Most of us don’t like change much. It’s annoying when the supermarket moves the layout round and you can’t find your usual favourite foods or when the TV scheduling changes.
Recently Zero Carbon Harrogate volunteers have been on the streets and outside schools asking people to make a small change – to switch off their vehicle engine when they are stopped. Our “No Idling” campaign has been met with a variety of responses. It’s been good to listen and offer some vehicle pollution information.
Rarely were people saying they don’t care or could not be bothered to take this small action. We seem to be able to accept small changes when we can understand how our actions affects others.
What about larger changes? Judging by the vociferous letters in this paper in recent weeks the infrastructure changes to Otley Road, Harrogate, including dedicated cycle lanes, appear to have upset some local residents. Listening to their comments, part of the problem seems to have been a lack of involvement, they feel North Yorkshire County Council are imposing the changes on them.
The bigger picture seems to have been lost in arguments about the details. We have to cut our greenhouse gas emission by half in the next ten years and more cycling is one of multiple solutions needed.
We all want to travel around our towns. Nearly half of vehicle journeys in Harrogate and Knaresborough are less than 1.6 miles. This leads to congestion, poorer air quality and higher carbon emissions. Change is needed so that those of us who are able can make these short journeys by bus, on foot or by bike.
What about the loss of three trees for the cycle lanes? We have measured the three trees concerned and they store 4.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, slightly less than emitted from one return flight to Hong Kong. The same amount of carbon dioxide would be saved if just 12 of the roughly 4,000 children who attend schools near Otley Road switched to cycling a 15 minute (2 mile) journey to school every day, rather than being driven. In comparison nine trees will be felled for the motorised vehicle traffic junction improvement on the Otley Road/Harlow Moor Road.
It can be easy to think that we don’t want anything to change, but our towns and villages have changed over the years and will continue to do so. We have a choice, we can either influence how they change, or simply accept what others deem acceptable. Take for example the Harrogate Stray, designed by the Victorians to be an unbounded recreational space, but now, through lack of intervention, it is “fenced” with a ring of parked cars.
As communities, we have choices. Last week we ran a transport workshop for a community group in the District – we did not all agree, but it was good to listen to each other expressing different views and solutions, which reflected an understanding of the need for change.
In a similar way, when Harrogate Borough Councillors were asked to consider a motion to declare a “climate emergency”, at a recent council meeting there was considerable disagreement about the motion wording, but a clear understanding of the need for rapid and unprecedented change, if we are to play our part in tackling global heating.
Change is inevitable. While it is not always welcome it can bring real improvements to our District. Changes are certainly essential if we are to address the global issue of climate change. The important thing is to be involved with and to understand the need for the changes being proposed.