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Issue 278
May/June 2013
Natural Wealth

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Review

Don't lobby your MP - 'be' your MP
by
The Great Divide by Kate Rawles

The Great Divide by Kate Rawles

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Don't lobby your MP - 'be' your MP

Rupert Read enjoys reading a highly educational account of a cycling trip up the entire spine of the Rocky Mountains, but ends up wanting a little more politics out of it. The Carbon Cycle: Crossing the Great Divide by Kate Rawles. Two Ravens Press, 2012. ISBN: 9781906120634

This is a travel book with a difference. Kate Rawles, in a feat of remarkable endurance, cycled her way from Texas to Alaska, along the roads of the Rocky Mountains. But the real difference is this: as she went, like some kind of dogged environmental market researcher, she constantly asked the good people that she met this question: “What do you think of global warming?”

The result is a fascinating mix: an engaging account of an unusual journey through diverse ecosystems and human haunts, shot through with continual insights into how we are changing Nature, and into how Americans see and interpret (and deny) this fact.

And it’s an articulate and literate account too. I loved the chapter epigraphs, for instance, starting with the wonderfully picked first one, from Gary Fisher:

The body, stronger. The mind, sharper.

The air, cleaner. The grass, greener.

The pretzels, crisper. The beer, colder.

The weekday, shorter. The weekend, longer.

The sun, brighter. The sky, bluer.

LIFE IS BETTER WHEN YOU

RIDE BIKES!

I couldn’t agree more.

In this short review, I won’t seek to spoil the reader’s chance to discover for herself what Kate learns on her amazing cycle ride. I’ll just focus in on one key area of the book, which left me wanting more.

Where I felt Kate’s book fell a little short was at the very end, when she turns to what we should do about all this. She gives us the usual patter about lobbying your MP, etc., and she has some fine insights about how we need a new normal, a new vision of how to be human. But none of it seems to me to measure up to the scale of the challenge she identified as she cycled among the teeming US people in their 4x4s and Humvees. The scale of the challenge she rightly quotes from Tim Jackson, of a vast reduction in the level of our consumption.

In the unique situation we as a species find ourselves in, in this unique moment of privilege – of being the last generation who can save our descendants from runaway climate change – I think we need to go much further than Kate shows us. Her cycle ride was a heroic exercise in physical limits-pushing, one that I for one would not dare seek to emulate. But we, the readers, need to push other limits just as far – and further.

It’s not enough in this time of impending climate catastrophe to lobby your MP, for that is still leaving these problems to others, who just aren’t going to solve them. A lot of us need to step up and do what it takes to be our MP.

It’s not enough to give regularly to environmental charities, or to spend our money on low-carbon holidays: the problem is far far bigger than that. We need to be tithing much of our wealth to this cause. We need to get political about using our wealth and freedom, while we still have them, to take the one last chance we have of saving the future. We – each and every one of us! – need to engage in direct action, now, before it is too late.

By the end of Kate’s book, I felt that too many of us, when we look at dangerous climate change, are still not ready to do what it is going to take. I welcome cyclists who deepen one’s interpretation of the world. The point, however, is to change it – profoundly. And that is quite possibly going to require revolutions of more than just bike wheels.

Rupert Read is Chair of Green House (www.greenhousethinktank.org), and lead MEP candidate for the Green Party in the East of England.

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