Dan Joyce, editor of Cycling UK (and writer of most our blogs) talks about why reducing our carbon footprint is so important.
The lockdown was implemented to combat the global catastrophe that is the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet it’s had a knock-on effect on another: pollution. UK road traffic has fallen to 35-45% of its usual levels and air quality has radically improved, with nitrogen dioxide falling by up to 60% in some British cities. Like Covid-19, air pollution is a killer - it’s responsible for around 40,000 deaths in the UK every year.
Greenhouse gases have also fallen. Carbon dioxide is down by around 9% across Europe. Quieter roads and concerns about public transport have seen a surge in cycling. At the same time, the lockdown has shown us that many car journeys and flights aren’t as essential as previously thought. It turns out we can get by without them.
Flying and driving aren’t the only factors determining your ‘carbon footprint’ – the amount of CO2 that your activities are responsible for putting into the atmosphere.
Others include how well insulated your home is; how environmentally friendly your energy supplier is; how much meat you eat; how much stuff you buy. The list goes on. You can assess your carbon footprint, and see whether you’re personally helping or hindering the fight against climate change, using an online calculator such as WWF’s.
Our children and grandchildren will live in a world where extreme weather events are more common. To lessen the impact, we all need to cut our carbon emissions. Unfortunately, it may require significant lifestyle changes in a number of areas for many people.
Transport tops the list. Living without a car is the most effective thing you can do according to the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions; it cuts over two tonnes of CO2 per year from your carbon footprint. Taking one long-haul flight fewer each year, meanwhile, saves 1.68 tonnes (so, anyone flying more than once a year would do better to cut back on flights first).
Making lifestyle changes is daunting. Selling the car, switching to an electric one, giving up flying, going vegan – these are big commitments. It’s tempting to be overwhelmed by the scale of things and end up doing nothing. Yet any steps in the right direction are worth taking. When it comes to driving, for example, there are more options than: a) immediately sell your car; or b) do nothing. Every time you leave the car on the driveway and go by bike instead, you’re shrinking your carbon footprint. Small changes make a big difference when millions of people make them.
Here I’ll focus on reducing your carbon footprint by cycling more and driving less. That’s partly because I’m a cycling journalist writing an opinion piece about cycling, of course. It’s also because reducing the amount you drive is – depending on how much you fly – the single biggest difference you can make. And it’s not a hair-shirt option; you’ll gain more than you lose. By using your bike more – perhaps for almost all of your transport needs – you’ll find yourself healthier, wealthier, and quite possibly happier.
To integrate cycling more into your life, you need a practical, reliable bike that’s pleasant to ride – and possibly more than one. There are unavoidable costs involved in acquiring the bike(s) and equipment you need for everyday cycling, but Cyclescheme can help with that. You can get everything you need from day one, without paying for it up front, plus you’ll save at least 25% on the RRP. You might choose an equipment-only package. Maybe you’ll get more than one bike. Perhaps you’ll get a bike that costs over £1,000, such as an e-bike or cargo bike.
When it comes to bikes for cycling to work, there are lots of choices. But there are also lots of ‘challenges’. Here are some solutions for situations when cycling might seem difficult.
Bad weather? Full-length mudguards. Waterproofs or rain cape. Gloves, ‘Buff’ for your head, and overshoes if necessary.
Night time?. Good lights, reflectors, and reflective clothing.
Too hilly? E-bike. The onboard motor gives you the extra ‘oomph’ you need.
No cycle parking at destination? A really good lock or two. Or a
compact folding bike, taken inside, folded.
Transporting pre-school children? Child trailer behind your cycle-to-work bike or a cargo bike with rain canopy.
Transporting primary school age children? Tag-along (aka trailer-cycle) or a child-back tandem.
Grocery shopping. If big panniers aren’t enough, either a cargo trailer or a child trailer towed by your cycle-to-work bike. Or a cargo bike.
When it’s truly not feasible to cycle, you could make that the day when your (electric? hybrid?) car leaves the driveway. If do you go the whole way and sell your car, then no-one is going to judge you if you need to hire one or use a delivery service on occasion – at least you’ve cut back on the most part.
I’ve been actively considering how to reduce my own carbon footprint for quite some time, and I’m proud to say that cycling is one of my best efforts. If everyone could do just one thing to help reduce their own impact, the world (in my opinion), will have a much brighter future
Dan Joyce is the freelance editor of Cycle, the magazine of Cycling UK, and also writes many of Cyclescheme’s blogs. He rediscovered cycling over 30 years ago, taking it up for environmental reasons and continuing because it’s brilliant. He can drive, but doesn’t own a car.