could control the weather; but would that really be a good thing? The potential benefits around, for example, a predictable climate for agriculture, sunshine for the tourist industry, or rain for drought hit areas all sound good. But what about the impacts we couldn’t foresee or chose to ignore?

Controlling the weather in one region could adversely impact another geographical area, where perhaps they didn’t have as much money or influence. This downstream area could get hit by extreme weather, or mass species die-off events could become more common-place, such as the Saiga antelope catastrophe in Kazakhstan. In excess of 200,000 of this endangered species died in 2015, when human-caused climate change increased temperatures to such an extent it’s thought they triggered a bacteria present benignly in the antelopes at lower temperatures to cause hemorrhagic septicemia (blood poisoning and internal bleeding), with thousands dying within a few days of each other.

An increase in life-threatening diseases due to climate change could happen to human population centres, and some would argue it already is. For example Nigeria is currently experiencing an outbreak of Lassa fever, which in extreme cases has symptoms similar to Ebola, and has no vaccine. There are some theories that the increased frequency of this disease could be down to changing weather patterns.

So no, I don’t think we can be trusted to control the weather responsibly. We’re already doing it indirectly via human-caused climate change due to fossil fuel burning. The recent snowy weather resulted from unseasonably warm air being drawn up to the arctic, the Jet Stream slowing down and disrupting the polar vortex, which forced cold air and blizzards down to the UK. Whilst we experienced temperatures well below freezing in Norfolk, it was above freezing in parts of the Arctic, melting yet more of the already at record lows sea ice. This is explained much more eloquently and in far more detail on this website – well written and easy to understand; definitely worth a read.

Where am I going with this? I’m pointing out we often don’t really understand, or are unable to predict, the consequences of our actions on the planet.

As I mentioned in a previous recent blog post I’ve been pondering where we’re going as a species, and why we keep pursuing unsustainable growth and consumption, whilst the world literally collapses around us. Climate change is becoming a very tangible symptom of our labours. Surely we should be petrified for the future of our children and grandchildren, if not the other species we share the world with. Yes, the planet will survive us, however will anything else on the Earth be left by the time we check out?

There are lots of examples of as yet un-checked unsustainable activity in the present day, which we seem to be in denial about. All these have either obvious, as well as I suspect as yet unpredicted consequences. Here are a few examples.

  1. Human population growth. The world’s population is growing at around 83 million or 1.1% a year, although this rate has slowed down since peaking in the 1960’s at about 2.1%, and is predicted to fall further to around 0.1% by 2100. The graph below shows how dramatic this growth has been in the last 200 years. The impact this puts on the environment, especially as more of the population start to live ‘western’ lifestyles, is unsustainable. 
  2. Agricultural land use. As this article in the New Scientist from 10 years ago says; humans are living completely beyond their ecological means. We knew this a long time ago but still pump fields full of fertilisers and pesticides, which in the long-term degrades the land and makes it less productive, as well as poisons the underlying substrates and surrounding countryside, reducing biodiversity. That coupled with soil erosion means scientists are predicting we only have a limited number of harvests left, maybe 100, due to our unsustainable farming practices. The good news is this should be reversible, given the right techniques and less reliance on chemical fertilisers. The big agrochemical companies, such as Monsanto, don’t really want you to know this for obvious reasons. Check out this video from Dr Elaine Ingham if you want to find out more, a real eye-opener.
  3. Fishing. In many areas of the world we’re literally stripping the oceans bare of life to feed our appetite for seafood. Huge industrial trawlers and dredgers indiscriminately take everything, and even if by-catch is thrown back it’s probably not going to survive. Studies have shown that fish numbers have halved since the 70’s, with some species being hit particularly hard such as tuna and mackerel; a 75% decline in numbers. Continued unsustainable fishing practices driven by consumer demand, coupled with horrific plastic pollution and coral reef bleaching, paint a grim picture as far as recovery is concerned. If however large areas of our oceans are designated as marine conservation areas, such as the Arctic, perhaps they’ll stand a chance.
  4. Meat eating. There are hundreds of articles out there, such as this one, describing the impacts of raising livestock on the environment. As demand grows due to an increasing population and new markets, the impacts will grow. These include a large contribution to the greenhouse gases causing climate change, increased pollution due to run off, increased water use, and more land being needed to for livestock resulting in deforestation. The amount of land needed to feed a human on meat is about 20 times more than needed for a vegetarian diet. This is clearly unsustainable. The answer seems obvious, eat less meat and dairy products, with the associated health benefits as side-effects.
  5. Fossil fuel use. We continue to burn vast amount of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas, in order to generate energy, heat our homes, or power transportation. The CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning continue to increase, despite the Paris Climate Change agreement being signed in 2015. Burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of climate change.  We have perhaps 100 years left of these primary fossil fuels, which means we’ll have used up what the world has to offer over the course of about 300 years, reserves that took millions of years to create. This has to be one of the best examples of unsustainable human-based activity, however with continued research and development hopefully alternatives such as electric cars (go Tesla!), renewables, or fusion energy will increase or come online soon.

    CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning

    CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning

Those were a few examples of unsustainable activity, which seem to make less and less sense to a growing number of people, especially the younger generation who don’t understand how we could, as a race, have been so ignorant, and how we continue to pursue these activities. I think they’ll be an accounting at some point, and the history books won’t look back kindly on what will come to be regarded as criminal practices. It can be summarised quite simply…

Infinite economic, industrial and agricultural growth is unsustainable and therefore impossible when based on finite resources, coupled with environmental constraints

…not sure one can argue with that. A basic example of this can be found from studying the growth of a bacterial colony in a petri dish. The colony starts off slow, then grows exponentially using up the finite resources available, then dies off once the agar jelly runs out. A simple example but with obvious parallels to humans and the Earth.

