I think I’ve found the most outrageous cycling infrastructure in Britain
Readers have dutifully documented the installation of silly cycling infrastructure on the Letters page, but I’m willing to bet few places in the UK can rival Park Lane in London.
While cycling there a few days ago, I noticed that I was on one of three bike paths all running in parallel within a few yards of each other on the same route. There’s one in the park, one just outside the park fence, and the latest addition, a two-way route taking up more than an entire lane once reserved for cars.
In total, Park Lane, which was once a four-lane thoroughfare through the city center, has been reduced to a single lane for cars.
At peak times, the traffic is almost stationary. Much of the space for bicycles, on the other hand, is empty.
Humanity may be doomed, but not as the fatalists think
Before humans invented history, time was circular. The sun rose, then it set, then it rose again. The seasons of birth, growth and death repeated each year and much of prehistoric human religion, from what we know, involved rituals to ensure that sunrise and rebirth would occur again after sunset and death. Then, the idea of a single God overseeing a linear progression to Judgment Day emerged. This is what we call history.
I recently thought about this particular shift in human perception when I read that scientists had published an essay in the Royal Society Open Science assuming that all life in the universe is doomed to exhaustion or adopt “homeostasis” – non-progression.
The argument, advanced by Michael Wong and Stuart Bartlett, is that intelligent living and civilization create exponential demands on energy systems, which will necessarily exceed our ability to innovate. Such a law of nature would explain, according to them, why extraterrestrials have never visited Earth.
It’s an interesting thought experiment and of course no one can prove it wrong. But this theory ultimately shares the same fatalism as much of the environmental movement. It requires humans to give up hope for infinite expansion and advancement and instead just maintain what we already have.
This is post-growth – a status our economy may have already inadvertently achieved. And he shares, in this regard, a prehistoric understanding of nature and humanity’s place in it.
If their theory is correct, it seems to me that humanity is sure to burn out rather than return to circularity. It was possible to believe that time was circular as history moved so slowly that nothing seemed to change from one generation to the next. But as soon as humans can see and feel the possibility of learning and doing more, that’s exactly what they do.
Unless, of course, we’re all too addicted to our smartphones to care.
Universal base errors
On the subject of human repetition, this week saw the release of yet another study advocating the adoption of “universal basic income” (UBI) – paying everyone for doing nothing. The report, funded by the Wellcome Trust and written by several researchers and professors, is based on the premise that double the number of children in Britain are living in poverty as in 1977.
Only in the fine print do we learn that this is relative poverty – defined only by comparison with the median. In absolute terms, child poverty is around 25%, which is still far too high, but much lower than in 1977, when it was 80%.
So forgive me if I don’t find it particularly appealing to read that the UBI would “return poverty levels to or just below mid-1970s levels.” Such a claim strongly suggests, of course, that it would soon generate demand for another Thatcher-like figure to clean up the mess. Maybe the Conservatives can finally support it.