Kyotomotors is back! Check in Wednesdays for commentary on the age of abundance, climate change
and the dawning of the post-carbon eventuality...

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Year-round Cycling

With a rather sudden, fairly thick blanket of snow on the ground in the second week of November, it may seem like an unlikely time to discuss the wherefore and the how-to of bicycling, but in fact winter biking may be the best place to start. After all, if fighting the status quo that facilitates copious carbon emissions is at the crux of the climate debate, then challenging well worn habits and assumptions is certainly one very good way to proceed. If my experience of bicycling year-round for several years is any indication, by and large, people have a whole host of assumptions about biking in the winter that are downright inaccurate. I suspect the reactions I hear, more often than not, have more to do with fearing that a car-oriented norm is under attack by anything half as crazy as riding on two wheels in the worst elements that mother nature has to throw at us.

Full disclosure: I actually do happen to consider that the crazy ones are those of us who hop into four-thousand-pound box of steel and plastic on wheels each and every day to move their own bodies around. To my mind, these people are at least eligible for some sound ribbing, if not an outright diagnosis of clinical insanity, or perhaps a healthy dose of shaming, but let me not digress…. Suffice it to say that for me, moving under my own steam seems so obviously normal.

Before going any further, I should also say that cars have their place, and that cycling (let alone winter biking) is not for everyone. But I will add that it really is far and away very appropriate for a huge number of us who currently do not take up the practice. My favourite definition of a motorist is “a future cyclist, who just doesn’t know it yet”.

It’s a common trope to suggest that a “war-like effort” is required to reduce CO2 emissions in a meaningful way so as to combat climate change collectively. While I wonder if most people who make this assertion understand the implications of that suggestion, I would like to suggest that recruiting an army of volunteer cyclists from the pool of everyday citizenry is one of the easiest ways to improve the quality of life of the urban environment. And while many objections are made about the construction cost of retrofitting infrastructure to accommodate bicycle traffic, in the big picture, making room for bikes is far more inherently cost effective; it’s far less onerous than building bridges, rapid transit rails, metro tunnels, electrification networks (all things that, yes we should be doing as well) … After all, the lowly bicycle is a hundred and forty year old, proven technology, relying on little maintenance when compared to almost any other mode of transport.
So while the commonly accepted industry-driven mantra is to wait for self-driving electric cars to come along and “improve” our lives, it’s by no means clear that this agenda actually has anything to do with fighting climate change with anything other than lip-service.

With that in mind, I challenge any and all able-bodied urban citizen to consider bicycling as their primary transport option. In some cities this call to arms would be drowned out by the sound of engines humming and tires rolling; in others, it may almost seem like preaching to the choir. Either way, there’s no harm in repeating the message. The sooner our numbers can double, and double again the better. Every bike is one less combustion engine.

If like me, you’re faced with snow in the streets, maybe now is the time to leap into the adventure of winter biking. If so, do so with the best equipment and accessories you can afford – ice can be very unforgiving!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Kyotomotors Revisited

You may never have thought to ask “what is a kyoto-motor?” since it clearly isn’t really a “thing”, but that is exactly the question I aim to answer with this blog over time. If a “kyoto-motor” is not an invention in the technological sense, I like to think it represents a contribution to the re-invention of how we think about energy. I hope to demonstrate that a “kyoto-motor” is any method, tool or practice that puts this way of thinking to use.

The original impetus for kyotomotors was satire: what started as a parody of the automotive industry’s use of marketing to maintain the trance of those caught up in the lauded “love affair with the car”, has since evolved (okay, devolved) into this marginal commentary on the problematic nature of the collective dependence on fossil fuels. What I have come to understand is multi-layered: that the dependence is utterly total and totally encompassing, cannot be overstated; whether we like it or not (and it’s best not to like it too much – or at all, if possible), fossil fuels have made everyday life what it is today, including the obvious advantages and advances, but also a great many of the challenges of the times – including the issue of the age known as climate change. So, while it’s easy to appreciate fossil fuel’s place, role and value is extremely important to put it in the context of its negative impacts – of which there are many.

With this in mind, it’s sure that many of us level-headed, well-meaning people would expect action and change from governments and business alike, and are motivated to effect, and otherwise inspire such change. The most common manifestation of this has been through the United Nations, the scientific community, and from a full spectrum of activists ranging from anarchistic to corporate “green”. For more than 20 years, this tail has tried to wag the dog of global industrial civilisation with a sadly minimal degree of success, when measured against annual global emissions and consumption of fossil fuels, which continues to rise: Looking ahead to 2020, we as a planetary species, are set to burn through another 35 billion (that’s like million with a “b”) barrels of oil – not to mention coal, and natural gas and the many other industrial sources of GHGs such as livestock.

So, while the political pressure coming from this line of attack is important and necessary, it is not wholly effective when left alone to fight this colossal battle against the inertia of the global industrial project. As another line of attack, I’d like to suggest that a “kyotomotors culture” could play a significant role in eroding the foundations of that project, and could allow for a sea-change that will make it culturally acceptable to not burn fossil fuels at every turn. This is the approach that is sadly missing in a world where activists vote for the ruling party, and hop onto inter-continental flights several times a year, and otherwise consume above their weight. As an alternative, a kyotomotors approach is one that leads by example – assuming that, no matter how modest, example is the stuff of leadership, and is potentially more effective than what has passed for action until now.

In the upcoming posts, I will explore the most appropriate technologies that have the greatest potential for reducing one’s carbon footprint, starting with the most obvious of the “kyoto-motors” – my personal favourite, the bicycle.