There’s a lot of hope out there in terms of alternative more sustainable options, however these are reliant on:

  • Public take up of the alternatives, and a willingness on everyone to make sacrifices to ensure long-term sustainability
  • Funding for the research and development of these initiatives
  • The same initiatives not being blocked due to profit seeking by the incumbent industries, who wield so much power and influence
  • Politicians actually listening to their constituents and scientists

I’ve been reading recently about shifting baseline syndrome. Over time knowledge is lost concerning the state of the natural world, as people don’t perceive the changes taking place. Today’s younger generation won’t for example remember that gardens used to be full of butterflies, or that birdsong used to be so much louder, or that rhinos were once commonplace in Africa. It has to be a concern that the environment and biodiversity will continue to decline due to unsustainable activity, but people won’t realise the extent of the decline because they have no first hand experience of what things used to be like.

Over the last 25 – 30 years: (Source: WWF-UK Living Planet Report)

  • 80% of freshwater species have declined
  • Over 50% of populations of land species have declined
  • 40% of our forests have disappeared to agricultural land with 15 million trees lost each year just for soy production
  • 1 in 6 of the planet’s species are at risk of extinction from climate change

I hope that education will fill this gap, and Deep Ecology will start to become part of the syllabus; humans are just one of many equal components that make up the global ecosystem. We’re not above or apart from it, we’re a part of it, and could not only survive but thrive if things are done the right way.

I don’t know how we change public opinion quickly enough to make the changes needed to ensure we can survive and thrive. Most governments don’t seem to give it a high priority, or are swayed by lobbyists driving their own commercial agendas, and whilst industry is changing it’s debatable whether it will happen quickly enough. It’s bizarre that we can continue so blithely down this path when you can for example see the ice melting, species dying, diseases increasing, the plastic in our oceans, antibiotic resistance rocketing, and extreme weather events due to climate change happening. I can only assume most people are in a massive state of denial, and refuse to wake-up, because to do so would cause a mental breakdown.

The underlying causes of all this have to be the drive to consume (we’re all indoctrinated to do so from an early age via marketing), what we are taught to regard as being successful in life, the pursuit of unreasonable profit and therefore money by a relatively small percentage of the population, and the often mistaken belief that more money will make you happy. After being on my bike for six months travelling round Europe, I realised you need very little in order to be happy. It looks increasingly like we need an alternative model from capitalism, which no doubt had its place in the past, in order to endure. That’s maybe a topic for another blog.

If you don’t already know about it Earth Hour takes place this weekend, where people are encouraged to turn their lights off from 20.30 in a show of solidarity for the planet. Here’s a link to the WWF website which has more detail on it – https://www.wwf.org.uk/earthhour

Well done and thank you if you made it to the end of that one. As usual my opinions are my own, however I hope that many of you will agree seeing as the evidence around all this is so easy to come by (see sources), and that you’ll conclude that we need to stop now and make some changes. I think everyone really can make a difference, because trends and movements spread and grow when they make sense. Let’s rectify this:

People and nature in Venn diagrams

People and nature in Venn diagrams

As always, safe cycling, and please feel free to comment with any feedback, opinions or interesting links to further information.

Sources

  1. BBC – Lassa fever: The killer with no vaccine – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-43211086
  2. Robert Scribbler – Sudden Stratospheric Warming and Polar Amplification: How Climate Change interacts with the Polar Vortex – https://robertscribbler.com/2018/02/28/sudden-stratospheric-warming-and-polar-amplification-how-climate-change-interacts-with-the-polar-vortex/
  3. World Population Growth by Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina – https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth
  4. Unsustainable development ‘puts humanity at risk’ – https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12834-unsustainable-development-puts-humanity-at-risk/
  5. Youtube – The Roots of your Profit, Dr Elaine Ingham, soil microbiologist, founder of Soil Foodweb Inc – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2H60ritjag&t=3511s
  6. Huffington Post – Ocean Fish Populations cut in half since the 1970s: Report – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/crucial-marine-populations-cut-in-half-since-the-1970s-report_us_55f9ecd2e4b00310edf5b1b2
  7. The Guardian – Animal agriculture is choking the ​Earth and making us sick. We must act now – https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/04/animal-agriculture-choking-earth-making-sick-climate-food-environmental-impact-james-cameron-suzy-amis-cameron
  8. The Guardian – Fossil fuel burning set to hit record high in 2017, scientists warn – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/13/fossil-fuel-burning-set-to-hit-record-high-in-2017-scientists-warn
  9. Wikipedia – Deep Ecology – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_ecology
  10. WWF – Earth Hour – https://www.wwf.org.uk/earthhour

Brake the Cycle

A couple of weeks ago I came across Brake the Cycle, a touring company that organise adventures combining bicycles, caring about the planet, eco-communities and permaculture, with helping individuals find a new healthier and happier path in life. What better way to do that than on a bike? In short it’s all the sort of thing I’m passionate about, in trying to practise a more balanced, sustainable, and connected to nature lifestyle.

Here’s a video from their website that’s really making me look forward to touring again a bit later this year; I’m hoping to pedal down the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland.

You can check out there website here – www.brakethecycle.xyz

If you’re thinking about giving cycle touring a go, but a bit nervous and would like to do it with a group of like-minded individuals, then I’d recommend checking them out. They organise tours in the UK, such as Lands End to John O’Groats and an Odyssey in Wales, to pedalling round Spain or Greece. And they’ll carry your luggage for you! A great way to see new places, make new friends, and experience the joys of cycle touring in a sustainable way.

I recently wrote a guest blog post for them, which you can read here – www.brakethecycle.xyz/single-post/bikearoundBritain

Incidentally I have no commercial connection to this website, I just really like what they’re trying to do and may well get a few friends to join me on one of their tours.

I’ve also copied in the blog post below, as I really enjoyed writing this one, and want to keep it for posterity.

Bike around Britain by James Harvey
Riding a bike. I don’t think I could do without it now. I get grouchy if I haven’t cycled for a couple of days. If I have to use my car to commute the day is definitely worse for it. On my 10 mile ride to work I see people stuck in their vehicles, looking grumpy, frustrated, bored, and disconnected from the world outside their sterile, sealed metal boxes.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant if more people used their bike to get to work? There are so many benefits to be gained from a regular pedal: mental and physical health, fitness, saving money, and less pollution. It’s actually quicker in towns, and you can eat more cake without worrying too much about the calories. You’re closer to the natural world too — not separate from it like so many people seem to be these days. As we move into Spring and everything starts waking up there’s more to see, smell, listen to and experience whilst pedalling.

