The privilege of time (or the performance of change)

Constanza Hepp

This is a collaborative creation, originally published in the Degrowth.de blog. 

Powered by hardcore conviction, Cooperide is a bloc that will travel from Copenhagen to Paris for COP21, starting November 14. A total of 1400 kilometres in 22 days. And we will do it by bike. Why bike? Simple answer: biking is an autonomous means of transportation free of direct CO2 emissions. It is good for the body and soul, it makes us happy, it’s really cool and it shows that alternatives are possible.

“I don’t have time”

But there is much more to it. Beyond fossil fuels and hedonism, there is a truly provocative reason to bike. One related to the most fundamental difference between biking and travelling to Paris by bus or shared car. Time. Biking takes much more time.

Whenever I approach people with the idea, or randomly mention the project to someone like-minded (namely, environmentally concerned and aware of the importance of COP21), the reaction is generally as follows: eyes widen, lower jaw drops slightly, some kind of aaah or oooh sound. Then, praise on how awesome it all sounds and expression of the desire to join. Next, a short contemplation followed by a conditional phrase containing one of three reasons: I could never bike that much; it will be winter; you’re crazy; or, I don’t have time!

Of course safety, equipment and endurance are points of concern and most definitely issues to consider when taking such a decision, but the queen of all arguments, the most sensible and simply irrefutable reason is: I don’t have time.

Let this alone be a very good reason to do it. To take 22 days to just bike when there are so many quicker (fossil fuelled!) ways to go is to bring forth the evidence that alternatives are possible. To bike for 22 days is a performance of change. Not an abstraction or a conceptualization of the cultural change needed for a more sustainable lifestyle but its embodiment, through movement and a new kind of rhythm. To bike is to question the social order that constrains our time. And to directly explore that this can only be done on the road.

It’s fascinating how a simple act such as biking suddenly becomes an outrageous objection to the capitalistic obsession with efficiency. To the growth-obsessed homo economicus it’s even more scandalous that we are doing it because we want to and not because we have to. This is where the real outrage resides to a mindset convinced that time is money. We say let’s turn time and money on its head.

The false restriction of time

We also encounter this: what crazy people, choosing to travel at such a slow pace. What weird life do they lead to have all that time in the first place? Which is a good question. What does it mean to travel at such a slow pace, to take so much time off in normal working weeks? What kind of lifestyle allows us to have all this disposable time? Well, to be quite honest, our daily routines and activities do not provide us this time at first glance. Not all of us in Cooperide have the time to bike for 22 days to Paris. We are taking the time to do it. We may be anti-capitalists but we do have jobs. So this is where the performance of alternatives becomes a reality. When the thinking, the planning, the conceptualizing and discussing becomes the doing. And with it some serious compromising needs to take place. Those of us who do engage in waged labour have had to do negotiations with ourselves, our superiors and our families to actually take 22 days to demonstrate alternatives and stand against climate change.

The compromise for such a long bike ride goes beyond disobeying and rejecting the prevailing time-constraints and notions of practicality. It is also a conscious step aside. An observation. An experience-experiment.

Taking back our freedom

The more privileged our place in society and in the world economic order, the more accustomed we are to transferring ourselves from one place to another quickly and effectively without so much as giving it a second thought, let alone using our own energy for it. Immediacy is at the touch of any screen. From this taken-for-granted approach to everyday life arises an illusory independence from the world around us. As if all those day-to-day choices, spreading across thousands of kilometres, thousands of highways, landing strips and train tracks, did not amount to anything. This, Coooperide believes, is at the root of climate change.

We believe that climate change is disconnection. Disconnection of humans and nature, politics and people, product and producer. The solution then is to connect, so that’s our plan. Cooperide is the symbolic connection of the failed COP15 in Copenhagen to the COP21 in Paris through a very real, physical journey. A connection done not trough a conceptualization but through, as Heidegger would say, being-in-the-world: our existence in the present. The here and now. The wind in our face.

While biking we are aware of the connection of our body and our surroundings. Being exposed to the cold and the rain is the only way we can grasp, with every breath, the extent of the distance travelled. In this way, as we experience the distance, we also authentically expand our horizon of meaning. It is through this connection – of distance and physical experience – that we come a bit closer to really understanding how climate change is a planetary concern; how it involves and influences every one of us. We are convinced that to tackle the disconnection we must start by experiencing the embodiment of connection. And that means biking for 22 days.

A historic moment to make our voice heard

This COP21 will be, in one way or another, a turning point for the planet. It is a historic moment that gives us the opportunity to make our voice heard, to outweigh hope with action and find inspiration in an unprecedented gathering of people demanding political change and climate justice. A time to implement alternatives, to observe, to inspire and re-produce environmental activism. To imagine together and act collectively towards a future where livelihoods are not trapped by the constraints of the economic system but are created, meaningfully, in an everyday experience of the world around us.

If we don’t have the privilege of time we are simply snatching it. Appropriating it. Which is in itself a privilege, just as much as the fact that we are able to make such philosophical inquiries. Nevertheless, the conviction stands. We choose to let the chains of our bikes set us free.

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