Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

I am not an expert

Friday, May 21st, 2010

I am not an expert. I do have enthusiasm for certain topics, though, and that enthusiasm leads me to read stuff and, in turn, I am able to form ideas and opinions.

Can I be green and…?

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

A quick thought: Leo Hickman has “an ethical guide to everyday dilemmas” where he addresses aspects of our lives with regard to “being green”. The last one I looked at was “can I wear glasses or contacts and be green?” Catching mice whilst remaining green and buying underwear but not reducing one’s green credentials have also been covered.

On one hand, he is providing answers to questions people might have about the environmental impact of small actions we might not give much thought to, and underneath these small things can sometimes lie huge implications. For example, the answer to “can I wear jewels and be green?” talks about the conditions workers endure.

On the other hand, environmental concern appears to have been reduced to apparently pointless and arbitrary questions. Perhaps there will be an article asking if it is possible to read a map and be green or write in a notebook and be green or use a skipping rope and be green. (A quick glance around my room provided those suggestions.) I don’t doubt that there can be ethical implications bigger than might be expected (maybe my leather skipping rope was made by people in a developing country, made using the skin of an endangered animal), but I think we have to remember what our main concerns are. Our main concern is creating a fairer world, isn’t it? I think it is. It’s a huge one, sure, but it can be broken down into more manageable areas like food, money, materials, welfare, and so on. As well as remembering the bigger picture, I think we ought to consider that some things just aren’t that important.

I read a short essay by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He said his family chooses fairly traded organic oranges because they believe this is a good choice (farmer gets a good price for their work and is also spared handling chemicals) despite the food miles. The peel can’t be put in the compost or given to their chickens, so it gets thrown away. He says he was once told citrus peel can be composted once they have been left in a bin of their own to decay a bit first, but he throws them away because he can’t be bothered to go to the hassle of that. The point is that the bigger things outweigh the smaller things.

Let’s focus on reducing our output of methane and carbon dioxide and whatever else is trapping heat, encouraging fair trade, redistributing wealth, adapting a cradle-to-cradle approach to design and things like that; “issues” like the environmental impact of wearing contact lenses are nothing compared to those things.

I know that small actions can add up to a lot when repeatedly done by loads of people, but I think small actions get too much focus. Shall we wait for small things to add up to a big change over time, or just make big changes straight away? Let’s not waste time with and get distracted by the environmental impact of every small thing.

I’d be more interested in a series of short articles addressing the environmental impact of big and small actions, along with their relative importance in the world.

(“Can I be green and surf the net?” is one of the “ethical dilemmas”. For somebody to start considering this, I think they must have looked at bigger ways to lower their impact on the planet, like the use of the car and how they go on holiday, and if they haven’t they can’t be that interested in lowering their carbon emissions.)

Turned away voters

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

Polling stations open from 0700 until 2200, yet a lot of people were not allowed to cast their votes on Thursday because the time ran out. I’ve been hearing a lot of commentary about this since Friday: I’ve been listening to people on BBC radio, I heard two people talking about it on the bus, and I read an article in The Guardian. I also saw Shami Chakrabarti on BBC Breakfast this morning talking about the subject in terms of human rights, and saying that legal action is a possibility.

Something that people have been pointing out is that there are 15 hours in which to vote. It says the opening times of the polling stations on the polling card, and the polling cards were sent out well before the election. The woman on the bus was saying to her friend that even if a person works twleve hour shifts there is still time for them to vote; if somebody does work awkward hours, a postal vote could have been arranged. A man on BBC Oxford radio said nobody would turn up to a supermarket at 2145 if they knew it was closing at 2200 and expect to be able to finish their shopping and pay. He did say it’s slightly different, but I think it is pretty much the same thing—the closing time is the closing time, and an effort should be made to get there in good time if it really matters to you that much.

I went to the polling station at around 0900. There were no queues, and I didn’t expect there to be. The idea that there could be huge queues didn’t occur to me, and maybe that is true of other people.

