Good News From the States

I’m very pleased with recent political news I’ve been hearing from the USA (that’s not a sentence I get to write every day!).  There have been two major stories which have left a positive impact:

  1. President Obama reveals plan for action on climate change.
    As anyone following American politics will know, the importance of this announcement cannot be understated.  Climate change is an incredibly contentious issue in the USA, with something like a third or more of Americans denying it is an issue or sometimes that it’s even occurring.  The issue was scarcely mentioned during the 2012 presidential election.  Even if you do deny the human influence upon the climate, it just makes sense to gear an economy in preparation for the point of ‘peak fossil fuels’, where the amount of oil, coal and gas extracted will no longer be enough to meet demand.  That the world one day needs to develop a post-carbon economy is undeniable; the earlier we plan this, the better.
    Obama’s plans are admittedly basic, pledging to cut emissions by only 4% of what they they were in 1990 – five times less than the EU is planning – but the fact this process has begun at all is incredible.  Apparently this reduction would be relative to 33% of the UK’s emissions. It’s a start.  I just hope the Republican-dominated Congress won’t give him too much grief over it.  Despite his dubious record on many issues from drones to state surveillance, Obama is proving himself to be a progressive in many ways – being the first sitting President to endorse the right to same-sex marriage, for instance.  Which brings me to…
  2. Supreme Court Gives Positive Ruling for Same-Sex Marriage
    The Supreme Court has ruled that gay couples should receive the same legal rights as any other married couple.  This has invalidated a section of the ridiculous ‘Defence of Marriage Act’ which denied gay married couples the same benefits to tax, healthcare and retirement, among others.  The Supreme Court also ruled that the decision to remove a ban on gay marriage in California cannot be challenged.  This is positive news not only for gay couples but for the nation as a whole.  I’d like to think the country is that bit more tolerant now.

Two bits of great news.  Please don’t let it stop here!  Next I would like to see the nationwide abolition of the death penalty (though it’s gradually creeping in state by state anyway), the closure of Quantanamo Bay and a complete reform of the political system to make it more representative and less of a corporatocracy.  Well… I can dream, can’t I?  An end to slavery would have seemed ridiculous 200 years ago, civil rights laughable 100 years ago and same-sex marriage a joke just 20 years ago.  Anything is possible.

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Cycling (and cars)

I have just been out for a ride on my bicycle for the first time in a year.  Whizzing through the piercing winds, my hands numb and red afterwards from the cold; it was amazing!

It’s quite frightening how strenuous I found it.  I puffed and panted after mere minutes, my legs seizing up with pain.  I’ll need to take this slow.  My body appears to have rusted as much as my bike.

My eagerness to get back into cycling may stem from my reluctance to start driving.  I have been 17 for four months now, which is the legal age for acquiring a driving license in the UK, yet have felt no desire to begin getting lessons.  My peers have been excitedly talking about beginning lessons, theory tests, practical tests, and for the luckier ones, being gifted actual cars!  I tend to react to these conversations with subdued boredom.

I’m not sure why I have an aversion to cars.  Part of it is certainly due to a rejection of society’s expectations; for ages I would have people asking me: “Oh, you’re 17, have you applied for a provisional licence yet?” “Ah, you’ll be driving soon, then!” “How are the lessons going?”  Eventually most people realised I’m not interested and have given up.  It’s senseless, but the assumption that every 17 year old drives bugs me.

Then there’s the wishy-washy reason: I’ll feel much more ethically sound if I can cycle to places, or use public transport, rather than further polluting the atmosphere by using a car.  I know that my use of one would have a minute, negligible effect on carbon levels, but it would help me, personally, to know that I am continuing to lead an environmentally-balanced lifestyle.

Then there’s the health benefits.  Once I’m passed the pain and wheezing (my asthma has not reacted well) I imagine regular cycling would do my body a lot of good.  The excercise must also have benefits towards my mental health – I feel quite content just now, despite the suffering, and furthermore I feel that this particular blog post is one of the more focused I’ve written for some time.

Riding a bike may not be practical at present, considering I have to travel 20 miles every day just to get to school here in Shetland.  But it will be a different story when I’m at university – whether it be in Edinburgh, Glasgow or St. Andrews.  St. Andrews I know to be particularly encouraging of bike use, and the thought of cycling up the Royal Mile in Edinburgh (if it’s allowed) fills me with great pleasure.

A bright yellow/turquoise striped bike cycling through Edinburgh is the stuff of dreams.