Climate change and crying into my cornflakes


Hannah Engelkamp on climate anxiety among parents and the role our national walking network project has in climate change mitigation efforts

This morning, Radio 4 featured an interview with the former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This interview made me cry, with the cereal box still in my hand and my back turned to the kids at the table.

His tone is so urgent, and between his words lie scenes of real horror; people displaced, dustbowl landscapes, our children and grandchildren. We can keep living in a severely climate-changed world, he says, but there is a subtext: Not all of us. Not healthily. Not without fighting each other. It’s apocalyptic.

A few days ago I saw this Just Stop Oil photo on social media including the banner:

What did you do when you knew, Mummy?

That one got me in the craw. What did I do? Why wasn’t I doing anything else but putting my weight, such as it is, behind arresting climate change any way I can? What was I doing in 2010 that was so important? Or in 2018, 2022? 

I don’t believe in leaning on individual guilt in a world still so set up for all of the damaging things we have to do. It’s policy change and big scale enablers that need to happen and culture change will follow fast. But I’ve got Slow Ways right here as a mouth bigger than mine (and as something I am proud to be helping to build every day), and so, after pouring out the cereal and swallowing my tears, I searched:

“Climate change active travel”

And the first result was this, from the World Health Organisation:

(Emerging evidence shows the importance of active mobility in mitigating climate change, notes the WHO publication. For example, a shift from car travel to active travel is possible for trips of up to 16km, and those trips are responsible for 40% of carbon emissions from vehicles. Even if not all car trips could be substituted by cycling and walking, the potential for decreasing emissions is considerable.)

The article authors appreciate that safety is the main barrier to higher active travel mode-share, and proposes the following as practical, infrastructural solutions:

  • It is crucial to redesign urban spaces that meet daily needs related to accessing jobs, education, health care, food and goods, recreation, and other amenities within distances that can be safely covered using active mobility and public transport.
  • Infrastructure for safe walking and cycling plays a central role in promoting active travel. 
  • Trip-end facilities, such as changing rooms at workplaces and secure parking for bikes at destinations and in the proximity of public transport, provide a backup option for active travelers.
  • Green spaces, parks and trails, and forms of urban revitalization are further options to promote walking and cycling indirectly.
  • Schools should be safely reachable by walking and biking, and children should learn about the importance of regular exercise and the environmental impacts of traffic.
  • Reducing car dependency through better land use and urban planning, efficient public transport and disincentivizing driving can lead to more walking and cycling. 
  • Countries should develop national cycling and walking plans, secure resources and allocate responsibilities to support their implementation.

So, breakfast is done, I’ve brought the kids to school, and now on with building a national walking network, alleviating my own climate anxiety by activity at least.

If you are feeling the same, we’ve been emailing and sending letters about Slow Ways to MPs, MSPs and MSs this week, and will post soon about how you can help bring the network to their attention. It’s a small thing to keep the climate anxiety at bay. Good luck with yours, and everything you are doing.

Hannah Engelkamp
Hannah is a writer and editor whose great love is slow, resourceful, human-powered home travel. She once walked around Wales with a handsome and opinionated donkey called Chico, and now has two children who also make going for a good walk really hard. She is the Culture, Imagination and Story Lead for Slow Ways. // Mae Hannah yn awdur ac yn olygydd a'i chariad mawr yw teithio araf, dyfeisgar, ar ei liwt ei hun, heb injan. Cherddodd 1000 o filltiroedd o amgylch Cymru, asyn golygus a phengaled o’r enw Chico, ac erbyn hyn mae ganddi ddau o blant sydd hefyd yn ei gwneud hi'n anodd iawn mynd am dro. Hi yw Arweinydd Diwylliant, Dychymyg a Stori ar gyfer Slow Ways.