A number of faults have been highlighted with the how the polling is handled. Should it be that the queue is cut off at 2200, and the people already in the queue are allowed to vote? Is it a possibility to move elections to a weekend or to make the day a national holiday, effectively allowing people more time to vote and avoiding a morning and late evening rush? Should the Electoral Commission, rather than the local authority, handle voting matters to ensure that no polling station can run out of ballots, that each station is sufficiently staffed and everybody running the station is aware of the rule concerning people voting after 2200 if they are in the queue or inside the building, or whatever the rule is?

I read an article and some comments on about possible ways to transform voting. About visiting polling stations, I wonder if things should just be kept to casting a vote. Don’t worry about giving me somewhere comfortable to sit and browse the internet; it’s not a lounge. Maybe just make sure everybody is absolutely clear about when the last vote can be cast, and make sure everybody is able to cast their vote on time.

There is a review being carried out by the Electoral Commission of what happened on Thursday. It’ll be interesting to know what they have to say about it all, particularly about people under 18 being sent a polling card. Once they review the problems and take measures to ensure they don’t happen again, surely that is all that’s needed (or is there any chance of having a re-run of the election to include the missed out votes?).

An introduction to British politics

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

My introduction, that is.

My introduction to British politics has really been the general election this year. Despite posting a link on this blog to the collaborative work of a photographer and the public about the election, despite having a conversation weeks ago with somebody about tactical voting, despite eating breakfast whilst watching BBC Breakfast talk about Motorway Man, it is in the last seven or eight days that I have found myself rapidly gaining interest in politics.

It is something that I have never understood; I still don’t understand it. Often, big or important things enter my consciousness and I give no thought to them until their importance is spoken of more frequently or with more urgency. One example of this is when the volcano in Iceland erupted. I remember hearing about it, but it wasn’t until the scale of the problem was revealed to be a lot of delays for a lot of people that I realised how big an event the eruption was. With the prime ministerial debates, I had heard that, if it happens, it’ll be the first time it has happened. I thought nothing more of it until the night of the first one when I heard somebody mention it and I decided to record it. That first one was 19 days ago, and I still haven’t watched it.

Six days later, I went to the Oxford East Ask The Climate Question and, as described in my previous post, it was pivotal for me because I started to have doubts about who I would vote for. I have been so unaware of politics that I can’t even remember my voting history, except that I voted in the last elections for Green all round. I assumed I would do the same in this election, but the Ask The Climate Question kicked off my interest in politics, I would say. I started thinking about reasons for keeping Labour in (to keep things as they are) and reasons for not voting Green (I doubt the motivations behind their solutions), and I resolved to check out the manifestos of the four main parties.

So, in the last 12 days, I have not looked at manifestos. What I did was join Twitter six days ago. I had been thinking about it for a few weeks; I really disliked the idea of “social networking”, yet I liked how effective it can be when used strategically. In the end, I thought it’d be good to try to get some traffic over here via Twitter, so I joined and I started playing the game. I followed some organisations of interest to me and found that there was a lot of talk about the elections. A lot of links to articles and websites about the elections appeared, I saved shortcuts to them on my desktop with the intention of going back later. I haven’t. I planned to review everything to be able to make an informed decision on Thursday morning. I probably won’t.

I have recorded, in addition to the first debate, three programmes about what is going on in the election race. I haven’t watched them. I will probably watch them after Thursday because I feel scared that it will make my decision more difficult. Yesterday, for some reason, I started downloading some political podcasts. Podcasts, television programmes, web content—all of this has come together, along with general news coverage, to really excite me about politics for the first time ever. Of course, I still don’t know anything about it, so…

My plan is to get through tonight and tomorrow, reading manifestos and thinking about who to vote for as much as I can, vote on Thursday morning, then get some books on how politics works. I find it all fascinating, including the responses that the media have to it all. I will listen to podcasts, read some of the Guardian editorial, watch those programmes and continue to follow responses to the election’s outcome.

Beyond the election, though, I want to become somebody who knows about what’s going on and how it all works, and knows what’s happening right now and the implications of what politicians say, as well as the impact on me.

