People Pedal Power: Why This 16 Year Old Is Cycling From Devon to COP26
16 year old Jessie Stevens is cycling from Devon to Cornwall for COP26. This is why - and how you can join her.
Sat 9 Oct 2021
As a youth climate activist, I have had waves of 'climate grief'.
You feel so attuned to the environment, the news, the politics, the inaction, that often it just gets too hard to bear. I like to think of these moments as ‘waves’: they consume your very being.
However, many of the best of ideas come from the darkest of times. I suppose this is how it happened.
My realisation came one crisp November morning in 2020, whilst walking in the woods near my house.
I can't remember what particular thing the anxiety was about. Perhaps it was the Californian wildfires raging, or the fact that the UN Climate Conference, COP26, was being postponed for another year.
This is when I decided to cycle to COP26.
I live in Devon. COP26 is in Glasgow - that's over 560 miles.
I speak now as someone who loves cycling. Like, really loves it. I just can’t get enough: the longer the ride, the bigger the hill, the better.
Yet less than a year ago, cycling was alien to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I knew how to cycle. I had done all the normal childhood bike-stuff – cycle paths, falling off a lot, hundreds of laps around my local park. But since probably the age of 8, I hadn’t ridden a bike.
My passion for activism had previously been group based or more creative action.
Whether that was helping to organise actions with my local Extinction Rebellion group, being a Friday’s for Future School striker, or writing for my local paper about the crisis from a youth perspective, my activism had never taken a two-wheeled approach.
So cycling to COP26 has been quite the personal adventure.
So, why did I decide to cycle from Devon to COP26?
My desire to cycle to the UN Climate Summit, COP26 began as more of a personal journey.
When I first heard that the summit would be in my home nation of the UK, I was really quite excited.
So often these events feel so far away, out of reach and therefore the prime space for political inaction to lurk.
However, this time it felt different. I immediately decided that I wanted to attend.
After quite a while working on the subject of youth climate justice, I knew that this would be the perfect time to really help get our voices to the heart of the decision making. I wanted to be one more person adding pressure to the politicians within.
"The ride is not just a challenge to get to the summit in a greener way, but a testament to the power of individuals"
Cycling to COP26
Firstly, I started to research how I would actually travel to COP, and secondly how I could attend the summit.
This was the point when I was ‘stumped’.
There were 2 big obstacles that suddenly appeared in my path: I realised that it is extremely hard to get into the summit and that it would be very difficult to travel to it in a sustainable way.
No matter where I looked or who I spoke to, it became clear that the COP is an extremely difficult place to attend as a ‘normal’ person (your average individual not working in politics or in a large NGO etc). To me, this seemed totally wrong.
Everyone, from all different walks of life, should have a ‘seat at the table’ when it comes to climate politics. The climate crisis is such a huge and diverse problem, which needs a huge range of diverse solutions.
These can’t be achieved without the voices of the many, instead of the often hidden agendas of a few wealthy politicians.
It seemed alien to me that the individuals who will be affected by the climate emergency the greatest (youth, indigenous communities and marginalised groups) have such little say when it comes to these matters and involvement in these events.
And those who it will impact the least, with their wealth and status acting as huge buffers to the crisis’ impacts, get to make all the decisions.
The second obstacle was transport to the summit.
I quickly realised that to get there sustainably would either cost me large amounts of time or money, whilst travelling in the most polluting ways was the cheapest and often easiest.
This problem highlighted to me the fact that our transport system is so unequal and inaccessible. It also became clear, the extent to which our society is still so dependent on fossil fuels and their subsidies.
This just isn’t right. This fuelled me to try and get there in one of the most sustainable way possible, and make as much noise about these issues along the way.
Cycling for change
I realised that it shouldn’t just be me cycling, but that my ride could become a way to mobilize as many people as possible. And so People Pedal Power or #ride2COP26 was born.
The aim is to create a movement of people cycling towards COP26 forming a huge body of individuals coming together in the face of the climate crisis, highlighting the power of collective action.
Over 10 days up to the start of the summit, the ride will be moving up the country meeting, and being joined by as many people as possible for a few miles at a time.
We are hoping to create a mass cycle ride full of individuals shouting loud and clear about the need for greater levels of accessible ‘green transport’, people led decision making and overall, the need for decisive climate action as an outcome of COP26.
The more people who join us, the bigger the ride and the greater the pressure we can put on the change makers within COP.
I feel that the ride is not just a challenge to get to the summit in a greener way, but a testament to the power of individuals.
To pedal our way up the country (however many miles each individual chooses to do) we are highlighting the immense power we each hold within us to mentally, emotionally and physically move forward when we come together to create change.
We are regaining the power taken from us by the paralyzing, all-consuming nature of the crisis, and demanding climate action.
Because we, the people, have power.
Jessie Stevens is a a youth Climate Activist based in Devon.
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