12 Dec 2011

Grisly Crime, Woolly Sweaters and Bikes, Bikes, Bikes: The Only Way is Denmark this Christmas

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So in Durban last week, representatives from around the world finally managed, at the last minute, to secure a deal, of sorts, on emissions targets.

Yes, it’s too little and yes, it’s probably far too late, given that the deal aspires to secure in 2015 what was deemed necessary in 2007, but failed to be agreed in 2009. But, although celebrate is probably too optimistic a term to use, we should at least acknowledge that the outcome does have some positive aspects.

“What is positive in Durban is that governments have reopened the door to a legally binding global agreement involving the world’s major emitters, a door which many thought had been shut at the Copenhagen conference in 2009,” said Bill Hare, director at Climate Action Tracker.

Certainly, compared to the other big summit of last week, at least an agreement was reached and, unlike in Brussels, Chris Huhne did not replicate the wrecking tactics of his coalition leader that left Britain isolated and withdrawn.  Indeed, Huhne deserves considerable credit for keeping up Britain’s profile and showing what a united EU can achieve.

But it is also interesting to compare the media coverage of both summits: even on a generous estimate, it would be at least 80:20 in favour of Brussels, and this, as much as any other factor, illustrates the huge obstacles that the whole concept of climate change has to face in order for it to be taken as seriously as the issue demands.

Yes, the economic situation is dire and indebtedness has to be addressed, but it seems totally bizarre that while economic debt is now considered unacceptable, climate debt is still, as the Guardian’s Damian Carrington describes it, “Put on the never-never.”

And, when this is combined with the government’s prevailing attitude that it is simply too expensive at present to introduce, or indeed continue with, green initiatives, like solar power subsidies, then the environment continues to be pushed further down the agenda: something we might get round to looking at when things get better.

But, to misquote Professor Brian Cox and his former band, things are not likely to get better: certainly not for our environment if we continue to live the way we do. And alarmingly, according to recent polls, an increasing number of people appear to believe that the environment is either less important than the economy now, or, even worse, climate change is a myth and we don’t need to change our livestyles.

As well as being heartbreaking and potentially catastrophic, this attitude is also crazy.  Investing in a greener economy is not just less expensive, but is also one of the few current areas of economic growth that can also attract investment from lenders now too nervous to put money into the “old economy”.

On an individual level, going green, far from being more expensive, can be the ideal strategy to adopt in times of ecomomic hardship. Just today, a pioneering study shows that Europe could cut its greenhouse emissions by more than 25 per cent if we all cycled as regularly as they do in Denmark. A report by the European Cycling Federation (ECF) revealed that the average Dane cycles almost 600 miles each year and if this was replicated throughout the EU, it would have far more effect than the introduction of expensive technological solutions, like electric cars.

In Britain we cycle, on average, a meagre 46 miles per year. So, as well as being mesmerised by Danish crime dramas and their penchant for woolly jumpers, we should also be copying their use of the bicycle as a major means of transportation: not only is it greener, it is also far cheaper to pedal from A to B than it is to take the car.

Far from being an oxymoron, going green in economic austerity is one of the few positive ways we can save money, get fitter, cut emissions and preserve our environment.

So, by all means go Danish this Christmas, but alongside the box set and Fair Isle sweater, make sure there’s a couple of panniers, or helmet, or even a new bike under the Christmas tree – oh and a link to http://www.bootandbike .co.uk would be nice too.

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