It’s not that I shy away from big issues. It has simply never occurred to me to write a blog post about cycling’s power over human extinction. An article in last month’s Atlantic explains how the very small 0.1% chance of an extinction event in any year (by famine, nukes, a meteorite or a pandemic) when accumulated means there is a 9.5% chance of such an event in a century. It works out that you’re many times more likely to die with the rest of us, in an extinction event, than in a car crash. Your odds of meeting your maker alone, in a crash, are less than 1% in a lifetime—or death time, whatever the term is.
I recently wrote a blog post complaining about that one-in-one hundred chance. It means there’s a one in twenty five chance of a road accident claiming the life of myself or a member of my immediate family. We might as well have anarchy and live by the hatchet if the regimes we empower can’t do better at protecting our lives. But as it happens the chance of a road death taking one of us out is still lower than our chance of being fried, drowned, infected or left fighting your family for the last remaining tin of baked beans.
So, without getting bogged down in figures from the Stern Review or the report of the Global Challenges Foundation, or even pretending we will ever read either, let’s just even things out and say there’s a 2.5% chance in a lifetime attached to each of the four types of catastrophe: fried, drowned, infected or starved.
By drowned, I mean drowned by the tsunami that will follow the asteroid strike. Cycling only worsens things here, by clustering more humans on the level ground that will go under. So I’m going to say a grand shift toward bicycle transport will give the average human a 3% chance in a lifetime of dying in an [extinction] event caused by a meteor. But from hereon it gets better. Much better.
The famine that will be caused by global warming can be avoided, all thanks to the bike! If we stopped pretending Amsterdam is as good as it gets and pimped out our cities for cycling with covered streets, the whole bit, then no one in the first world would drive and no one in the developing world would want to drive, yo know what I’m sayin’ there doncha. We could eliminate 20% of global emissions this way, then feeling buoyed by our sense of accomplishment in the area of transport start tackling industry and farming etc.. So I’m going to say cycling could bring our once-in-a-lifetime chance of a famine down to 0.5%.
By my reckoning we could similarly reduce the chance of a pandemic with cycling. I spend a lot of time in the sky in those disease spreading Boeings. They are full of people flying around the world out of sheer boredom. They go from one city where there’s nothing to do to the next, buy some duty-free whiskey, then fly home and get drunk. If our countries had bicycle trails we would all have too much bike touring to do in our own countries to bother with all those global shopping sprees people go on. And we wouldn’t be spreading pandemics. In deference to my sad belief that some people will still choose global tours of sunglasses shops over bike touring, I won’t reduce the risk of pandemic to 0%. Cautiously I’ll say 0.5%.
Where I would stake a Sram 7-speed internal gear hub on the accuracy of the figures above, I can’t be totally certain about bicycling’s powers to bring about lasting world peace. I never can work out North Korea. It was only last week that I was remarking on what a bicycling paradise they have made there. They build roads, but not cars. That is sheer genius! So I have trouble understanding how anyone there could possibly harbour the kind of discontent that must have existed for North Korea to have developed its nuclear bombs program.
Oh I can see why. They had the world’s best cycling environments, but no Sram, Shimano or Campagnolo. This must have been the reason Kim Jong Il wanted nukes. How would you feel, after building the world’s widest bike highways, to be then taken on a bike factory tour and shown this shit?
Since the risk of nuclear destruction in a bike loving and mutually prosperous would could be eliminated simply by giving North Korea some goddam free hubs, we can conclude with reasonable certainty that our odds of going down in a once-in-a-lifetime extinction event can be reduced to 4%, from 9.5%, using bikes.
The only problem remaining is one we should welcome. It is that dying in an [extinction] event would be infinitely more likely than dying in a car crash, if cars were redundant.
If you agree with any of this please nominate me as world leader.