Snowdrop covered bank

Take the path less travelled

Cycling several times a week also means that when it comes to your next cycle tour your legs are better prepared for it, although it’s one of those hobbies where you really can get fit on the job. I started cycle touring properly in 2013, when a major life event made me re-evaluate what’s important. I took some time out and decided, fairly randomly, that I’d cycle around the coast of Britain. Why wait until you retire to start adventuring? You never know what’s going to happen. If you have the chance to do something different, to pursue something out-of-the ordinary you’ve always wanted to do, then go for it, ‘brake the cycle’ and take that first step out of your front door. Every step after that is easier. One of my favourite quotes, from Henry Rollins reflects all this:

‘No such thing as spare time
No such thing as free time
No such thing as down time
All you got is life time. Go!’

I didn’t especially know what I was doing when I set off round the coast. I bought a bike I’d been reliably informed was decent for touring, as well as camping equipment I could fit on it, and a whole  host of other bits and pieces I thought I might need. Once I’d packed my panniers I mounted my trusty steed, and gently tumbled onto the grass outside my house. It appeared I might have to cut down on what were going to be my worldly possessions for the next three months. That was the start of realising you really don’t need much to be happy. In fact, from what I’ve observed, the more people have the less happy they often are. You meet a lot of people when touring, whether it be in Britain, or in more remote places (for us) such as Albania, Scandinavia or Turkey. The friendliest and most content people I’ve met are often those that seem to have the least, from a material possession point of view; I’d argue they probably have the much more from a spiritual and non-material angle.

Starting from Norwich and heading to Lowestoft, on the East coast of Britain, before turning North, getting fitter as I went. I almost immediately had a crash on a Norfolk coastal path, when I discovered loaded touring bikes don’t cope well with sand. This wouldn’t be the last ‘stunt’ of the tour.

It didn’t really take very long to get to Scotland, however it took a me a disproportionate amount of time to get round the coast of that glorious country. There are so many ins-and-outs, up-and-downs, sideways then back up bits. Thankfully on a coastal tour it’s quite hard to get lost, all you have to do is keep the sea on one side, and in Scotland there aren’t a lot of roads to choose from when you get beyond Edinburgh. Another Scottish bonus is you can wild camp as long as you’re sensible and respectful, so finding a place to rest wasn’t hard.

Wild camping on the shores of Loch Fyne

Wild camping on the shores of Loch Fyne

I always get asked what my favourite bits of a tour are, and it’s often hard to pick one. I know that the journey is definitely more important that the destination — the latter often being a bit of an anti-climax after all the adventures along the way. On my 2013 Bike around Britain tour I can definitely say Scotland was my favourite bit, aside from the midges which will eat you alive if you’re not careful. The coastline is amazing, especially the West Coast, and then there’s Orkney where I immediately felt at home,  and Skye and Mull which are quite different from the mainland. The wildness of Cape Wrath where I camped next to the lighthouse and ate fresh wild Atlantic salmon was amazing, and I’ll never forget cycling over the Bealach na Ba pass from Applecross, up the steepest ascent in the UK, then descending carefully down the other side with my brakes smoking. That’s feeling alive.

Bealach na Ba

Bealach na Ba

Eventually it was time to leave Scotland and cross back into England, via Gretna Green. That in itself was a culture shock after weeks in relative wilderness; coach loads of Japanese and Chinese tourists greeted me as I pedalled through, and I suddenly had to contend with roundabouts and traffic lights again, a rarity in the highlands. Then it was on to Wales which turned out to be, whilst beautiful, very wet and windy. In fact it mostly rained for all of Wales, but you get used to that kind if thing whilst cycle touring, as well as dirt and mud; my theory is your skin is waterproof, so all good. A few local cyclists I met on the road bought me the odd meal, or a pint, which kept motivation levels up.

When you’re on a long cycle tour you’re much more in touch with the natural environment you’re in, especially if you’re camping most of the time. You become attuned to the daylight hours as well as the weather, and are definitely very much a part of nature, rather than disconnected from it. On your bike you spot things you’d never see in a car, and meet people you’d never normally speak to. They’re interested because you’re on a loaded touring bike and they want to know where you’ve been and where you’re going ; this can often lead to free meals! You rest when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, and take a diversion to see something interesting if the notion takes you. I’d challenge anyone not to feel less-stressed after a week or two of that.

 

Cycle touring - enjoy spectacular sunsets in nature's embrace

Cycle touring – enjoy spectacular sunsets in nature’s embrace

The funny thing was as soon as I rode to the other side of the Severn Bridge it stopped raining. I could look back into Wales and it was still cloudy on the other side of the Severn, however I was now in sunshine. Wales is damp, lovely country, but damp.

The South West was another highlight, although the hills were steeper than in any other part of the tour; I didn’t have to get off and push until I got to Devon. I rode to Land’s End on a wonderful sunny day, completing a rather long and unconventional John O’Groats to Lands End (‘Jogle’) trip. I laid back in the heather and dozed for a bit, listening to the waves crashing against the rocks far below. The sound of the sea, my constant companion for the three months of my  tour, is always relaxing and trance-inducing.

Lands End - listening to the sea

Lands End – listening to the sea

Along the South Coast it got a lot busier, but remained entertaining, with the odd ferry to catch over inlets and estuaries. There was more regular supply of ice-cream, and friends joined me along the way to experience a bit of life on the road.  After the peace of Scotland the South East was the opposite. A more frantic pace of life as well as an increase in traffic and prices, and more opportunities to get lost. As with everywhere folks still often wanted to say hello and find out what I was doing, or to offer hospitality.

Helford - ran out of road, waiting for ferry boat

Helford – ran out of road, waiting for ferry boat

Heading North across the Thames I joined the Tour de Latitude, taking a diversion to cycle to the music festival. It proved to be an excellent decision, a chance to catch up with a few friends and ease tired muscles, before heading back to the coast to finish the circuit back in Lowestoft, and home to Norwich.

I learnt so much about myself and the UK on that tour. Since then I’ve continued to go on adventures on my bike, including a six month pedal around Europe in 2015, taking in Nordkapp, Tarifa and Istanbul. But there really isn’t any need to leave  Britain to get away from it all, reconnect with nature, and try something new. We have so much on our own doorstep to enjoy, learn about and be part of.

