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Imagine, if you can, the sensation of visiting an Earthly city from a more advanced off-world civilisation where cycling prevails. Your culture is one where journeys are an adventure to be enjoyed; where the folk live to ride and ride to live, all blended into a whole of splendid harmony.

But as you come in to land on this strange, strange land, you are about as disappointed as an Earth-bound tourist off to visit the ancient lane ways of Paris or Seville… The place of interest is surrounded by a cordon-blight of what appears to be concrete industrial estate. Acres and acres of car parks; and every street is cess’d with the detritus of the peoples’ parked cars. On every otherwise picturesque leafy street, they’ve blighted their world with their ugly piles of mobile tin. The grand historical lane ways, boulevards and parades are encrusted with cars like an eye rimmed by the seepage of chronic conjunctivitis. The aesthetic assault is profound. People invest a lifetime of toil to build homes and communities as a statement of their artistic, landscaped vision. Then they blight and soil the result with the detritus of their cars… Worse, they invite these metallic monstrosities into their homes! Contemplate the modern homebuilder who devotes 25 per cent of her roof space to the housing of a car; more, perhaps, than they would provide to shelter their kids. Why would anyone want such a stinky ugly thing under the same roof as themselves?

Our off-world visitor would, by now, be wondering if this might be some strange cargo cult religious thing. Like the freeway of cattle on an Indian street. Do these people worship their cars? Do their cars demand rights of obedience that inflict an aesthetic, environmental assault as testimony to their disciples’ strength of faith? As these cars slime and otherwise blight the landscapes they despoil with the impunity of the tin gods they surely must be, surely mankind worships these things?

Then our visitor would notice something curious; something hopeful and something of a telltale of possibilities to come. They’d notice that a few, only a few, but a few nonetheless reject the hegemony of the autocratic, sacrifice-demanding car. They ride a bicycle! Or progress by their feet.

These wonderful folk travel with pleasure instead of engorged rage. Their parking rituals are light-of-touch indeed. They leave no residues of oiled-fumed slime. They power their travels with the honest, self-contained efforts of their muscles instead of the ecology-raping pillage of toxic oil. Surely, given the parlous state of the planet they all share, these cyclists must be the enlightened ones. They certainly look the part; pedaling away the ugly obesity-tainted physical flatulence that the car drivers wear like some sort of uniform of servitude to their gods of tin.


There’s a theory I like from the annals of complexity theory. It goes something like this: the world is a complex place. Only the omniscient know all there is to know about how things work. Omniscience is the delusion of those who aspire to be monstrously overpaid corporate gods, academics and the drug-plumbers of the medical profession. The world does not work like a clock. Command and control is like driving a ship with blinkers on. We can pretend, but the hidden surprises and mysterious depths of systems we can never completely understand always get in the way of the grand delusions of the managerialist machine. To manage a complex system is to manage with our eyes wide open, not wired shut.

The enlightened game to play is the game of levers. Find a likely lever, pull it and see what happens. The game is to find the best, most strategic levers to pull. Big outcomes might come from the smallest nudge. Cleverness pays the biggest rewards.

I have a theory about the best lever to pull in relation to fixing the linked problems of global warming, physical obesity and urban decay. I have a theory about how to redress the uglification of our landscapes through the slime trailing blight of the automobile. The lever I’ve found would reduce rage on the roads. The lever I’ve found would redress the physical decay of those who avoid the attractions of exercise. The lever I’ve found would restore the majesty of our more illustrious landscapes. The lever I’ve found would reduce the gassing of our planet and the warming of the globe.

It’s an astonishingly lateral lever! A simple lever. A free lever to pull! A lever that would double the living space within our cities; extend the area for growing crops, extend the space where our kids can play. This lever will engage through a holocaust of short term howling rage. But sanity will eventually prevail; the folk will eventually calm; like the sea after a cyclonic storm. This lever will take gumption to pull. But it will deliver the goods; guaranteed.

The lever I recommend is to cancel all car parking.

Dig up the car parks. Ban the parking of cars on the side of roads. Force those who drive to park way away on landfills. Restore our urban places to the access of feet, rail and pedals. Reinvent a culture of trains. Free our homes from the hijacking terrorism of cars. Turn our garages to romper rooms for kids, or home studies from which so many of us could now choose to work. I am not advocating the banning of cars; just the rationalisation of where we put them when not in use. People can still drive to town. But they must be prepared to walk the final mile or so. Or ride a bicycle. Or take a tram, train or cycle powered rickshaw. Or even a moving footway if they insist. But ban parking in the streets. And ban those hideous, monstrous concrete parking lots visitors can see from space… Now that would really be something! A world where cars are relegated downwards from the throne of enthrallment to which they have for so very long been raised.

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These days, my travels by air are few and far between. So it’s been a while.