Perhaps I also have to figure out what I care about, what I want politicians to care about. So far, the only thing I have responded to is David Cameron speaking with Andrew Marr on Sunday. He spoke of a plan to incrementally reduce the benefit of people who can work but refuse to. I shall not be voting for his party. How would he deal with recent graduates who want to take time to get a decent job rather than take the first job that comes along but, at the same time, could do with the benefit money to live on?

This general election has been my introduction to British politics. It’s exciting.

Oxford East Ask The Climate Question

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

On Wednesday April 21, I went to the Oxford East Ask The Climate Question. Ask The Climate question is a series of political hustings specifically about climate change. The candidates for Oxford East fielded questions from the public in attendance about what their views on certain things related to the environment. It was meant to be the Conservative, Green, Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates, but it ended up including the Socialist Equality Party and UKIP candidates.

There were questions about tar sands, cycling… and some other things that I can’t remember. I had my notebook with me, but chose not to make notes.

It was an event that both highlighted some things for me, and made my decision on who to vote for harder. I thought I was clearly going to vote for Green Party, but each of the candidates (except the UKIP candidate, unfortunately) said things that made a lot of sense. I suppose nobody in that position would say they love flying, haven’t heard of climate change, and would like to see all oil reserves expolited. Still, Andrew Smith (of Labour)  in particular sounded to me like he truly believes in doing as much as possible. He spoke of his history of voting against his party (in a good way) on certain matters and, though he obviously isn’t the most knowledgeable person on so-called green issues, he certainly seemed genuine, and I started to wonder if I should vote for him.

There was something about Edward Argar, the Conservative candidate, that I didn’t like. He didn’t seem very passionate about what he was saying, unlike everybody else. Steve Goddard, the Liberal Democrat, had no effect on me, either.

I thought that Julia Gasper, the UKIP candidate, was treated unfairly. She did say some things that didn’t allow me to take her seriously, regardless of the point being valid or not. For instance, she said that sooner or later somebody would break an energy saving lightbulb and “suck it and die” because of the mercury. Her point alludes to the fact that these lightbulbs are better than the incandescent lamps, but ultimately the materials used in them are questionable. What she said made her look even more like somebody who can’t be taken seriously (even though it was funny).

Yelling things out at her, however, I thought was unpleasant. There seemed to be a concensus amongst a lot of people there that evening that she is not somebody worth listening to. Like the Labour candidate, she made me doubt what I thought I knew. She made me very briefly doubt if climate change is happening. It doesn’t really matter to me, though, if it is or not. I simply think that this is an excellent opportunity to completely change the way we live our lives. Admittedly, though, a couple of times people called out that she didn’t answer the question; it seemed that in every answer she gave she managed to get in something about the EU, going off on an EU-hating tangent and forgetting that she had to answer a specific question.

The hecklers also made me realise something new—it seemed like there is a “you and us” feeling amongst socially responsible people, and I wonder if doing something for the environment is no longer just about doing something positive for the environment. It is as though some people have completely forgotten about the reasons for what we do, as though the doing is enough. It feels like it is a game of who is the most hardcore in their “responsible” actions, when it should be about tackling causes of issues. I understand that this is not explained very well. Put very, very simply, it is like the person who shops in Planet Organic, recycles and receives a weekly fruit and vegetable box not because these things matter to them, but because what matters to them is what other people see them doing, and these things afford them a good image and allow them to feel better than people who don’t do as much as they do.

The Socialist Equality Party candidate, David O’Sullivan, said some things I agree with. He spoke of the combustion engine, that the technology is the problem because it is outdated. If a clean alternative is invented, then, that means we can continue to fly and drive, and relieve oil dependency. A lot of his answers to questions mentioned that the root of many of our problems is capitalism, that there are some things that cannot work as well as they could whilst we still have such a culture, where people are motivated by money.

I don’t know who I am going to vote for, but I wonder if it might be Labour. I plan to look at the manifestos of the four main parties, if only really quickly, to try to understand more about what each is saying.

One final thought to come from the hustings is this: why do we have to have one party in power? Why can’t the best bits be taken from each party and used to govern? Why doesn’t somebody who doesn’t care for the history of politics form a new party that takes the best ideas from all of the political parties?

