There are various ways in which people traveled to the COP21 conference. Like trains, buses, cars and undoubtedly airplanes (the COP21 conference is situated at Le Borguet airport, probably for a reason). But there were also some unconventional transport modes used. Apparently quite some people went on foot, by bicycle or paddling a canoe. This is just a small selection of the hikers, canoeists and cyclists that went for Paris. There were several initiatives and hundreds of them that went that way.
The hiking tour that was linked above, started in Utrecht (the Netherlands) on November 1 and expected to finish on November 29. The bicycle tour starts in Aachen on November 22 and ended just before Paris on November 28. The guys in the canoes start peddling in Brussels on November 19 and expected to reach Paris in ten days.
That is certainly admirable and I am the first one to admire their performances. But these achievements are more of a symbolic nature. This was the goal of the hikers (translated from Dutch):
“We show on our route how we now can convert to a sustainable society. Many individuals and organizations don’t wait for others, but take the initiative for a world without fossil energy. You see this movement grow in several countries and with the Climate Miles we show this in the Netherlands, Belgium and France”, according to the director of Urgenda, Marjan Minnesma. “Climate Change is the most important problem of this century. We have to get starting to work together and realize a new circular economy, running on green resources and sustainable energy.”
This is what the cyclists tried to achieve:
We aim at creating an awareness that a bicycle is the best means of transport to save CO2.
And the canoeists (translated from Dutch):
He starts on November 19 and want to cover the complete route in a sustainable way, independent of fossil fuels (no support car!).
While I am impressed that so many people are willing to travel several hundred kilometers on foot, by bicycle or by canoe, I am not sure if this sends the right signal. If one looks at the time and effort needed to travel that distance (between 7 and 29 days) and the preparation beforehand (for example, the canoeists prepared for a month before their attempt), they definitely experienced first hand how much effort it takes to travel such distances without the use of fossil fuels.
I am puzzled why they didn’t demonstrate a viable alternative for our current fossil fuel travels. Traveling from Brussels to Paris takes about 1 or 2 days by electric car, a week by bicycle, about 10 days by canoe and two weeks on foot. Compare this when traveling with the aid of fossil fuels: about 3 hours by car or 1,5 hour by train. So if they really want to show the world that a conversion to a sustainable society is possible, then going on foot, by bicycle or by canoe is the worst signal that one can give. Wouldn’t it be better to cover that distance with a mode of transportation that can compete with fossil fuels? That would be a strong signal that a society could run perfectly without fossil fuels. Now they just proven that traveling without the use of fossil fuels requires quite some training, preparation and a lot of time on your hands…
Travelling by canoe or bicycle is also the preserve of the fit, able and with time on their hands. People with young children, the majority of the disabled and most of the elderly are excluded. I began my blog in 2008 criticizing the plan for a congestion charge in Manchester to encourage people to use public transport and to cycle more. A major reason for my opposition was that waiting for a bus or cycling is not so bad on a warm summer day. But in the cold, dark and wet of December it is preferable to be sitting in a warm car with the radio on. My own work journey is typical. By car I would spend 40 to 50 minutes a day travelling to work. By public transport 2-3 hours. Abandoning fossil fuels reduces leisure and family time.
A transition to a “low carbon” society at this moment will not be easy and will indeed have some serious consequences for mobility. Those going to Paris on foot, bicycle or canoe experienced that first hand…