There’s a basic principle that states we are all free to make our own choices, but we are not free from the consequences of the choices we had made.
Sometimes, the consequences are immediate: you’re in a crowded pub, walk up to the biggest, meanest, toughest guy there, and you slap him. Yes, you are free to choose exactly that course of action, but the most likely consequence would be that he punches you right off your feet, and in that consequence – unless you’re Bruce Lee re-incarnated – you will have no choice.
That’s an extreme, and simplified demonstration of the concept, though many of us may even have seen it play out for real. We live in a world where the concept of freedom of choice is taken to the extreme, culminating in oversized SUVs belching pollution onto our streets, into our neighbourhoods, and into our lungs. All in the name of free choice.
I’m not going to harp on about the negative aspects of SUVs – for that, just read my Car Diet post. Instead, I’ll point out that – contrary to what most people seem to think – not all consequences are negative.
If half the people on the roads exercised their free will, and chose to cycle, instead of drive, the immediate consequence would be far less traffic, far less congestion, far less pollution, and far less road danger. Those wins are immediate, and obvious. Less immediate, less obvious, but at least as important, is the health benefits those people would enjoy.
Those health benefits are well-documented, and overwhelming, both for the person cycling, and for greater society, as there’s an enormous reduction in health spending, due to increased fitness and health of those cycling, combined with reduced pollution-linked illnesses overall.
If local politicians installed protected cycling infrastructure, the consequence will be that cyclist numbers will steeply rise, as more people will feel safe enough to get out of their cars, to start cycling, and the consequences of that will be enormous: reduced road deaths, reduced pollution, and happier, more liveable towns and cities. This has been well-evidenced.
Climate change is real, and indisputable. The scientific evidence is just overwhelming, and of course climate change is a consequence of how we’ve lived the past century, or so. As a consequence of climate change, though especially politicians are wholly unwilling to face this, in the very near future all of us will be forced to make drastic changes to how we live.
Instead of doing that in a blind panic, we can start making those changes now, including doing everything we can to reduce car usage now, to hopefully reduce the impact of climate change. Remember, the worst-case scenario modelling done on climate change by the IOCC is already becoming the reality now.
Politicians love to tell you how they work hard for “the people”. In almost every politician’s case, the reality is they work hardest for themselves, and what’s most important to them is getting re-elected. This has the inevitable consequence of making them focus on very short-term goals.
A great example is the city of Plymouth, who is desperately trying to attract more cars into the city centre, as it needs the parking income to help fill the hole in the city’s finances. Absolute short-term thinking, completely ignoring the bigger picture, and based on decisions made by self-obsessed politicians who in this case most certainly are not doing what’s best for the people.
Politicians more often than not lack strong leadership, and courage, but that’s our fault, not theirs. After all, we elected them, and this is a consequence of our choices.
What we need is a fresh crop of politicians. Ones who understand the severity of climate change, and who have the courage to make the right decisions. When the city of Seville started their programme of rapidly building protected cycle lanes, many of the politicians responsible for that were not re-elected at the following local elections, as a great many people were very unhappy with the cycle lanes – at first.
The cycle lanes are not only still there, but after some time proved so popular that subsequent politicians have greatly extended the network, and cycling rates in Seville have hone through the roof. That is the sort of politicians I’m talking about – they took a brave stance, and did the right thing despite being told they’d probably not get re-elected because of it.
YOU have some hard choices to make: will you vote for the same, tired old crop of politicians, doing the same tired old things, in their usual, self-serving manner, or will you elect someone better? Your decision will have consequences, so choose wisely.