The solution is under our noses: We need more cycling in Britain

Today 27 per cent of journeys in Holland are made by bike - while in Britain the figure is as low as 2 per cent. But cycling could help us achieve our 2050 carbon targets, and take the strain off the NHS.

As water rushes over parts of the UK and the USA recovers from its "Polar Vortex", the climate change debate has returned with a vengence. Correlating directly with our use of fossil fuels, up to 97 per cent of climate science papers now agree that climate change is a problem, and that the world is getting warmer. Comments by figures such as Jeremy Clarkson and Donald Trump calling climate change "science fiction" and "global warming bullshit" look more ridiculous than ever.

But what can we do about it? Although UK cycling has received some bad press in recent months after a spate of deaths in the capital, encouraging more people to cycle seems a remarkably obvious way to help to reduce our carbon emissions and save energy – and is something that is supported by all the major political parties. At least on paper. The transport sector is responsible for a large number of UK emissions, and by limiting them through the use of alternative transport methods the impact could be significantly lower.

On this front, some European countries are well ahead of the curve. Holland, Denmark and Germany all have transport systems that revolve around the use of bicycles. In Holland especially, bikes are everywhere, lining the streets, chained up en masse outside train stations in spaces as large as car parks, and taking precedence on the roads. This healthy relationship with cycling began after protests sparked by the deaths of children on the roads and the 1980s oil crisis led to the introduction of car-free areas in city centres and the rebuilding of roads to encompass separate lanes. Today 27 per cent of journeys in Holland are made by bike.

A 2011 study by the European Cyclists’ Federation, Cycle More Often 2 Cool The Planet, argued “if levels of cycling in the EU-27 were equivalent to those found in Denmark, bicycle use would help achieve 12 to 26 per cent of the 2050 target reduction set for the transport sector.” At the moment, the UK is falling well short, with around 2 per cent of all journeys being taken on bikes by comparison with the Danes' 16 per cent. But that could change: cycling in the UK has a risen by a fifth over the past 10 years.

Speaking to Martin Key from British Cycling, the national governing body for cycling in Great Britain, the wider picture is revealed. While stating that these are “rough calculations”, Key tells me “transport is the single biggest emitter of Co2 (21 per cent of UK emissions)”.

He expands, saying that if we increased the amount we cycle by 500 per cent by 2025, which is “the recommended target of the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ report (which says 10 per cent of all journeys should be made by bike)”, then we would eventually save “10 million tons of Co2 (25 billion miles at 400g of Co2 per mile driven).”

It is in cutting small car journeys and commuter miles where the most energy would be saved – almost a fourth of car journeys made in the UK are under a mile. Despite the imperfect environment for cycling in London, since 2010 "Boris bikes" (or "Ken bikes" as they should properly be called, having been originally planned by the previous mayor) have done a lot to promote inner city commuter cycling – mirroring the 2007 Vélib scheme in Paris.

Boris has promised a "cycling revolution", but little impact has been felt beyond London. A nation-wide scheme would be more appropriate in terms of significantly cutting down on energy usage. Of course there needs to be expenditure in the first instance, but as can be seen in a recent study on town-wide cycling initiatives in England, the social and environmental benefits offset the negatives.

Of course, cycling won’t just benefit the environment: it would lower obesity levels and related illnesses. If the UK can get it right, and create a system comparable to the Netherlands', where despite having the highest proportion of cyclists, they also have the lowest number of cycling fatalities, the benefits to UK carbon output and society as a whole would be enormous.

A lone cyclist on Southwark Bridge. Photograph: Getty Images.

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff is a freelance journalist and Opinions Editor of gal-dem magazine.

Getty
Show Hide image

Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

0800 7318496