Roundup #2 – essays and newspapers

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

After I did the last roundup, I wondered what the point of it is. I thought there is the opportunity for me to become slightly more knowledgeable as well as the opportunity for me to write a bit more if I offer more opinion instead of merely pointing to information with a brief description (as in #1); I will have to actually properly read and consider what I have read.

But, in the case of this week’s, that will not happen. Maybe it will never happen. Maybe I will work out what to do with these posts as I go along. Here are some ideas, anyway.

Motorway Man.

Should we allow drugs in sport? This is interesting.

The Election Project.

• Short essays from the The School of Life weblog.

• Sometimes an idea, like Newspaper Club, creates loads of excitement when one first hears about it. It made me think about what I would do with a newspaper. I have thought about producing a magazine, but never a newspaper; this is something new to me, and it is an idea that will stay in my head, somewhere in there, for ages until it is the right time for it to be used.

Roundup #1 – urinals and films

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

I started receiving The Guardian‘s “Green Light” emails last year, in October. It is just a weekly roundup of environmental news. I wasn’t really that interested at first; my first impression of it was that it seemed to be mostly about pictures of vaguely environmental things. Now, though, I do like receiving it, and seeing what The Guardian is talking about at the moment.

I thought maybe it’d be a good idea to do some sort of roundup of my own. It is largely inspired by the hundreds of shortcuts that I have saved to my desktop in the last couple of years, which I am currently trying to deal with. I don’t doubt that I will write more than one of these, but I do doubt that it will be once a week, every week, delivered on the same day. I will try, anyway.

Also, I am a fan of ideas in general, so perhaps not everything will be related to environmentalism. Finally, I do read more material than what is featured in “Green Light”, even if many links point to The Guardian.

• 10:10 has started a campaign to have Britain’s time changed from GMT in winter to GMT+1, and instead of GMT+1 in summer we would be on GMT+2. The idea is that it would be “lighter later” (as the campaign is called), and if it stays light for most of the evening (in the summer), until people are starting to go to bed, say, the need to use artificial lighting is reduced, and there will be carbon emissions saved in this. I wonder if there could be too much focus on the positive effects of extra daylight in the evenings, with not so much being mentioned about the extra darkness in the mornings. Lighter Later. One of the Guardian articles in favour of this change.

• I keep getting emails from Britdoc, and every time I get one I remember that I am no longer really interested in receiving their emails anymore. The last one I received, however, spoke of “the future of film distribution”, and I was glad I didn’t unsubscribe myself before finding out about this. Good Screenings allows anybody to show some social change films, the cost for which is decided on a sliding scale depending on who you are (multinational, charity), where you are, how many people you will show it to, and some other things. Erasing David, McLibel, and The Age of Stupid are some of the current films available to screen. Good Screenings.

• I read a review of the Magdalen Arms pub in Oxford, and the person said that the pub has PlantLocks outside. These are basically planters to which bikes can be locked. It’s good design, I think, to combine gardening and making a place uplifting with a “ride your bike in a practical way (rather than fantasising about how good bicicles are for transport and the environment) yet not get it stolen because there’s nothing immovable to lock it to” function. PlantLock.

• Why don’t we use urinals in the home? I don’t know, but if we consider using urinals at home, we might as well consider using a bucket and using it in the garden. Probably a lot of people live near to somebody who would utilise urine on their compost heap. The Guardian “Ask Leo” article.

• National Geographic teams up with Ambi Pur to produce those annoying air fresheners that plug into the socket and make my eyes sting and my nose run. Why? Another Guardian “Ask Leo” article.

Packaging and Kenco

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

Kenco has new packaging for some of its coffee. As well as selling coffee in glass jars with a plastic lid, they also sell it in plastic bags. These bags of coffee are referred to as “Eco Refill”. Basically, Kenco is saying that these bags reduce the amount of packaging used per gram of coffee; that they’ve used the word “eco” suggests they think this is a good thing that will save the world. I think the use of the word “eco” is misleading and helps to misrepresent things, because it doesn’t seem to really mean anything. It’s just a word we have come to associate with seemingly positive actions for the environment.

