Screaming in the tunnel

We are back in the coun­try where bicy­cles are a respect­ed mode of trans­port. In Gilling­ham, our street was packed with cars tak­ing chil­dren to school every morn­ing, but here the rush hour main­ly takes place on the bicy­cle path. This morn­ing I heard a lot of noise and saw that it came from chil­dren rac­ing through a bicy­cle tun­nel. Sud­den­ly I remem­bered the elat­ed feel­ing: going down the tun­nel as fast as you can, feet off the ped­als and scream­ing your heart out.

Sur­round­ed by all those cyclists I eas­i­ly get the feel­ing that Dutch peo­ple are liv­ing very envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly. But in the new book by Mar­i­anne Thieme that I’m read­ing, it strikes me again how the impact that we as west­ern con­sumers have on the plan­et is most­ly invis­i­ble to us.

An exam­ple is water use. It’s all good and well to have short show­ers, but the 60 liters of water I use per show­er does not amount to much when you com­pare it with the 1700 liters required to pro­duce an aver­age choco­late bar. In the Nether­lands, our domes­tic water use only accounts for 2% of our total water foot­print (Van Oel et al, 2009). The vast major­i­ty of our water use is hid­den in the pro­duc­tion of our food.

Irrigation in Ethiopia

I came across a sec­ond exam­ple this week when I watch the apt­ly named doc­u­men­tary Sea Blind. Almost every­thing I buy has been shipped or flown in from all over the world. Nine­ty per­cent of this is trans­port­ed by ship, but most peo­ple know very lit­tle about this indus­try. This inter­ac­tive map of Kiln helps to make it vis­i­ble. The map shows all the con­tain­er ships that sailed around the world in 2012. You can use the ‘play’ but­ton to watch a video with some explanation.

All of these ships sail around the world for our con­ve­nience. Nowa­days, we can buy what­ev­er we want, whether in store or online. Ship­ping is a rel­a­tive­ly effi­cient means of trans­port. How­ev­er, there is a prob­lem: Ships use very low qual­i­ty fuel that caus­es mas­sive CO2 emis­sions and oth­er types of pol­lu­tion. If inno­va­tions like clean fuel and the use of sun and wind get a chance, this sec­tor can become more envi­ron­men­tal­ly friendly.

Atten­tion for things like the water foot­print of our food or CO2 emis­sions from trans­port is increas­ing. That makes sense, because we have to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for it. How­ev­er, I think we should not just wor­ry about the excess­es, but rather about the foun­da­tions of our con­sumer society.

We can be con­scious con­sumers and try to buy local pro­duce or eat less meat, but in the end we are liv­ing beyond our means as a soci­ety. The big glob­al inequal­i­ty between rich and poor, the dis­pro­por­tion­ate pow­er of multi­na­tion­als and the destruc­tion of ecosys­tems is not caused by fate or neces­si­ty; it orig­i­nates from very con­crete polit­i­cal choic­es. That means we can also change it. And for that we need each oth­er: the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty, activists, politi­cians, and not in the least peo­ple on bikes, scream­ing in tunnels.

Verder lezen:


  1. My youngest daugh­ter would approve of this piece as she’s a cyclist in Lon­don and a veg­an. Greet­ings from Aquitaine.

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