Cycling Sunday

August 29, 2021

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued its most credible and jarring report,so far, on our environmental future

Cycling Sunday

At a time when most of the Pakistani youth were revving up their motorcycles and cars, leaving behind trails of smoke, to mark Independence Day, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued the most credible and jarring report, so far, on our environmental future. It has in store rising seas, sweeping fires, melting glaciers, diminishing resources and a decaying quality of life for all of us. Nature is repaying us what we have given it. Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, has called climate change a “code red for humanity” unless we can stop what we have started. Like industry, vehicular traffic is a major contributor to climate change.

It is, however, encouraging to see that concerned citizens of Islamabad are sensitive to their responsibility to the environment. A new lifestyle is being promoted – one in which our reliance on pollution-emitting vehicles is cut down as much as possible. City managers have started organising a Cycling Sunday on the first Sunday of every month. It is not a race or a competition. Men, women and children are invited to ride bicycles, mostly on a portion of Jinnah Avenue, the second most important road in the city.

To start with, the ICT administration was alone in taking the initiative. The administration has some of the most qualified officers, who have some experience of studying or serving in other global capitals, where cycling is a part of city life. Islamabad, too, is an international city. Soon after its inception, diplomats and foreign dignitaries started taking interest in the event.

The European Union in Pakistan is now one of the sponsors of the Cycling Sunday. Ambassador Lis Rosenholm of Denmark is a permanent feature of this event. She likes it so much that the background of her Twitter page is a photo from Cycling Sunday. Flags of Denmark and Pakistan lie parallel in the cradle of her bicycle. On the last Cycling Sunday (August 4), Ms Rosenholm tweeted, “Always happy to participate in the #CyclingSunday events to promote a sustainable, climate-friendly & healthy Islamabad! Cycling is one of the best ways to get around this city, and impactful for physical & mental health! Hope to meet more of you next time.”

There has been a debate on social media that cycling suits people living in colder climates, because it entails a lot of exertion. Dr Maleek Haider, however, says this is a myth. He says that cycling is not recommended only to some patients, and it has nothing to do with the climate. He said, “Yes, when the temperature is high, all kinds of outdoor activities should be undertaken with caution. That is nothing specific to cycling; people should do it to keep healthy.”

A new lifestyle is being promoted – one in which our reliance on pollution-emitting vehicles is cut down as much as possible.

Prof Dr Muhammad Zaman, founding chairman of the Department of Sociology at Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), is amused. Having spent most of his career in European universities, he has adopted a healthy lifestyle, but he was not aware of Cycling Sundays. Dr Zaman thinks that this needs to be a regular public event, if the lifestyle of the society is to be changed at all. He says, “the problem with Islamabad is that this city has been taken hostage by some interest groups. They use international themes for personal gains. If young students from our university are made aware of this event, they would love to take part. It is not only good for the environment, but will also reduce their chances of developing diabetes or hypertension. Young people from schools and colleges should be invited and they should take ownership of such events.”

Ali Hassan, 13, a Class 4 student at Bahria College is a good cyclist. He is eager to take part in the upcoming Cycling Sunday, as no one had told him about it previously. Umaima, a Class 9 student at OPF College, is also a cycling enthusiast but she too has been unaware of Cycling Sunday. I spoke to students at International Islamic University, the NUML, the AIOU, Bahria University etc about Cycling Sunday, but few were aware of it.

The city administration has taken all the necessary measures for this event. Islamabad Traffic Police close off the cycling route to other vehicles. Care is taken to observe the Covid SOPs. Some people have even started renting out bicycles for the event. On the last Cycling Sunday, it rained but the event went ahead regardless.

On August 16, when the IPCC’s daunting report was released, Islamabad became the first Pakistani city to have an electric taxi service. Amin Aslam, advisor to the prime minister on climate change, launched the taxi. He said it will not only reduce the threat to our environment, but will also be a profitable business for those who have invested in the venture.

Ambassador Kjell-Gunnar Eriksen of Norway has dubbed it a great move. Norway, he says, has shifted 98 percent of its energy production to renewable sources. They aim to abolish the remaining 2 percent reliance on unclean energy sooner rather than later. Electric vehicles are not new to Islamabad. At Daman-i-Koh, the entry of oil-fired vehicles has long been banned; electric vehicles transport visitors to the picnic spot. A similar arrangement is in place at Rawal Lake too. The irony is that the flow of vehicular traffic at both these recreational sites has been growing. Both these spots are part of the National Park and there is a need to keep a check on their commercialisation.

On August 15, a walk was arranged in the city, to promote measures to reverse the deleterious effects of climate change by making the city green. Ambassador Ihsan Mustafa Yurdakul of Turkey was the chief guest at the walk. Chief Commissioner Amer Ahmed Ali is leading the charge in these environment-friendly initiatives. “I do not like young officers sitting in their rooms. They need to be on the move. This is our city and it is our responsibility to keep its air and water clean and its roads green,” he says.

The writer studies and teaches media. He can be reached on Twitter @furraat

Cycling Sunday