Biking to school. It’s more of a mental and emotional commitment than a physical one. I live just 3.6 miles from my work, so it takes me about 20 minutes.
When I found out that I would be traveling to Paris for COP21 as an Education Ambassador, I also wanted to commit to some personal action for the climate. It needed to be enough of a challenge, but also within my grasp, so it would be attainable. I decided to stop driving my car to work daily. At first I thought that I might carpool or take the bus, but after discovering that public transport would take 40 minutes, it was a no-brainer – even if I cycled in a downpour and needed to change my clothes at school, it would be the equivalent time or less then the bus.
So, I committed to riding. From September 8th to November 30th – 55 days.
What did I learn?
I learned that logistics matter. When you are bike commuting, you want the process of getting on the bike with all your stuff to be as quick and easy as possible. Try to avoid things that you have to “fuddle” with every time you get on and off your bike. For instance, get a light that can stay permanently and solidly fixed to your bike so there is no on and off needed when parking the bike somewhere. While one of the beauties of biking is that it needn’t be costly, there is a point where you have to spend on gadgets for safety and convenience. It can be worth it to spend money on gear that is convenient and clothes that are comfortable. Of course, some basic gear is non-negotiable, like good rain gear and good panniers to contain your stuff.
I also learned that riding to work changed my whole day. Even though there were days that I wasn’t keen on getting on the bike, once I was on it, conditions really weren’t as unpleasant as they seemed from inside the house. Of course, there were physical benefits of riding, but even greater are the mental benefits. Even if I wasn’t sure what the day would bring, upon arrival at school I felt like I had already accomplished something. This mini-adventure of riding to school reminded me of the bigger picture: that I am a part a dynamic and constantly-changing world. Driving just makes me feel like I’m in my own little capsule, focused on my work day to come. I learned that when I don’t ride, I miss the exercise, the “big picture” perspective, and the mini-adventure, so I will try to keep those wheels turning! In Paris, too!
Finally, I learned that making a public commitment to carry out actions greatly improves your resolve to complete the challenge. I believe that we will make a true climate impact when we are not just acting at an individual level by recycling, taking shorter showers, and using CFL light bulbs, but also on the collective level; when we are working with others and connecting at a community level to spur even greater action.
What inspired me to tackle this challenge? A pair of young scientists who decided to complete a tandem project: they would each arrive in Paris from one of the poles for COP21. This extraordinary project is known as Pole to Paris (www.poletoparis.com).
Dan Price cycled from New Zealand to Paris. Erlend Knudsen ran from Tromso, Norway to Paris. They arrived in Paris last Saturday, December 6th. Dan and Erlend not only traveled by people power the whole length of their route, they engaged with the public along the way by doing school presentations, taking part in events together and being accessible to people along the way. They were building bridges between science and society, an essential bridge of understanding if we are to make progress in slowing global warming. Dan and Erlend shared their research and the science of climate change with the people around them. They also got to hear people’s own stories of climate change along the way. They spoke with people on the front lines of climate change, helped the public to understand climate change and met people where they were at in their understanding. I stand in awe of their commitment and accomplishment. I’m so grateful I got to meet both of them today.
I’ll close with Dan’s words on climate change. They were so poetic I turned them into a poem:
“The climate crisis is a people problem.
People are causing it.
People are ignoring it.
And people will suffer because of it.
However, people will also solve it.
We just need enough people to understand that.
We are all in the privileged position of being able to rise to the greatest of challenges – avoiding environmental, social and economic disasters – safeguarding our ability to exist as a developed society.
This is not scaremongering.
This is fact.
If we do nothing about the climate crisis we will remove the beautifully hospitable habitat in which modern human civilization has grown.
It will be replaced by a harsh and continually changing habitat in which the current way of life will be difficult in most regions and impossible in some.
So what do we do?
We send a message.
A voice from our global community, a voice that shouts, that screams, “Enough is enough”.
We must act.
Not next year, not in five years, but now.
Paris is the start of a marathon effort to shift our industries and economies onto a path that allows our civilization to prosper.
We must work together, with no finger-pointing or blame.
This effort will require everyone.
Every single person can make a difference. We must all start running in this marathon together.”