On Yer Bike

In the six or so years that I’ve been following the Peak Oil(PO) story, I can’t remember coming across anything that came remotely close to convincing me that the peak oilers had got it wrong. On the contrary, the warnings and predictions that they were making back then have been pretty much spot on, whilst the naysayers, such as the oil companies and the International Energy Agency(IEA), have shifted their position ever closer to what the peak oilers have been saying all along. Just recently ABC interviewed Fatih Birol, Chief Economist of the IEA, Chris Skrebowski, Founding Director of Peak Oil Consulting, and Jeremy Leggett, Chairman of Solarcentury. What they said ought to set the alarm bells ringing, but of course it won’t. The most striking comment was the assertion that we will start to see oil production falling short of demand as early as 2014 if we carry on as we are at the moment, and that will be the beginning of very significant global problems. The interviews are available here, and should be listened to:

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2011/3198227.htm

If anyone takes the time to look into the multifarious ways in which we depend upon oil in modern industrial societies, they cannot help but be stunned by the massive implications of Peak Oil. For me, it was a turning point in my life, and I have been trying ever since to reduce my own family’s dependence on oil, as well as trying to influence others in my community by setting up a Transition Initiative, of which this blog is a product. I’ve been singularly unsuccessful in convincing anyone of the seriousness of the situation. Nevertheless, it’s not possible to simply give up on it, as it’s far too important an issue – it goes hand-in-hand with climate chaos(CC) – and it will directly affect me and my family and our future, maybe even our survival.

Most recently, I have been trying to engage the Hong Kong Transport Department in a discussion about PO and CC, and cycling. In order to avoid major problems both with the supply of oil and the consequences of CC, we have to make drastic changes in the way we run our societies, and this has been said over and over again by climate scientists and peak oilers. Consequently, it seems to me a no-brainer that we need to re-evaluate the way we move people and goods around. Much of the thinking for this has already been done for HK by Richard Gilbert in his publication Electrifying Hong Kong: Making Transport Sustainable, in which he advocates using tethered vehicles to transport people and goods, meaning vehicles which are run on rails with direct access to electricity such as with tram systems. Renewable energy would be the source of the electricity. This document is available from:

www.civic-exchange.org

Most people in HK use public transport. As for private vehicles, only about 7% own cars. This puts HK in an excellent position to shift the focus away from the motorist and to make HK another of the increasing number of bike-friendly cities. There are many ways of doing this, but it might be sensible to look at what other cities have done. The most advanced cycling cities seem to be in The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany where the policy has been to give priority to bikes. Some streets are one-way for cars, but dual-flow for bikes; traffic calming measures are common, and bike parking may narrow the width of road available for cars to travel along; in Odense a series of bollards along the roads have a wave of green lights which, if you keep pace with them, allow you to pass through all the traffic lights along those roads. These and other ideas can be found here:

http://www.ta.org.br/site/banco/7manuais/pucher%20making%20cycling%20irresistible%20june%202008.pdf

In Trondheim, Norway, there is a simple system to enable you to move up hills without needing to pedal. This, plus ideas from a range of cities around the world, can be viewed in a series of short videos here:

http://www.askmen.com/top_10/travel/top-10-bicycle-friendly-cities.html

The fact is that solutions abound, but it requires imagination and a recognition of the fact that we need to change the way we do things. Neither of these conditions seems to exist here in HK, unfortunately. There is no reason why bike lanes could not run along the harbour shores and have connected lanes fanning out from there into business and residential areas, but it would mean prioritising bikes over cars, and, of course, the people who make the decisions are doubtless car owners. But it is changes on this scale – and carried out very quickly – that are going to be unavoidable factors in coping with PO and avoiding uncontrollable CC.

Maybe 350.org can help us out as their next action is going to be specifically focusing on going beyond fossil fuels, and bikes will be a prominent part of the action. Maybe this will help to open up discussion of our transport systems. Go to 350’s website for more details:

http://www.350.org/

It would be wonderful to see some really drastic measures taken to cut down our use of fossil fuels, but how do you actually convince people that from now on things are going to get tougher and tougher unless we consciously make the effort to change our ways? One thing’s for sure, if we don’t do it voluntarily, we’ll have it thrust upon us, and I can’t imagine that’s going to be very pleasant for anyone.

Don Latter

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About transitionsl

I've been an English teacher for the best part of 30 years, teaching in England, Tanzania, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong. I've always been interested in nature and environmental issues, but it was the discovery of Peak Oil about five years ago that galvanised me into trying to help my local community to prepare for what will be a dramatically different world to the one many of us have been used to. I've been helping to run a transition group, following the guidelines created by Rob Hopkins's Transition Movement in the UK. This blog is an attempt to engage in discussion with a wider group of people in Hong Kong on the ways to transition from our current oil dependency to a state of fossil-free local resilience.
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