John D Anderson reflects on how transport choices can build or erode community.
The government has brought forward to 2030 the date after which diesel and petrol-powered cars may not be manufactured in Britain. As Christians, we should applaud this example of a long-awaited urgency in government activities to mitigate the global heating which is destroying so much of God’s creation.
So how should we travel? The ministry of Christ was enhanced by the fact that he walked everywhere: there is only one record of him as an adult using a donkey. John Wesley was so effective on his travels because he was always visible, often on a horse. If we travel in a car we insulate ourselves from our fellow creatures, not just from humans but also from the nature which we’ve come so much to value during the COVID-19 crisis.
My ideal is to walk everywhere I possibly can – and Baildon in Bradford Yorkshire, where I live, is not flat. Our local Methodist church of 180 members is supported by many pedestrian Christians; we have only a tiny car park. We are an important centre for the Baildon Walkers are Welcome group. Conviviality, and indeed evangelism, are much facilitated by the practice of walking. Yes, we breathe out carbon dioxide; but we have to do that to be alive.
Some of us have spent our lives while in employment cycling to work. The Chair of Yorkshire West District, Rev Kerry Tankard, has said how our church “lives lightly on the earth”.
Cycling has been part of our witness: it uses no fossil fuels; no motorways are needed. The Church should be should far more vociferous in welcoming the many cycle-ways which are now proliferating throughout our country; in Bradford they are squeezing the space allocated to cars. Cycling is a benign form of travel; fossil fuel motoring is destructive.
We are here for only a short time. As Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it”: who are we to mar God’s handiwork in any way during our puny lifespan? As humankind struggles to leave the age of incineration where we burn what God created in order to provide power for humanity, we enter the age of revolution. In this new era the rotating turbine either in the air or water produces electricity without emitting carbon dioxide. The rotating wheels of the bicycle symbolise our new age.
One of the challenges of COVID-19 is that we are encouraged not to use public transport. Yet it is plainly the height of selfishness for us to transport one or two people in a large metal box called a car instead of dozens of folk in a bus or train. Moreover the conviviality of public transport helps to glue our communities together. Insulation from others is hardly a Christian virtue: it is very difficult to love a neighbour whom one only sees through a car window. One of the few virtues of the COVID-19 epidemic has been that we have for the first time talked at length to some of our car-borne neighbours when out clapping for the NHS. As soon as permissible we need to reoccupy our buses and trains.
Another benefit of the Coronavirus crisis has been the decline in holiday air travel and the consequent rise in people holidaying in our own country. We have got to know our own people, landscapes and culture better rather than jetting to more exotic sites. This helps to unite our badly fractured dis-United Kingdom.
I was in the Royal Air Force. I love flying. But I know how much carbon dioxide is emitted by a plane taking off to reach its cruising altitude. This is at its worst when the aircraft then descends to nearby airports such as London, Paris or Frankfurt. Short-haul flights should normally be replaced by land transport. The sky above Bradford is often criss-crossed with seven vapour trails containing noxious gases which increase global heating.
There are proposals to modernise the Leeds-Bradford airport, which, like those for increasing the size of Heathrow, would ensure that we break the limits of carbon dioxide emissions which we have pledged to reduce to keep the earth’s temperature rise to between 1.5 C and 2° C. Christians are among those opposing any airport expansion. Flying for fun is finished. God’s earth cannot afford it. Some flying, for business or political reasons, is obviously essential. But now we do not so often have to zoom up into the sky; we can Zoom on the Internet.
Our transport of delight comes by breathing the open air and experiencing the immediate sights of creation. We are part of God’s “covenant with the earth” (Genesis 9); the covenant is not with humans alone. We cannot ride roughshod wherever we like, or how we like, and fulfil our part in caring for life on earth.
John D Anderson. Member of Baildon Methodist Church, Bradford.