As for most people, I have a few core fears when committing myself to a flying tube. Crashing, of course. But also contracting the multiple contagions transmitted through the recirculated air in the airless wastes at 20,000 feet. I also fear being stuck next to talkers, zealous defenders of first class personal space in the confines of the cattle class cabin, and screaming aerophobics…

But the biggest fear is being stuck next to a human blimp. You know the ones. You see them in the waiting lounge. Folk who have vastly outgrown and given up on any hope of normal size. The morbidly obese. You see these folk and wonder … what if she/he gets the seat next to me? The visions that cross our minds are less than pleasant. The prospect is like facing a single loaded chamber in a 250 otherwise empty chambered gun. Play the roulette and that one-in-250 chance could be at your side for the next 18 hours! Pushing her/his stomach off your already cramped tray table…, being compressed into half your own seat space or less. All hope of a cabin walk to stretch the legs or attend to other more urgent matters; lost. Held captive. Just like them.

Now of course if I were politically corrected into a more humanitarian mode, I’d be talking about empathy with their sad plight, sorrow for their suffering, concern for their critically compromised health. But we misanthropes can be as surely and uncharitable as we like! If I were politically corrected into a more sociable character of empathy and feeling, I would feel for people like that. Curiously, considering my predilection to extend the warmth of humanity only to fellow cyclists and scant bemusement to all the rest, I do indeed feel a torrid feeling of genuine unselfish concern for the lady who has just corked herself into the aisle seat beside me. As her astonishing girth waterfalled over the now entirely redundant armrest that would otherwise separate our proximity, my very first concern was for the pure, unmitigated tragedy of her circumstance.

She struggled for a long time with the seat belt extension strap the militantly unhelpful Qantas flight attendants had provided. It was too short. She could simply not fit into the chair provided. The seat in front had wedged her into a position somewhere midway between standing and seated. But like an overinflated airbag being crushed into a too small suit case, she eventually compressed herself down into a hard core press fitted posture of extraordinary discomfort and, surely, abject humiliation. Like a keystone in a gothic arch, she would not be movable without assistance; without something akin to a crow bar and corkscrew combined.

As a too-thin cyclist, I had space to crush myself up against the window and still be able to accommodate the necessities of breathing. No, I was not considering my own plight. So I watched in horror her efforts to extract a book to read, her efforts to simply shift position, the utter impossibility to lower the tray table at feeding time. The impossibility to attend to the call of nature, should that call arise (and naturally, my own trapped incapacity to attend to matters of that kind). I watched in even greater horror as the ever unhelpful Qantas staff simply dumped her food on the outer hull of her rounded personal fuselage… I watched in horror as she absently crowded the entire contents of her meal (croissants, chocolates, hamburger; all) into her mouth in the time it took me to suggest the impossibility of my own compliance with tray table extraction to the unconcerned, uncaring, prosthetically smiling Qantas steward.

What makes a person like this give in so profoundly to a fatalistic acceptance of her current plight? How did she get like this? How could she possibly surrender to such an abjectly dysfunctional state?

Now my doctorate is in ecological economics, not medicine, so I can’t make an informed judgement on the biological or psychological preconditions for her state. But I am utterly sure that self-help is a pathway towards at least some degree of repair. Her mind needs to be blasted from the defeatism that has taken such a profound hold. Surely, she cannot possibly be comfortable with her current status. Surely she would like to be thin. So how is her mind keeping such a dysfunctional hold over any and all the possibilities for escape? What is it about the mind that can smash us so profoundly into such an abjectly helpless, self-crippled state? I simply cannot understand defeatism of this kind.

I know something that this woman doesn’t. I know the experience, the reality, of loosing weight. Two years ago, after 20 years of too little cycling, I weighted 104 kg (231 lbs). While that’s nothing to the 200+ kg that my neighbour must weigh, I dropped 32 of those kilos in 6 months of blissful, enthusiastic, soul-saving cycling. I remember my motivation to start that journey. It was a comment from my wife on a five day wilderness walk. I was complaining about the weight of my pack. My pack weighted 20kg. ‘Do you know’, she said, ‘that your pack weighs less than the spare fat you are carrying around?’ I felt that pack on my shoulders. Now I felt the weight of too much fat. I took to the bike like a dehydrated desert survivor to a water trough. One kg. Two kg. Five. Ten. 20. 30! Gone. I am alive again. Free. There was no diet. No regimen of pain. No militaristic martialing by personal trainers or gymn instructors. Just the pleasure of pedalling and pedalling again. Day in day out, every day. The more I rode the better it got and the better it got the more I wanted to ride. Life affirming, life confirming. The ecstasy of fitness. The ecstasy of reborn bodily flexibility and the capacity to participate in any physical adventure I choose.

These are the rewards to such a simple commitment. There was no medical intervention, no food detox retreats. No gut clamping, liposuction, diet quackery. No real expense (other than in a bicycle that paid for itself in saved commuting costs within only a single year). Yes, it was a real world, genuine, no-compromise win-win and win again. I know the joy that release of this kind can bring. I am thinking how this lady beside me would feel from taking a similar path. What sort of transformation just a simple change in mental model could bring. How astounding a change she could self-invoke. And then I look at her with a sideways glance. How utterly tragic that she can’t know what I know. How unspeakably tragic are all those who give in to the traumas of the self-destructive mind. I want to shout at these people. Shake them out of their stupor; their torpor; their self-inflicted self-destruction. Stupid people. Impossibly blinkered people. What a gift, what a profound escape the bicycle can provide!

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