You have a lot of time to mull things over whilst you’re pedalling. In the last two hundred years we’ve grown more and more apart from the natural world, somehow forgetting about it, or believing we’re above other species on this planet. There’s a constant pressure for growth, whether that be population, industrial, agricultural or economic, which is at odds with the finite resources we have access to, as well as our own wellbeing. I can’t help wondering if a lot of the mental health issues we experience today are caused by the realisation, by all of us at some level, that things aren’t right at the moment. Getting on your bike, whether that be for you daily commute to work or to take up touring, is a great way to start reconnecting with the world, to start working out what’s important, and to bring more contentment and satisfaction into your life.

People always seem to ask me what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go next? I ask, where are you going next?

“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

James Harvey is a keen cyclist and advocate of two wheels for wellbeing. Find out more about his 2013 tour (with routes) here: www.bikearoundbritain.com. You can find James sharing his thoughts on the wonderfully titled www.selfpropelled.life and follow home on Twitter here @jam_har

 

What’s important in life?

Last week everything was getting a bit hectic. Work was busy as always, I had a stack of admin to do, and I’d been trying to sort out house buying/selling stuff as well as visiting my brother and family, then visiting him again to collect my laptop which I left behind; what a plonker! Thankfully he only lives just over an hour away.

With stress levels mounting the short film below by Alastair Humphries was brought to my attention, which came as a timely reminder of what’s important in life, and got me thinking about future adventures again. I’d highly recommend you take 5 minutes to watch it.

I love the quote from John Muir…

‘A lifetime is so little a time, that we die before we get ready to live’

I bet this is a concern many share, and we should do our utmost to ensure we don’t delay living, instead of just plodding along hoping something will change, for a lottery win, or that fame and fortune will randomly find you if fame and fortune are what you really want. Definitely don’t wait for retirement to spread your wings. Who knows what the future holds and how long you have to enjoy it; the world doesn’t feel like a very stable place at the moment.

So  reminding myself of the above, I think it’s time to start planning some fun stuff in the outdoors for next year. I’m not thinking of trips taking several months again, instead it’ll be shorter excursions, and not just by bike this time. Current ideas include hiking/biking in Scotland, one of my favourite places, climbing in France, and perhaps canoeing in Canada. I’d better get saving however not all of these need be expensive. I also really need to commit to doing some writing, something I always say I’m going to do but rarely prioritise, finding other things to occupy my time instead. On top of that I’d like to commit time to environmental and conservation causes and projects, perhaps with some volunteer work, or fundraising for charities involved. Looks like 2017 could be busy then.

On the environment front a colleague at work asked me today why I don’t use my car to get to work when it’s cold and wet, instead of cycling all the time. Aside from the fitness side of things and constantly trying to lose weight, my more immediate response was as follows.

‘If your house catches fire, do you throw more fuel on it to make it burn more quickly and destructively,  or do you go and fetch a hose pipe and call the fire brigade?’

Every time I get in my car, and even though it has very low emissions, I’m conscious of the fossil fuel it’s burning and how the emissions from this are contributing to climate change. 2016 is another record breaker, being the hottest year on record, and CO2 levels have permanently gone over 400 ppm now. The planet seems to be on course to continue warming, with all the disastrous side effects such as ice melt, sea levels rising, warming oceans leading to coral bleaching and anaerobic dead zones, as well as habitat destruction and species decline on a massive scale. I could go on with examples but it gets a little depressing, especially with a new president due in the USA who doesn’t believe in climate change and who is going to encourage more coal-burning. I think the Paris Climate change agreement to limit temperatures to a 2’C rise is broken.

Perhaps that’s the problem. Of course you wouldn’t throw more fuel onto your house if it’s on fire, however most people just can’t see that the same thing is happening to the planet.

The human race seems determined to ignore all the warning signs, and continue blindly on with its destructive lifestyle. Endless consumerism of goods you don’t really need and often pointless technology, is driven by large corporations driven only by profits and greed. People are often completely unwilling to compromise on their comfortable lifestyles to try to limit their impact on the environment. Having the latest gadget, upgrade, a new car, or a wardrobe full of new clothes is still a necessary status symbol for many people, even though we’re using up the planet’s resources at an unprecedented rate and destroying countless habitats to do so.

It really is completely messed up and illogical, and I think I’m beginning to agree with Sir David Attenborough’s comments that humanity are a plague on Earth and population growth needs to be limited and reversed; unfortunately that still seems to be a bit of a taboo subject. Any arguments around the planet not being overpopulated by humans as there’s still loads of space, of which I’ve seen a few recently, are seriously flawed. Yes there’s enough space to make lots more farmland, but at the expense of more critical ecosystems, and with more people will come more demand for goods that will strip the our remaining resources even further, at the expense of the other animals we share this world with, and future generations.

Still, I like to think there’s still hope, with awareness growing of the issues we face, and more and more people taking notice and trying to change their lifestyles to limit an adverse impact on the environment, pollution, waste and energy use. Even the small things like stopping buying coffee in non reusable cups with plastic lids helps; just stop it! It may be too late to stop some of the changes such as sea level rises that will sink coastal cities, but hopefully other changes can be averted.

If we can persuade governments to invest more in renewable energy, expose large corporations with damaging practices, and change our habits things will get better. There are also projects such as ITER, which I just read about, which could provide a clean source of energy on a permanent basis, solving many of the world’s problems (see https://www.iter.org/). And perhaps more critically I firmly believe, along with hundreds of thousands of others, that we need to do more to  keep fossil fuels in the ground, even if that means fuel prices may rise and life might get a little more difficult in the short-term. We’ve got to do something to force the political elite, as well as the very small percentage of the superrich who seem to control everything with only their own wellbeing and wealth in mind, to take notice.

Those were my musings for a Tuesday evening. By writing about this I hope to increase awareness and make people think, as it should (IMHO) be something we are all concerned about on a daily basis; after all, what is important in life? And if you didn’t like the environmental bit I hope the video was at least enjoyable.