The first thing that occurred to me when I saw the advert for the first time is that a composition of plastic and foil is not going to be better in any way than a glass jar. I haven’t seen the inside of one of these bags, but I am almost certain that it will be a plastic/foil composition, because foil is used in packaging where the manufacturer wants to keep the product “fresh”. Composites like this are difficult to recycle. A glass jar, however, is not difficult to recycle, and can even be reused.

On its website, Kenco has an “about” section, in which it asks and answers four questions about the bags. The first question they ask is “how can a bag be more eco-friendly than a glass jar?”, and they say it is because the bags are more efficient to produce and, compared to the glass jars, ”send 97% less waste to landfill because the lids are not widely recyclable”. It isn’t clear to me if they are saying that the bag uses (97%) less material than the lid uses.

They are arguing that the bag produces less waste than the lid does. Assuming that people tend not to recycle things that are difficult to recycle (that is, things that aren’t collected by the local council), it is definitely better to have the bag thrown away instead of having the lid thrown away.

However, if the lid is the problem, why not make a glass lid for the glass jar? That way, the whole thing is recyclable. I don’t understand why they would develop something less recyclable – a composite – in response to this problem. Had they started to sell their coffee in something like a Kilner jar, where both the lid and the jar itself are made of glass, they would have been able to claim that the coffee’s packaging doesn’t create waste at all because they are reusable; when we say “reduce, reuse, recycle”, “reuse” comes before “recycle” for a reason. Had they started to use Kilner jars rather than developing this non-solution, they would have had to start a scheme where the jars could be returned to them, because there is probably only a certain number of Kilner jars one can use, unless one makes preserves for a living. For returning the jars, the customer would receive some money back. Presumably, when jars are returned, Kenco would only need to wash and sterilise them before refilling with more coffee and sticking on a new label. I suspect that any such idea would have been dismissed because it is easier to just make a plastic bag with the colour green and the word “eco” on it than to set up a returns scheme.

“But surely a glass jar is more recyclable?”, Kenco asks on its website, before citing Defra on the fact that 40% of glass isn’t being recycled (in 2009). Kenco appears to have good intentions when it says that it’d like it if everybody recycled their glass jars, but it recognises that not everybody does, therefore the new packaging is a way for everybody to reduce their waste. I still think that finding a way to reduce the material wasted when the lid is thrown away (by making a glass lid) would have been a better option, and that this new packaging is an insufficient half measure that is probably only for the purposes of greenwashing the company rather than for actually making a positive difference in the world.

Kenco says that it has partnered with a company to recycle these new bags. It says the bags “can be turned into fun new items like bags or pencil cases, or even umbrellas”. The recycling of these bags depends upon customers sending them to the recycling company. Two pence per bag is donated to “your choice of charity”. I really can’t think of a reason why this is genuinely better than developing a glass product that is 100% reusable and recyclable (with a returns scheme to go with it), when the two options both involve trying to make a better product and setting up a way of reusing/recycling that product.

I think that Kenco might have decided on this new packaging because it means the company is seen to be doing something positive, even if it proves to be not as positive as it could be. And, by handing over the recycling of its packaging to another company, Kenco is absolving itself of its packaging’s life cycle. This is akin to throwing something away and not realising there is no “away”; by producing this flawed packaging, Kenco thinks it is improving its profile by having an “eco-friendly” product, but apparently isn’t too bothered about what happens to the packaging afterwards (who really wants to buy a bag or an umbrella that has Kenco’s logo all over it, or maybe that is the whole point).

Overall, I think this new packaging is just using the potential naivety of some people who are eager to do their bit to supposedly save the planet, by using the word “eco”, talking about helping people to reduce their waste, and having a charity element in the recycling process. If we, as consumers, can be more questioning and understand that there is more to sustainability than creating unrecyclable products as a solution to a small problem with a good product we will see that Kenco is using greenwash.

