From bike lanes to solar, the UK has transformed itself since 2006

bike lanes on college green photo
CC BY-SA 2.0 Sam Saunders

What a difference a decade makes.

When I moved to the United States from Bristol, England in 2006, I didn't see too many signs of progress on the climate front in either of my two countries. Wind turbines tended to be something I saw in the Netherlands and separated bike lanes were a decidedly Danish concept.

It was hard for me to envision how change could happen at anything like the pace we need in such car- and fossil-fuel dependent societies. And yet, change always happens.

Having just returned from a trip back home, I was struck by quite how much progress has been made in the past decade. On the block I grew up on, for example, four of the seventeen houses now have solar. (I noted signs of this contagion a few years back.) In Bristol, where I used to put my life at risk cycling around the city, separated bike lanes and cargo bikes are now everywhere. A trip to Cornwall in the far South West saw fields and fields of solar and wind farms across the landscape. Vegan and plant-based foods were also way easier to come by than just a few years ago, and I even got to finally raise a glass of Toast Ale and drink to food waste reduction.

Of course, we've reported on many pieces of this puzzle before, noting that the UK is now enjoying carbon emissions at a level not seen since the Victorian era. Of course, even this impressive level progress is nowhere near impressive enough, given the scale of the climate crisis we face. Having significantly greened the grid, for example, the UK now has to both continue that decarbonization and broaden it to encompass transportation, agriculture and other sectors of the economy too. (It would also help if the current government stopped pandering to anti-wind farm special interests.)

But still, I share these observations because it's sometimes hard for us to see the change that's still happening all around us, and it's easy to slip into the idea that the status quo is just too entrenched. Yes, given the accelerating and converging crises of mass extinction, climate change and resource depletion, it's fair to say that the UK could do a whole lot more.

But having stepped away from the country for a decade or so—and having always looked at mainland European efforts with a certain grass-is-always-greener envy—I have to tip my hat to all the activists, entrepreneurs and decision makers who have pushed things forward as and where they could. In many ways, I don't recognize the country I left not that long ago. I hope to see similar change happen on this side of the pond too.

And fast.

From bike lanes to solar, the UK has transformed itself since 2006
What a difference a decade makes.

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