125 cyclists stopped over in Brighton on Sunday evening. They arrived late afternoon at my church, Brighthelm, where there was a reception for them, a meal and overnight accommodation.
Most were cycling from London to Paris, to arrive there at the end of the COP21 climate summit. Like the other pilgrims (see my last post, “Paris”, to which this one is pretty much a supplement), they are inspirational in their commitment to demonstrating their support for a good deal from this summit for the climate and for the world’s poor, and in acting a better world into being.
I asked one young man if he’d cycled from London. “Sort of,” he said. He’d been studying this last term in London, but comes from Seattle. “But you didn’t cycle from Seattle, ha ha,” I joked. “Actually, I did,” he replied. He had cycled from Seattle to New York, then travelled by ship to Southampton. I was seriously impressed, not only by his epic journey but by his story of the kindness and hospitality he had received from strangers as he made his way across the States. People can be amazing.
One of the resources that was essential for this man’s journey was time. Everything in our culture is fast. I complain when the broadband is slow – I say, “It’s like the old days of dial-up”, but before that I had to go to the library for information. I don’t have any more leisure time now, but I spend much more of it in front of a screen. The train from London to Birmingham takes just 80 minutes, but this isn’t fast enough for us and we are going to spend an awful lot of money to rip through some beautiful countryside to put in a high-speed line. Our hunger for more speed comes at a huge cost, financially and environmentally. If I want to travel halfway around the world, say from Seattle to London, why should I expect to be able to do it within a day? It’s a very long way and perhaps it should take a very long time. It’s only natural. We don’t need a third runway at Heathrow – take the bike instead. It’s a simple choice between spending time or saving it.
Spending the money and the oil buys speed and saves time. We have built a whole way of life around this approach and it seems to have many benefits. But we are realizing that debt and climate change are high prices to pay. It may be, too, that we lose on the one hand at least as much as we gain on the other. Spending the time buys … a new world: scenery that you’re travelling slowly enough to take in; encounters with people whose simple hospitality forms new friendships; space to think deeply and encounter yourself; a sense of place in the wide world; a sense of achievement at making a journey fuelled by the burning of glucose in your cells.
These cyclists and pilgrims show that an alternative approach is possible. They make it possible. They make it happen. Every step, every turn of the chainwheel, is a choice to think differently, to spend time and save this beautiful planet and its inhabitants.