If it is not greenwash, Kenco, employ an institution to carry out research on all aspects of  the sustainability of this new packaging and other alternatives. It is no use to focus only on reducing the energy needed to produce the packaging if the packaging can only serve its purpose once before being turned into an umbrella. It must be better to spend as much energy as necessary to produce packaging that can be reused for its original purpose indefinitely.

Ideally, all produce would be sold loose, with no packaging at all (and the customer takes their own packaging to be refilled). It is clear, though, that loose branded coffee would be difficult to sell, so the best solution I can come up with for Kenco to reduce packaging waste is this: Kenco should develop a glass jar with a glass lid, then work out the cost of the coffee and the cost of the glass packaging. They could sell jars of coffee with two different prices – one price includes the cost of the packaging, and the other price is just for the coffee. When somebody wants to buy a jar of Kenco coffee, they take their empty jar with them and buy the jar of coffee that doesn’t include packaging in the price, handing over their empty jar when they pay. If a person doesn’t have an empty jar to return, they should buy the jar of coffee that includes the packaging in the price.

Cycling safety considerations

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

Lazy people can skip to the end for a synopsis, if you really must.

Cycling seems like fun. Every now and then, I feel like I might like to cycle. When I search through the WWOOF directory I always look to see if they say they have bikes available for use. I like the idea of being somewhere in west Wales, and cycling a few minutes to the coast on a sit up and beg affair. Because it’s west Wales I imagine that my whole way there I will be the only person around, as well as being the only person on the beach. I don’t imagine myself wearing a helmet. Why would I be wearing one if I am using roads with very few other road users?

I know that cycling is enjoyable. Ideally, there would be no need to wear a helmet, or lights, or reflective gear. Making sure you are suitably equipped before cycling could, no doubt, reduce the fun in the spontaneity of going out on your bicycle.

The Transition movement seems to like visioning. I went to a Transition Town Brixton food event in October, and the first thing we did was vision our lives in 2030. The next week, I was at another event in Oxford, and I chose to go to a workshop hosted by one of the people who initiated Transition Town Totnes. One of the things we did was vision. Whenever I imagine the future of transportation, I always imagine roads without kerbs, without cars, where pedestrians and cyclists move amongst each other; the cyclists are always moving about in a leisurely way, and they are never wearing helmets.

With that said, today’s transportation situation kind of requires all of that annoying preparation before getting on your bike. Motor vehicles and bicycles share the roads, unfortunately, and cyclists are the more vulnerable of the two. Wearing a helmet, being seen in the dark and signalling are some of the things that can help a cyclist to stay safe, yet so many cyclists are seen flagrantly ignoring these common sense guidelines.

Not only do I know that cycling is enjoyable, I also know that it is good for one’s health, and that it is better for the environment than driving. Also, I am a kind person who will think that perhaps it is for a lack of understanding that a cyclist is doing something silly, rather than assuming they are an idiot (some people, however, are quite obviously simply being stupid). However, I wouldn’t give cyclists any preferential treatment because they are doing a positive thing in using their bicycle.

Here are some sensible cycling ideas. I recommend all cyclists follow these. It is, after all, for everybody’s safety that road rules exist, and it is only fair that motorists and cyclists and pedestrians all consider each other.

1. Lights.
I would recommend that front and rear lights are used after dark. Judging by the placement of a light on the helmet, as I often see, it seems many people assume the sole reason for a front light is to be able to see the road. Yes, headlamps enable the car driver or cyclist to see the road ahead, but they also allow other road users to see you. I don’t think it is enough that the cyclist can see where he is going; other road users need to be able to see the cyclist, too. You might think that a light on the front of the helmet is equal to a light on the front of the bicycle, that either way the cyclist is illuminated.

I think it is important to have bicycle lights in the place one would expect lights to be. Motor vehicle headlamps are always where you expect them to be; if I am out at night, I can easily recognise two adjacent headlamps coming towards me as a vehicle with four wheels.

I am an occassional motorist. Driving in the dark, especially if it actually is dark (which it isn’t really in a lot of built up areas), means that even more attention has to be given to the road. I have to make sure that I am seen (which is why I didn’t drive after dark when one of the headlamps broke), and I have to make sure that I can see other road users, especially since they might not be easily seen.