Strange things did happen here

If you go down to the woods today…you might see something odd; me falling off a slackline. Slacklining was originally invented by climbers, but has developed a wider appeal over the last few years, and is definitely up there on my list of self propelled sports. Learning to walk across a 2 inch wide piece of webbing is proving pretty tricky, but great fun, and gets me out into the woods at the weekend which can’t be a bad thing. I can only manage about 5 metres without falling off at the moment, however I’m sure controlled bouncing and backflips are only a few weeks away. Travelling Lobster has already attained a much higher level of competence, however I think that’s due to a lower centre of gravity and more limbs; basically he’s cheating.

Lobster demonstrating how to walk a slackline in Bacton Woods

Lobster demonstrating how to walk a slackline in Bacton Woods

There are allegedly several benefits to be enjoyed from slacklining, including better balance and posture, improved core strength and concentration, and perhaps even a reduction in your chances of ankle or knee injuries when participating in other sports, which can’t be a bad thing. One can enter an almost meditative state whilst walking the line, as you’re only concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, and getting to the tree at the other end. Unfortunately my meditative state is usually broken after a few seconds as I tumble off. It’s also pretty hilarious, which helps – laughing is good for the soul. I’ve been learning with a friend, who incidentally is far better than me; the inadvertent monkey noises, arm windmilling, intense expressions of concentration and frequent bouts of swearing are all cause for much hilarity. I’m not sure what people out for a walk in the woods think, must look and sound a bit strange, but I’d throughly recommend it as a cheap, fun, and non environmentally harming activity. Of course you’ll need a bit of patience, but one can look forward to feats such as those being shown off by the individuals in this YouTube clip (I’ve got a way to go yet):

There are loads of YouTube videos you can watch on slacklining, with some pretty amazing stunts, including some people riding bikes over them which I’ll have to try at some point; maybe not with all my panniers on though.

Talking of cycling, two cool things this week, the first being I had my first ever go on a tandem bicycle. There’s a vague plan afoot, with a friend from work, to ride from Cambridge to Norwich on a tandem, raising money for charity. I was slightly dubious of this idea to begin with, especially as my fellow tandem rider hasn’t actually ridden a bike for 25 years, however the initial feasibility study has proven successful, so watch this space.

The second cool cycling thing this week is tickets have gone on sale for this years Cycle Touring Festival in Lancashire. I went to the first one last year, which also marked the start point for my 6 month European cycle tour, and can thoroughly recommend it for meeting like-minded individuals who don’t think you’re a bit strange to go off pedalling for weeks, months, or in some cases years, living off what you can pack on your bike. My friend Tony, who with his wife Gill pedalled around the coast of Britain in 2014, following a similar route to mine from 2013, recently wrote an entertaining blog post about the festival and its attendees – http://www.gillandtony.co.uk/its-a-tribal-thing/

You can get tickets for the festival via their website here: http://cycletouringfestival.co.uk

I should probably explain the title of this blog post. Usually I find coming up with a title for a blog pretty easy, but for some reason I’m failing tonight. I’m going to stick with the lyrics from a song I’ve had stuck in my head for the last few days, ever since watching Mockingjay Part 1, which I really enjoyed and very much lived up to the books. ‘Strange things did happen here’ is quite apt in many ways, as lots of strange things do happen, some of which I’ve described above.

And now on to the not so good strange things. Five dead sperm whales have been found on the East coast of England over the last few days, having beached themselves, probably because they got lost in the North Sea where their sonar doesn’t work too well. The North Sea is too shallow for them compared with their normal ranges, meaning they get lost, and if they beach themselves on a sand bank they suffer cardiovascular collapse and organ failure; not a very nice way to go. Sadly this isn’t an uncommon event on our coastline, but I’m hoping it wasn’t caused by humans in this instance; maybe just the whales getting lost whilst chasing their squid prey, rather than getting confused by sounds in the sea originating from us, or becoming ill from a build up of toxins and beaching themselves (PCBs, plastic, radiation etc). I really don’t want to see any more pictures of people taking selfies with dead whales, or as I saw earlier today someone attacking the carcass to claim teeth as trophies; people are pretty awful sometimes.

This week we’ve continued to see strange weather patterns afflicting much of the world, with freezing temperatures in parts of South East Asia that don’t often go below 10’C, massive snow storms hitting the East coast of North America, and now the UK is beset by more gales and wet weather; although we have it lucky in comparison, at least most of us have central heating. The frankly worrying weather patterns are again caused by hot air being drawn up over the Arctic, including Greenland, forcing cold air south, disrupting the Jet Stream and turning weather normal for this type of year on its head in many areas. This will no doubt melt more glaciers and contribute to sea level rises in the season when these glaciers should be expanding. Reading the science behind this, the culprit is again the human race, due to unchecked CO2 emissions causing global warming in places that really don’t need to be warmed, and thus climate change. It seems obvious we’re in for rough times as the climate further destabilises, although who knows, maybe it’s just a blip; the evidence doesn’t seem to back up a blip though, with CO2 levels at their highest in 3 million years*, causing temperature rises that are warming our atmosphere and seas with devastating consequences.

*http://robertscribbler.com/2016/01/26/arctic-heatwave-drives-deadly-asian-cold-snap/

On the subject of CO2 emissions, the low fuel prices we’re seeing at the moment can’t be a good thing can they? A massive increase in oil production, from tapping shale reserves (fracking) has driven prices down, which in turn must have lead to an increase in use, with demand still rising in China and other fast developing countries. Wouldn’t it have been better to keep prices high, by increasing taxes? This would in turn:

  • Show down consumption, meaning reserves would last for longer. It’s not like we’re sustainably farming oil. We don’t plant a new crop every year and thus replace reserves; once it’s gone it’s gone, with some of the alternatives such as Biofuels having equally damaging consequences for the environment.
  • Limit CO2 emissions from cars, planes etc, and thus help with meeting targets set in the Paris COP21 agreement
  • Increase tax revenue that could then be spent on good stuff, like researching and implementing alternative clean energy sources (fusion, renewables), the NHS, or feeding and homing the homeless

I don’t claim to understand all the economics behind the oil price changes, but it seems to be driven by human greed yet again, as well as politics; wealth and politics won’t matter much if we  don’t have a planet we’re able to live on. Can we at least, as I think Stephen Hawking recently said, avoid completely destroying Earth until we have invented viable space travel and are able to colonise other planets; although quite why the human ‘plague’ should be inflicted on other worlds I don’t know, not until we mend our ways slightly anyway.

