Selected Ramblings: Change in the World

Follow our bicycle journey around the world at www.pedalgogy.net or on Facebook.

Click here for our Vietnam and Cambodia route maps.

The world has changed a lot since the year 2000. Touring the world in this day and age has been remarkably smooth in terms of freedom of movement, crossing borders with electronic visas and booking excursions and flights with just a few clicks (see previous post).

The more I compare my experiences from 18 years ago to now, the more I realise that everything is different. Access to cash is one thing that makes this lifestyle a whole lot easier. No more travellers cheques and wire transfers needed if you have a debit or credit card these days. Communicating with home and personal entertainment and photography has been made a whole lot easier and lighter –  no longer requiring half a backpack for music.

The weather is different. Now I am no expert on climate change but what I do know is that many places can no longer rely on distinct seasons and suffer from extremes. Crops fail, regions burn, wells dry up as rising tides begin to envelope communities. The land has changed too. Nation sized palm oil and soya plantations have caused the loss of habitat and species. Where is all this heading? I think that it is a demand-led problem for which there is a demand-led solution.

As we cycled across Vietnam and Cambodia I was constantly shocked by the images of branding. Especially of disposable goods and their packaging. Desires fulfilled by consumption and waste. Repeat. Where and when did the belief that consumption makes life better and makes us happier take hold in rural Mekong communities? Parts of which are now full of packaging and burning piles of inferior products, replaced by new and ‘better’ ones? Perhaps this behaviour builds ones status, but how and why?

I am sure that the profit incentives of producers in the free market drives awareness of products, and through advertising a desire. However, even in socialist states, symptoms of personal desires expressed through purchases are proudly displayed. Is hedonism human nature? Is it just a mammalian thing to show off?

Partly because of this consumerism, the world looks different. According to the World Trade Organisation, trade of all goods as services increased by around 40% in the first decade of this millennium (WTO, 2012).  The recession put a short hold on that but forecasts still put this decades growth at a similar figure. This means that since I first started travelling on my bike, the world’s output has nearly doubled. I can see it too. Increased trade, improved infrastructure and new technology have been the drivers of Globalisation. I think that these few generations worth of time will be coined as the ‘Age of Trade’ or the time when the worlds markets became a single entity. We live in interesting times which will never be forgotten.

It seems that our insatiable appetite for the consumption of manufactured goods and services is leading us to a tipping point. It is estimated that even now, the  goods we demand, the methods used to supply them and the way in which we choose to demand them, without consideration of the impact they have, means we are consuming more than our planet can currently produce. Some sources calculate that we will need to double output to meet demand by 2050 (UN, 2015). Others claim that this is an exaggeration, suggesting that with our slowing population growth and new processes this disequilibrium could be corrected by 2050 (BioScience). Other sources use eye-catching comparisons such as – “If everybody currently lived like an American then we would need 4.1 Earths. A French person 2.5 (De Chant, 2012).

One thing is for sure – Our current habits have to change. We find ourselves choking and exhausting our world. We must find new ways of production, but vitally, we as consumers must begin to think about the long-game. To demand that businesses then start listening to us by changing our purchasing behaviour. But I fear that without the support of uncorrupted government and military, the temptation of making a quick buck will overpower the needs of our planet.

Well there, I’ve said it, and this was supposed to be a bicycle touring post. I think my point is that there has been so much change in the last 20 years, that I think that in another 20 years, the world may be unrecognisable. I wonder whether travelling will be even easier, or less enjoyable? If the whole world will be more accessible or whether we are destroying adventure and paradise by the scars we are creating on our landscapes.

I say go and explore that last frontiers, feel the buzz of discovery and the spine-tingles by sheer delight at the sites that the world has waiting. Before it’s too late. Earlier I said that this age will be known for trade and Globalisation, I also think that it will be a time in history where the true spirit of travel and adventure was at it’s strongest. If you have any desire to marvel at the wonders of the world, go out and be part of this special time.

Click here for our Vietnam and Cambodia route maps.

Videos of our adventures can be found on our YouTube channel.

About Matthew and Niamh

Matthew Good and Niamh Conway are international school teachers who met while working at the British School of Lome, in Togo, West Africa. They later moved to Uzbekistan, where they spent four years at Tashkent International School, each summer exploring another slice of the world by bike. Now the pair is on a bicycle world tour for two years. Niamh is an elementary school teacher originally from Limerick, Ireland who got her start in an Irish National School. Matthew is an Economics & Business Teacher from Watford, England who began his career at a comprehensive school near London. The Pedalgogy website features a blog and a photo gallery, while providing advice and maps for those interested in planning bike tours. As the touring teachers travel the world, they have been creating an online learning resource called Tedweb. By running workshops in schools, they now have a growing collection of stories from children around the world, allowing them to develop an awareness as global citizens. They have also been fundraising for the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association U.K.
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