I don’t find it helpful, as a motorist, for cyclists to wear lights on their helmets, because I am not expecting to see a light in that place, and that delays my recognition of the light as a cyclist.

Flashing lights is an annoyance for the same reason. There is a lot of information to process when driving, and a blinking light in the distance could be anything; lights aren’t only found on the front of vehicles, so it is not as though I should automatically assume that a blinking light is a cyclist coming towards me. I really don’t see any reason to use flashing lights. Why should the lights of a vehicle flash?

Flashing lights aren’t only annoying because they are pointless, they are annoying because they are confusing. It would be great if a cyclist just remembers that he is not the only person using a bicycle to get to work, and remembers that all of those people will be on the roads at roughly the same time, possibly in low light. Perhaps, then, he would understand why flashing lights are annoying: one might not be so bad, but a whole bunch of cyclists in the dark – some with static lights, some with flashing lights – can be a visual assault for the motorist.

As for the colour of the lights, I think there is nothing wrong with keeping with red for the back and white for the front. That is, for all vehicles. It could be argued that if cyclists had different colour lights they’d be distinguishable from other traffic (like colour-coding the traffic), but I think it is far better to avoid green/blue lights on the front and yellow lights on the back, as I have certainly seen.

2. Signalling.
Road users need to know what other road users are going to do if it affects them. That is why, in driving lessons, it is taught that you don’t need to signal if there is nobody around, or it is otherwise deemed unnecessary. When it is judged as necessary to indicate, we indicate.

Motorists, though not all of them manage to successfully carry out the procedure, are taught “mirror, signal, manoeuvre”. This makes sense, and can be translated as “check what the other traffic is doing; give reason for your brake lights about to show, or an imminent change in your positioning; carry out your manoeuvre”. I think this makes perfect sense, and I don’t find it a hassle to check my mirrors and indicate before slowing down or making a turn. I need to know that it is safe to brake before actually doing it, and I make sure it is safe by having a look around me.

It is no different for cyclists. They might not have a mirror, but there are other things that can be done in place of this, I am sure. Though there will be some cyclists who can’t be bothered to signal, just as there are some motorists who don’t signal when they should, I wonder if failure to signal might be linked to not feeling very confident cycling. I have often seen people remove a hand from the handlebar to signal, and wobble a bit, only managing to signal insufficiently.

I am annoyed by cyclists who seem to have no confidence in their legitimacy as a road user, cyclists who move out of the way of the traffic behind them, closer to the kerb, even though they will have to move out again in a few seconds because of a parked car. I think people should be required to take lessons of some sort, and these lessons would tell them to stand their ground. In driving lessons, the instructor should be teaching the new driver never to feel intimidated by other road users; I definitely was always told this.

3. Luggage.
Panniers and baskets is where your luggage goes. If you have a lot of things to transport, or something particularly bulky, that is where a trailer is useful. It’s not a good idea to carry your shoulder bag on your shoulder, where you might have to keep making sure it stays on your shoulder, thereby removing your full attention from the road. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to carry a bag full of tennis rackets across the body; it’s not energy efficient, anyway.

If people are required to have some education about cycling before doing any cycling, it would include something about types of bicycle. That way, people would know what sort of bicycle to purchase to properly meet their needs; they would know to buy a touring bicycle, perhaps, if they needed to transport a lot of shopping, or a utility bicycle. To be honest, I really don’t know how I would transport bag of tennis rackets, since a trailer would be too much. Perhaps somebody who knows they will carry such big or odd-shaped bulky items would opt for a freight bicycle with a big shelf on the front where a big basket can go, then whatever the item is could go into there.

I think luggage is best left off your person, so get some panniers. It might make for a more comfortable ride.

4. Recklessness.
Recklessness is using earphones or headphones whilst cycling; cycling and using a telephone at the same time; overtaking when it means squeezing past a parked bus and traffic going in the opposite direction; cycling on the pavement; going through red traffic lights.

I don’t think the first three need justifying, but…

A girl was killed by a car because she was listening to her iPod. It was agreed that somebody with normal hearing would have been able to hear a car driving at the speed the car was doing and, therefore, it was the use of her earphones that caused her death.