I’ll pause there on the doom and gloom front, but you have to admit it’s pretty strange how we seem driven as a race to ultimately destroy ourselves? I read a blog today where the author used the phrase ‘challenge our sense of entitlement’. This really struck a chord with me; I think we need to really challenge our sense of entitlement to what we take for granted; excess consumerism, driving a car, burning fuel, waste, our place in the Earth’s ecosystem etc.

I’ll finish with a few humorous, or in the case of the latter touching strange things.

  • Trout tickling. How on Earth was that ever invented?  Did someone just randomly get in a river one day and approach fish with rather strange intentions? This was one of the topics we contemplated whilst slacklining in the woods, and is something I think I need to try at some point. If you don’t know what it is there are videos on YouTube.
  • Ferret Legging. This is the sport where contestants put ferrets down their trousers and see how long they can keep them there. The custom allegedly arose in Yorkshire, which perhaps explains a lot, with individuals trying to hide there poaching activities by keeping these furry and sharp toothed creatures hidden down their trousers; sounds hazardous to me.
  • Cheese rolling. This is another bizarre British tradition, which takes place at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester. Locals started racing rounds of Double Gloucester cheese down the hill, and now people come from all around the world to participate. This has apparently been going on for hundreds of years, however it sounds like something the Victorians would have invented to me, as was for example Morris Dancing, another odd but entertaining pastime. I think I might right a blog just on odd British pastimes.
  • The performance artist Marina and Ulay reunite: I saw this video a while ago, and remembered it the other day. I challenge anyone not to be moved by it.

Disappearing down the rabbit hole

…”down the rabbit hole”, a metaphor for an entry into the unknown, the disorientating or the mentally deranging, from its use in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

I can’t decide whether I’m disappearing down a rabbit hole, or perhaps emerging from one. Given my state of ongoing confusion and disenchantment with the state of the planet I suspect I may still be spiralling downwards instead of upwards. Incidentally, this might not be the most uplifting of blog posts I’ve ever written, perhaps because today is allegedly the most depressing day of the year, however these are topics I’ve been thinking about a lot since getting back from pedalling around Europe, and as such I thought they deserved an airing. Perhaps I’m still suffering from post expedition blues; a well-known condition where the individual just wants to keep on pedalling/walking/exploring, and has trouble fitting back in to ‘normal’ life and work.

It’s definitely not all doom and gloom. I’ve been enjoying getting out for some long cycle rides in the January sunshine, whilst avoiding too many stunts on icy roads, meeting up with friends, attempting to learn to slackline (look it up), and have even started running a couple of times a week. I’ve decided running isn’t very good for you, but hopefully it’ll get easier, and I’ve joined a team of friends running 2016 miles in 2016 for charity to assist with motivation.

Before I dive into more serious stuff here are some uplifting photos; please refer back to them if reading this all gets a bit much. The Norfolk countryside and coastline is really beautiful at this time of year.

Nature, the environment, conservation and climate change are areas I’ve been interested in all my life, which is probably one of the reasons I studied Biology; not sure why I work in Financial Services now however it pays the bills and allows me to finance cool stuff, so all good. When you’re on the road for a long time, sleeping in a tent and pedalling through all sorts of weather, you tend to become a lot more aware and attuned to the climate and seasons, prone to thinking about the impact it can have on you each day, and to wondering what things will be like if some of the forecast changes come to pass. Travelling also brings you into contact with a wide variety of people, both rich and poor, with varying degrees of security, from refugees on the road to tourists on holiday in expensive villas. If we see some of the major climate changes scientists are talking about it’ll affect everyone regardless of wealth, however as usual it’ll be the poor that’ll suffer the most.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading since I returned to the UK, and am increasingly concerned we’re heading for a meltdown; I’ll present my very short conclusion and some of the sources I’ve garnered information from at the end of this post.

Here’s the stuff I’m worried about, especially when I think about the sort of world the last few generations are leaving for future generations. It shocking really, and driven by greed, ignorance to an extent laziness, oh and did I mention greed. I might delve into these topics in more detail in future blog posts.

