Pedalling to Paris: my part in the climate talks

This morning, at some ungodly hour, I sampled a small bit of Hell: a hot, dark room, filled with flashing red and mauve lights; pounding music; semi-naked, screaming women; sweat pouring from every crevice; aches ripping through my body.

I was in a spin class.

Why did I subject myself to such misery? Because I’m worried about climate change. Let me explain.

The world’s leaders are gathered in Paris for the UN’s climate summit, COP21; the aim is to reach a binding agreement on climate change on how we’ll keep global warming within 2°C. It’s a pretty big deal, almost certainly the biggest environmental event for a decade, carving out the shape of our future.

I didn’t like the idea of just sitting on the sidelines, reading the headlines. I wanted to find a way that I could contribute, a way that I could help to influence change. I wanted to make sure that I could, at the very least, look back and say that I tried my best. What I really wanted was a way to show our leaders that we support strong action on climate change that, unlike marches or petitions, had a positive impact of its very own — no matter whether or not our leaders listened.

Meanwhile, almost two-thirds of people know they can personally help to reduce climate change by changing their behaviour, but only one in seven are doing something about it. That’s frustrating, and it sends a bad message to our leaders.

So I decided to try and change this, by asking people to show their support for climate action through their own action — pledging to do things like switch to a green energy supplier, waste less food, or cycle to work.

Thankfully, I happen to have spent the last five years building a website that allowed me to do just that — ask friends and family to make a pledge to try a simple, carbon-saving action, from a handily pre-built menu, and to share it with the world.

But simply asking people to do these things ‘just because’ risks looking a little preachy, and not particularly exciting. Climate change isn’t a heart-string-puller like most other charitable causes; it doesn’t have that personal, direct, or local feel to it that is needed to elicit widespread engagement.

And so in order to catch the attention of my friends — and of you — I needed to do something painful, crazy, impressive.

So next week, I will be cycling to Paris, arriving for the final days of COP21. That’s over 200 cold, wet, windy miles in three short, dark, sleep-deprived days. Along with a team of 30 other climate-battling cyclists, I’m asking people to support my ride with a pledge. If I can cycle to Paris, surely my friends can cycle to work?

So far, we’ve raised 430 pledges — we’re aiming for 1,000.

Through this, we hope to show our governments and our business leaders that people care about climate change so much that they’re changing their lifestyles to help combat it. Surely that sends a message that’s hard for them to ignore?

But at the very least, these actions will have a lasting impact of their own — helping our supporters to reduce their carbon footprint, improve their health, and save them some money. It should also help to change their attitudes towards sustainability, helping them to see the positive impact their actions can have, and, in turn, this could affect their decisions. And if they work in positions of influence, that could have a huge impact.

And ultimately, it’ll show people that we’re far from powerless when it comes to this battle against climate change.

So whilst I no longer worry about being stuck on the sidelines — we’re all playing a very real part in this game — I now just worry about my fitness. I’m acutely aware that all our supporters will be following our progress to Paris — and right now, I fear I’m not even going to make it as far as the ferry.

And that’s why, much against my better judgement, I find myself signing up to another torturous spin class… wish me luck!