Green Britain Day, or Just Another Greenwash Day?

singlespeederGreen Britain Day might have sounded like a neat idea to raise public awareness about living a more environmentally sound life, but in reality there was little evidence of any groundswell movement here in London. In fact it was pretty much business as usual. 10th of July (the designated day) was a warm summer day in the capital, I rode 30 miles around west end and city and saw nothing unusual at all, except a fire in Soho, a Muslim protest outside the Chinese Embassy, and a far too close up view of another cyclist who nearly ran into me because he was watching the guards change outside Clarence House in the Mall and not where he was going. Just another rough and tumble day in the Big Smoke really.

So it was all Green wash—again, just more examples of large companies and government agencies using the flimsiest of reasons to call themselves green or attach themselves to environmental bandwagons. Indeed the main sponsor of Green Britain Day is a nuclear power loving French company with a commitment to renewable/sustainable power generation that has yet to creep into 1% of its total power production. So it’s hardly surprising we were all massively underwhelmed.

What is interesting is that we don’t seem to need gimmicks anymore. If today is an example it would seem that we are all there already thanks very much. We don’t need to be coaxed and cajoled; we have a growing collective consciousness. OK, we need to keep our eye on the ball, and to keep encouraging one another, but PR platitudes aren’t what we want now; we want big business and government to fall in beside us, because as of now they are a long way off walking the walk we are all walking. We compost, recycle, repair, re-use; we replace tungsten bulbs with low CO2 ones, we wash our clothes at 30 degrees (Celsius) and when it’s not tipping it down here (think Seattle), we dry our clothes on a line in the back yard, and of course more of us are using bikes not our cars whenever we can. Gas prices might have had an impact, but who cares, the end result’s the same.

bicycle cruisers

So if you want a measure of how it’s all going, then you’d be heartened by the sheer volume of cycling going on in our capital. It grew by a staggering 92% in 2008. I grew up riding bikes in Yorkshire where cycling is so popular it’s almost a national sport. I eventually moved to London in the early 1980’s, and riding to college from home was about 24 miles of round trip. It was hairy to say the least. No cycle lanes, no protection, and absolutely no driver awareness of a cycle at speed. I was constantly pulled out on, overtaken and cut in on; honked, sliced, diced, compressed. A commute without feeling the door mirror of a car or van was a good day. As a road user I was worse than dregs: I was invisible. How I survived I’ve no idea. Today it’s a whole agenda. We can use bus lanes, we have bike lanes, and huge green tarmac boxes with massive bikes painted in them ahead of many traffic lights where we can get away quickly and safely. Heck, we are even allowed now to cycle through some of London’s hallowed Royal Parks. The Mayor of London is always banging on about cycling, politicians are always banging on about cycling, there are more cycle advocacy groups than you can shake a stick at, and they have slowly made a difference, and these advances without doubt have had a huge impact on cycling. Compared to back when, as a cyclist I now feel I have road presence, that’s a huge thing when weighing up your safety. It’s so safe in fact that there are even cycle tours in London now; that’s real tourists who might not even know what side of the road they should be on, riding real bikes, and having fun. Whatever next?

So it must be a safe form of transport nowadays, and of course it’s healthy and efficient. And for those who count themselves as old hands, it’s turned the whole process of city cycling into a insanely fun activity: beat the cars, beat the buses and taxis, even beat the tube. Nothing is quicker in town-during the day at any rate-than a bike.


But what is most encouraging, even above being accepted, is that we’re now cool. The plethora of sweetly painted single speed bikes only testifies to quite how cool we really are. And it’s not just aesthetics; it’s become a cultural imperative. If I have meetings with clients I don’t think twice about turning up in shorts, clipless shoes and a courier bag. OK I have to get there early to cool off, but showing up at a meeting having obviously cycled there is absolutely beyond reproach these days. I’ll even call and ask if there’s somewhere to leave my bike and I’m always surprised by the response; people feel compelled to help you out. I wonder if it’s because cyclists are so visible that we are maybe perceived to be the vanguard of the ecological revolution?

So despite the deluge of green PR initiatives and all the shallow bandwagoning, the populace are well on their way already, and cycling might be one of the most evident means of getting to both political and geographic destinations. And any fat-cat attempt to “show us the way” will be slapped down in the same way as the lame Green Britain Day was: I mean, just who do they think they are?

[Words and photos by John Wildgoose]


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