Texting diminishes the ability to brake or swerve if necessary, and might mean you are not looking where you should be looking.

Impatience is probably not the best way forward. I really wouldn’t recommend squeezing between traffic because you might not know when the traffic going your way will start to move off again. If it is a bus, you might be more likely to be in a blind spot than if it is a car.

As a road user, it is important to think for yourself and to try to anticipate the road. To anticipate, you actually need to be paying attention in the first place. Anticipating is to say that you can think what another road user might do next, and it is very helpful; rather than something surprising you, you are prepared for it. Do think if you overtake traffic. Think if the vehicle will make a right turn, think if you will see its side indicator lights if it will make a manoeuvre.

Cycling on the pavement is illegal. Wheels go in the road, legs go on the pavement. I haven’t seen a car driving towards me on the pavement, because they don’t belong on the pavement. Nor do bicycles belong there, just as I don’t walk along in the road. If you insist on cycling on the pavement, please don’t ding me, because I have the right to actually be there. Also, if you do insist on cycling on the pavement, I think it would be a good idea to recognise that you are not meant to be there, maybe by getting off the bicycle rather than riding very slowly behind the pedestrians in front of you because you can’t get by.

If you are on the pavement through a genuine fear of the road, I would suggest cycling lessons to gain confidence on the road. I think it’d be a good idea to think about where you want to cycle, and plan your routes in advance so that you have the chance to avoid very busy sections of road if necessary.

As with helmets, going through red lights is something that divides people, I believe. I don’t like when any vehicle ignores traffic lights, but there are safety considerations. With driving, it is not always safe to stop, although drivers should be taught to anticipate the change from green to red. It’s not difficult to do after you have spent a few hours on the roads. Eventually, you learn that the lights stay green for a finite amount of time, and (assuming you have been looking at the road) you will know if it has already been on green for a long period. In this way, it is possible to anticipate the change and be ready to brake.

I assume it is exactly the same for cyclists in that it might not always be safe to brake really hard simply to obey the law. However, some cyclists go through red lights because they don’t want to lose momentum; I prefer not to have to brake unnecessarily, but I don’t do this in favour of obeying the law.

Cycling with no hands on the bars, with hands stuffed into coat pockets because it’s cold (get some cycling gloves) and wearing a hood that obstructs vision count as recklessness, too, for obvious reasons.

So, as long as this essay is, really the point quite short and simple.

1. We are not yet at the point where cycling and walking is put before using a motor vehicle and, whilst cars and bicycles and pedestrians have to share a space, it is going to be a lot safer for everybody if we all use the road in as safe a way as possible.

2. There ought to be a way for every new cyclist to get free instruction and advice so that they can learn to be as safe as possible and to get the most out of cycling. (I have wondered if cyclists, like motorists, should have to take a test to get a cycling licence. My opinion is different now. I now wonder if optional, but rigorous, testing would be a good idea. That is to say that a cyclist can choose to take a series of lessons that would cover all aspects of cycling – or choose not to – and take a test afterwards. Cyclists who pass well could be accredited in some way. If there were decent benefits for having the accreditation, perhaps there would also be a way that any cyclist with it seen doing something silly could be cautioned, since they couldn’t claim they didn’t know they were doing something silly having had lessons and taken the test. That it would be optional would mean that anybody who would feel it’d take any joy out of cycling could just not take the test.)

3. I didn’t say this earlier, but I think there should be some space for cyclists to make unforced decisions on wearing a helmet and going through red lights. I noticed a campaign to get cyclists to stop, as they should, at red lights. Rather than insisting all cyclists stop at the red lights, why not allow them to make a decision for themselves, based on an assessment of the road. If they really care so much about having to push off from a standstill, they can check if it is safe to go through. If it isn’t, they should stop, but if it is actually safe, they can decide to go through. If this leniency is granted, though, there can be no retribution if the cyclist has an accident because of it.

As for helmets, the cyclist should be encouraged to know the reasons for and against wearing helmets, and should be fully aware of the possible consequences of each.

That is all.