In this day and age, with huge amounts of information available at your fingertips it has become harder than ever to take anything at face value.
So when you talk about the environmental benefits of cycling it’s easy to lose people, because people assume you are talking about global warming or climate change.
We puny humans are not so great at dealing with the bigger picture. We often don’t have the power to make big changes, but if we focus on the small picture we’ll make inroads into the huge challenges ahead.
Is the earth really round?
Not everything you read on the internet is true. Some people will point blank refuse to believe something, even if the evidence is 99.9% conclusive but it doesn’t fit in with their own agenda. It’s that tiny margin of error that people will latch onto.
Believe it or not there are people who still believe that the earth is flat; that NASA faked the moon landings; and that road tax still exists.
It’s easy to dismiss these people as crackpots and conspiracy theorists, but sometimes a concept can be too big or too complex for people to understand. Global warming, or climate change is one such concept. Yes, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that we are affecting our climate, but there’s a lot of money coming from “big oil” trying to say the exact opposite. It’s something that Shell has known about for decades, but along with other oil, coal & gas companies, has been attempting to distract us from it.
Meanwhile we’ve been slashing the rainforests for agriculture and paper and undermining the planet’s ability to deal with it. They will make a compelling case and people will use it to further their interests.
One thing that is less debatable is the effect on local environment. Stand near a main road on a cold, rainy day during the rush hour and take a deep breath.
Better yet, don’t.
Exhaust gasses have a nasty habit of hovering close to the ground. You can smell it, hanging thick in the air. It’s not a particularly pleasant smell, but it’s what it does to your insides that really stinks.
- Carbon Monoxide, the same stuff that leaks from a faulty boiler shortly before it kills you in your sleep, gets carried by your red blood cells instead of the oxygen they’re supposed to be carrying. It’s colourless and odourless, but if you are usually short of breath, this really won’t help.
- Nitrogen Dioxide is a particular problem for people with respiratory diseases. Long-term exposure can affect lung function and can increase your body’s response to allergens. NO2 is also great for causing smog, ground-level ozone and acid rain.
- Hydrocarbons are particularly nasty blighters that are carcinogenic, they contribute to ground-level ozone and rather like the other ingredients in this cocktail, cause damage to your lungs.
- Particulates are another firm favourite of those with respiratory problems. Modern cars come with particulate filters, but particulates are still attributed to nearly 30,000 deaths per year in the UK alone.
Best of all, as we’ve discussed before, people in cars are most at risk from this noxious soup because the fumes are taken into the cabin and are not dispersed like there are for us on our bikes. Whilst there is a certain poetic justice to this, it’s still not great for us; for children being carried in these cars; or people who live near main roads and have to deal not just the noise and vibration from traffic, but with this airborne menace too.
However, we have talked about air pollution on a number of occasions and frankly we are getting a little tired of trying to convince people that they are driving themselves and their families to an early grave.
You can’t always see the fumes hanging in the air like you can with cigarette smoke, so you can try to pretend they are not there. You can hope that you will be the lucky one, capable of weathering this self-imposed toxic storm.
Yet, this is one thing we can control. We can choose to not make unnecessary journeys by car; we can choose to get around by public transport, bicycle or on foot. If we must drive, we can drive smaller, more efficient cars.
However, just like climate change and global warming, there will come a time when the opportunity for heeding warnings and changing behaviours has passed and you are either ankle-deep in water, or gasping for breath at the top of stairs. We need to make a choice.