  • The Plasticene Age – I read that the human race produces over 300 million tonnes of plastic a year, with a third of this going into the trash pretty much straight away. This has an enormous impact, so much so that we’ve created a new age which will be recognisable in the Earth’s geology for hundreds of thousands of years. At least we’ve cut down on plastic bag use, however it’d be great if we started using more sustainable materials; bring back clay pots!
  • Plastic and micro-beads – continuing on the subject of plastic, the polluting effects it has on the planet’s flora and fauna, especially in our oceans, is catastrophic. More recently the issue of the plastic micro-beads you find in so many products  (toothpaste, face scrub etc) being washed straight into the sea has been widely reported. These beads, as well other types of plastic, end up in the food chain, causing pollution and poisoning animals all the way up the chain, including humans eating fish at their favourite restaurant. It’s pretty heart-rending seeing the pictures of seabirds and creatures who’ve ingested too much plastic, often dying a particularly painful and slow death.
  • Overfishing – just when are we going to get real about this? There are still huge factory ships and fishing fleets dredging up anything from our oceans, indiscriminately, effectively turning huge swathes in dead zones. Overfishing is a real problem, with the WWF reporting that the global fishing fleet is 2 to 3 times bigger that the oceans can sustainably support. You can read the stats on the WWF website, and plenty of other sources, on irrecoverable species decline, and how new species are now starting to be exploited due to the old ones not being there anymore. Unfortunately due to economic pressures it looks highly likely oceans such as the Indian will be turned into barren wastelands before too long.
  • Rising sea levels – continuing on a water based theme for the time being, I wonder if it’s now too late to avert a catastrophic rise in sea levels. I know the Paris cop21 agreements might give us some hope, however changes might not come soon enough to avert widespread flooding and certain island based countries disappearing for good. I read recently how the storms this winter have been pushing hot air up into the Arctic, causing temperatures to rise above freezing at Christmas, which could be unprecedented in recent times. These hot temperatures may well be causing glacial melt in Greenland, rather than them freezing and growing during the winter period, which in turn could be causing a massive meltwater run off into the ocean (think lots of analysis still going on). Glacial melt, unlike melting sea ice, contributes to sea level rises, so it’ll be ‘interesting’, or perhaps I should terrifying, to see what impact this has over the next few years.
  • Climate change in general – I don’t particularly care, other than getting slightly annoyed, if you want to dispute the cause of climate change, but I don’t think anyone can say it’s not happening. And yes, we know the Earth has gone through ‘natural’ climate change in the past and bounced back, however the speed it is occurring at now is rather frightening, and whilst the planet might bounce back, will we? Personally I’m with the camp naming human based CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels as the perpetrator, with contributions from farming practices; 20% of CO2 global carbon emissions alone come from deforestation (WWF). We’ve all experienced the intense storms of the last few years, with many scientists calling them unprecedented, and in particular this year the impact of the El Nino effect. These storms seem destined to become the norm, and get worse, so we’ll see more flooding and damage from hurricanes and typhoons. There’s loads you can read about this on for example Robert Scribbler website, including details on average temperature increases and the knock on impacts weather systems can have on different areas.
  • Migration – more extreme weather types look to be the next big cause of population migration, once we’ve got over fighting one another in different arenas; not sure that’ll happen as part of me thinks it’s deliberate on some governments parts. Drought in Africa and other parts of the world will cause massive population movement to Europe, and other less dry regions. This will in turn cause ongoing social and economic problems, with borders being closed, right-wing movements gaining power, and all the associated problems we’re seeing with the economic and refugee migrants at the moment; not a pretty picture.
  • Increased standards of living – this might seem like a weird one, but it’s going to have an exponential effect on the above unless we find and implement for example a clean source of energy (fusion, more wind farms and solar), and more sustainable sources of protein. China and India all have burgeoning populations, as do several other parts of the world, and they’ll all going to want better lifestyles, and to consume more, whether it be food or goods. This is all going to take up more resources which we’re running out of. You can’t blame people for wanting a better life, and it’s difficult to object when the West has had it good for so long, and is the cause of a lot of the damage, but something has got to stop/give somewhere along the line.
  • Exploitation of natural resources and pollution – huge companies continue to exploit the planet’s natural resources, at the expense of the environment, animals, plants and other humans. You see it in then news with pollution caused from oil and gas leaks, habitat destruction to make way for drilling or mining, and wars being fought to get control of these resources, all for the sake of profit.
  • Species decline and extinction – okay, I know species decline and extinction can be regarded as a ‘natural’ event, it’s what happened to the dinosaurs, but it’s depressing how the human race is causing so much of it; you could argue us causing it is natural, otherwise you’re saying humans are unnatural, maybe natural is an awkward word but best not get too philosophical. There have been reports of mass die offs amongst some sea-bird species, due to starvation; warming sea water leading to food sources moving. Then there is the problem we’re seeing with bee colonies dying, due to Neonicotinoids, at alarming rates, which in turn could impact agriculture, and ecosystems being completely disrupted due to one species disappearing, for example a top predator, due to human interference. I could write several blogs alone on the impact we have on different species due to fishing and farming practices, overhunting, poaching, habitat destruction and climate change. I can’t believe people still hunt endangered species, including for example whales, how is that possibly acceptable other than if you’re doing it because you need to live (e.g. some small aboriginal communities kill the odd whale for food and resources). I fear children in a few generations time will only be able to look at creatures we take for granted today on a computer screen.
  • Conservation – on the face of it conservation has got to be a good thing, right? It is but it’s got to be done right and with the proper commitment from governments and organisations. For example, many of the National Parks in the UK are pretty devoid of wildlife, both flora and fauna, aside from sheep, game birds and deer. They might be nice to walk around, but they’re pretty barren due to overgrazing, and controlled burn-offs (swaling), thus no species succession occurs in terms of long-term tree growth and areas being re-forested with something other than conifers. Economic pressure from landowners wanting to earn money from sheep farming and hunting is often the cause; sheep farming in mountainous National Parks is one of the least efficient forms of farming around, but I suppose it looks nice.
  • Overpopulation – this might be a taboo subject when it comes to discussing a solution, however the basic cause of a lot of the problems we’re seeing is there are too many people, wanting to consume too much. Thankfully with antibiotic resistant bacteria on the rise, due to irresponsible farming practices, it’s probably only a matter of time before a superbug kills off large proportion of the human race.

So what can we do about all this? Does it even matter, in the grander scheme of things? If it all goes horribly wrong then yes lots of people will die, but in a few thousand years the Earth will perhaps have recovered without us, or with a lot less of us. It’s easy to comment on and rant about such topics when we live in a first world country and don’t have to worry about running out of food or somewhere warm to sleep. Do the majority of people even care, other than paying lip service to these issues? What’s it going to take for people to make changes, and change their priorities from consuming to conserving what we have left?

Aside from running away and living in a cabin deep in a forest in the mountains somewhere, waiting for the end, which I’m still seriously considering, there are several things I’ve been doing, and I know a lot of other people are too, or things we should do as a whole, to try to improve matters. Here are some of them.

