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Extra Virgin -  March 2010
Environment When tackling global warming, we should learn from the cyclists, says Leonie Joubert - and she's not talking about the shaved legs.

It is said that when geese fly in formation, they’re a gazillion times more energy efficient than when they fly alone. Something about being more streamlined. That’s the rationale behind why cyclists do it in packs – the guy at the front does the gruelling work of breaking the wall of air, the chaps behind him just slipstream through his wake. When he’s spent, he slips to the back of the group, leaving the next guy in line to take over the grunt work for a while. And so the group switches places, each helping the other to save his legs through the long haul.

I was thinking about this earlier this month while I was standing on the shoulder of the highway, 15 minutes into the start of the The Cape Argus Cycle Tour. The Cape Doctor, the south-easterly wind, was belting down over Devil’s Peak, trying to rip my hair from my scalp as I threw a volley of impotent cheers into the face of this barrage of moving air.


Occasionally a solitary biker would lose his hold on the group, and get plucked away by the howling wind.

It reminded me of how much easier this whole green thing’s going to become with time as more and more of us tuck in behind one another to push for a better way of doing things. Remember what it was like when we were kids (I say, speaking as someone in her late 30s) – all the adults around us smoked, all the time and everywhere. Now someone scowls at you if they see you huddling too close to the doorway of a building, trying to hide from the elements at the same time as tugging on a bit of nicotine. That’s how the tide of public opinion has changed around smoking in just two decades.

Think what it’ll be like when recycling becomes the norm – how much easier it’ll be to be compliant because we’ll have reached some critical mass where public attitude and municipal infrastructure have come together to make it so much easier to recycle.

And the same goes for car pools, middle class people using public transport, consumer decisions around energy efficient cars and appliances, how we use our vote (namely to force governments to wean the economy off fossil fuels), how we rally together to protect species from extinction, whether we turn golf courses into communal food gardens...the list goes on.

Because in the end, we’re all in this together – one human family, living together on an island in the sea of frigid space, sharing the same bits of limited resources. We’re going to have to work together on this, just like those cyclists who were pedalling into the face of a brutal gale.