There’s something I’ve been trying to wrap my head around for some time now. I guess the horror show of 2020 has given me time to reflect on a few things.
In a world that is in some parts on fire, some parts facing the resurgence of fascism and with many of the world’s economies struggling to stay afloat, it feels as though getting embroiled in arguments over the positioning of street furniture, or the perennial arguments over helmets or the maintenance of trails doesn’t seem like the best use of anyone’s time.
The year started as it meant to go on, with flooding. A period of sustained rainfall in February saw the Taff and many other rivers in South Wales burst their banks. Homes and businesses ruined and lives shattered.
Before we had time to rebuild, a global pandemic came along and trapped many of us in our homes. Those who could work from home, did, but many could not and quickly found themselves wondering if they would be able to make rent. Now, just as we thought we were getting through to the other side, local lockdowns are starting to pop up around Wales and indeed the world.
The ‘reasonably’ good times rolled for quite a while. The stock market has been looking healthy, at least on the surface, but the 2008 crash should have been a lesson in living within our means. Instead, we borrow, we live for the next payday and leave nothing for a rainy day. Yet living within our means is something that we fail to do on a number of levels, whether we are talking about household finances or finite natural resources. We store up problems for the future.
Now it seems some of us are going to pay for humanity’s hubris within our lifetimes. I’m in my early 40s now, but will realistically be still working in the mid 2040s. The sea-level forecast below is for 2050.
As you can see, pretty much everything south of the A48 is under water, all the way along to Magor and beyond. For some absurd reason we’re arguing now about the M4 relief road again, despite the prospect of it also being under the Severn Estuary in 2050.
Yes, we can put in cycle lanes now, but we’re going to need a kayak to use them within a couple of decades. Here’s the map zoomed in to just Cardiff…If you’d like to play along at home, head over to Climate Central where you can fiddle with the settings.
A UK Climate Change evidence report suggests that:
By the 2050s the number of non-residential properties in Wales at risk of significant flooding is projected to increase between 19% and 50%. Expected annual damages are projected to increase between 29% and 96%, equivalent to a £17 million to £57 million increase. [Scenario: 2°C or 4°C, not including population growth and assuming the continuation of current levels of adaptation]Source: https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/UK-CCRA-2017-Wales-National-Summary.pdf
You may think this sounds like a long way off, but it really is not. Let’s say you put down a lifetime’s worth of money on a 3-bed semi in Pontcanna, today in 2020. You take out a 25 year mortgage and settle in for the long haul.
At some point between now and 2045 you’re going to want to re-mortgage, perhaps to get a better interest rate. However, in the intervening years your central location has become rather more Venetian. Home insurance, if you can still get it, is cripplingly expensive and mortgage companies are reluctant to re-finance your home.
Worse still, nobody is going to buy it from you. With that said, by 2050 being underwater both figuratively and literally might be the least of humanity’s worries.
In this article, Carbon Brief explores nine key tipping points across the Earth system, from collapsing ice sheets and thawing permafrost, to shifting monsoons and forest dieback.Explainer: Nine ‘tipping points’ that could be triggered by climate change | Carbon Brief
Oh look, a tipping point:
Where to turn
This unfortunately leaves me at a crossroads. Whilst cycling is the right thing to do for the planet, I fear we are long past the point where individual action could make any appreciable difference to our fate. If the world’s major economies were not in the hands of regressive populists we may have had a shot, but frankly we’re too busy venomously arguing with each other about absolutely everything on the great big conflict engine in the cloud, social media.
I believe we need to start looking at the bigger picture. We need to look at the structural and cultural issues that are driving us towards a dark and dystopian future. Truth be told, my ramblings have been going that way for some time now, but my links back to cycling have become more and more tenuous as time has gone on.
I suspect this will mean even less time spent on the ‘by bike’ part of Cardiff By Bike. Whilst cycling is the best way to move individuals around a city, we first need to make sure we still have a city to cycle around in.
That, in a roundabout way, is still cycling-related isn’t it?