  • Read more – it’s free, and easy with the Internet. Remaining ignorant on these issues isn’t an excuse when you live in a developed country. There are loads of websites out there you can use to educate yourself, a lot of them using simple language and explanations, which I find very helpful. Following the right people on social media also helps – Twitter very useful for this. In turn you can help to educate other people and encourage constructive changes, or engage in lively debate; there is no doubt stuff I’ve written here that people will disagree with, or offer an alternative view-point or evidence, that’s great, bring it on, as long as it raises the profile of the challenges we’re facing.
  • Reduce ignorance – on the same subject as reading more, it would be great to spread the word on the issues we’re facing, and their causes, to people and in particular other cultures who don’t have it as high on their agendas. I know it’s hard to argue that someone shouldn’t clear that piece of land to grow good to feed their family, however once it’s gone in many cases it’s gone, and alternatives need to be offered. Signing petitions can often help with this, for example by highlighting issues to governments, especially in those countries where people just don’t see it as an issue, or are unaware of the disdain it causes from other nations (e.g. Japan and some Scandinavian countries with their whaling practices)
  • Consume less and recycle more – it would be great if we could all consume less in the way of plastic, and goods in general, however we’re all constantly encouraged to buy and use more stuff we don’t really need to be happy. In fact more stuff often makes you unhappy. I’ve been trying to buy things with less packaging, which is surprisingly difficult, however at least we can all try to recycle more. I’ll also be holding on to my current mobile phone for as long as possible, as well as other gadgets, and not upgrading them, as the amount of resource used to make for example a new smart phone, and the knock impact this can have, is pretty  gruesome.
  • Put pressure on corporations and governments to change their ways – it works as we’ve seen from prominent TV campaigns by the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, or as a result of petitions asking supermarkets to stop stocking certain brands (e.g. Tuna caught unsustainably). If we know something is wrong, and causing damage, we shouldn’t let them get away with it for the sake of profit. Greenpeace run a lot of worthwhile petitions, and engage in a lot of good work to highlight issues and put the pressure on companies or governments, but there are plenty of other organisations to support if you don’t like them. Here’s a petition I recently signed on the micro-bead issue: https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/page/s/ban-microbeads
  • Eat less meat – I’m trying to have several vegetarian meals a week, and do my bit to reduce CO2 emissions from some types of farming. It’s really not very hard, and enjoyable finding alternatives. I think it’s important we set an example to other countries in areas like this, particularly developing nations where meat is becoming more available, or where there’s an increasing demand for it.
  • Drive less – perhaps this is easy for me to say, as I cycle a lot, and use my bike for commuting to work. I’m also fortunate I have no disabilities preventing me from an active lifestyle. It’s frustrating seeing the number of people using their car for such short journeys; perhaps a few kilometres to drop their kids off at school. I believe the average commute was recorded at around 15km in a 2011 census, which means many people have to travel a lot less than this each day, and could therefore walk or cycle. I felt slightly nauseous cycling to work the other day due to the pollution from car and lorry exhausts; it’d be great if we saw lots more people walking or cycling, and think of the personal health benefits.
  • Change priorities – it’s hard to do this in today’s modern society, with the pressure to keep up with your neighbours, consume more, and of course there’s never enough time to fit everything in. I think it’s a question of priorities. You could make time to walk to school or your workplace if you decided not to do something else, set off a bit earlier, or have a conversation with your employer. You could also choose to consume less, not buy the latest version of such and such, or live a simpler life. There are lots of articles out there about how changing your priorities to lead a simpler life, fitting in time for stuff that matters, or only buying what you really need, can make you a lot happier. I’m giving it a go, but am not going to say it’s easy to escape the trap of the modern lifestyle, especially with so much advertising telling you to consume more. I guess you also need to consider the impact of us all stopping consuming; there’d definitely be an economic meltdown of sorts, which is perhaps what the big cheeses are all scared of and thus do everything to stop. I agree there’d be some pretty tricky times in the short-term, but things would balance out in the longer term, with priorities changing and helpfully a better society and environment resulting.
  • Plant a tree – or even better, plant lots of trees. All the deforestation around not only emits loads of CO2, but also means there are less trees to convert the CO2 back to O2. It can be a fun activity, and something rewarding to watch grow. Even if you can’t plant one yourself you could support organisations doing so.
  • Tolerance – with the issues mentioned around increased migration due to climate change, it’s going to be even more important we become more tolerant of other cultures and nationalities wanting to enter our respective countries. If not we’ll no doubt see more unrest and wars starting, as well as acts of terrorism. Unfortunately I think this is one of the biggest challenges facing us in the next decade, and not one that’s going to be easy to overcome, as people, understandably, want to protect their own interests/families etc. After travelling around Europe for 6 months last year, and meeting people from all over the world, I can safely say that the majority of folks are essentially the same; nice people who want the same as you or I.
  • Reduce overpopulation – okay, this could be a tricky one. Breed less? Overpopulation by the human race is the root cause of so many problems, but not sure how you stop it. Medical advances are brilliant, and I’m all for them, but they unfortunately mean people are living longer, and surviving more illnesses. It’s a bit of a taboo subject really, but we need to start talking about it more.
  • Develop and use more clean energy – this needs to happen, with Fusion being the ultimate goal, however in the meantime I’m supporting the development of , and trying to use, more clean and sustainable forms of energy such as wind, solar and tidal, however these come with their own environmental and social challenges; you can’t please everyone and they all have an adverse impact in one regard or another.
  • Seed and gene banks – seed banks such as the one on Svalbard already exist to safeguard versus catastrophes that wipe out for example a crop type or important plant species. Maybe we could build a gene back as well, in the hope that one day we’ll be able to bring back species that have since gone extinct through genetic engineering and cloning techniques; might be a bit far-fetched however there are new developments all the time in these areas.
  • More conservation areas and re-wilding  – and managed in the right way to encourage species diversity, and environmental benefits such as reducing flood risk. These areas don’t have to be human free, far from it, they just have to respected, allowed to grow, well-managed and non-commercial; this will unfortunately always run into the pressure of making money from tourism through resorts etc.

I think that was mostly a cathartic exercise on my part, however hopefully others will be encouraged to think more on these subjects, and make a few changes for the better. I’m more than happy to be challenged on any of the above, in a constructive fashion, as I learn something new every day, and have seen lots of counter arguments and theories. I’m may also have missed important topics in the above which I’ll write about some other time. It’s often surprising that what you take as a given, on face value, can actually be incorrect or ill-informed when you start digging a bit. If I was being a conspiracy theorist I might suggest that the uber rich and powerful, that top 1% who are richer than the rest of the world combined, don’t want us to change as it’ll impact them too much, whereas if we carry on as we are they’ll be safe in their ivory towers at our expense, but maybe that’s just fantasy. Either way it looks like some big changes are going to happen over the next decade which will impact everyone whether we like it or not, and regardless of whether we make any changes now or not, so maybe my plan of a cabin somewhere remote isn’t such a bad one.

That was also a bit of a diversion from my usual posts, but still has a self-propelled theme from the point of view of sustainability. I think my final conclusion is we’re probably screwed whatever we do now, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to fix stuff.

Sources include the below – I should really get a bit better at listing them and referencing in future.