Green Odyssey [Bicycle Journey through Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and Vietnam Looking for Environmental Success Stories]

By Gomberg, Tooker; Bischoff, Angela | New Internationalist, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Green Odyssey [Bicycle Journey through Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and Vietnam Looking for Environmental Success Stories]


Gomberg, Tooker, Bischoff, Angela, New Internationalist


Angela Bischoff and Tooker Gomberg get on their bikes and set out across Southeast Asia in search of green cities.

WE'RE CITY KIDS. And just like most people in the Western world we grew up on a diet of stories dished up by the corporate media. The news of doom and gloom was getting us down, so we hit the road on an ecological odyssey we call Greenspiration. Our mission: to track down, document and share inspiring ecological stories. With our bicycles, laptop computer and video camera we first traversed North America. Then, aiming our handlebars eastward, we jetted to Japan and began a six-month odyssey in Southeast Asia.

JAPAN: Escalators for bicycles

As Canadian bicycle activists from a country where less than one per cent of trips are made by bike, we were tickled to see Japanese of all ages riding jitensha (bikes) as if it were the most natural thing to do (it is!).

Multi-story bicycle-parking garages at many train stations protected thousands of cycles from the elements. Specially designed bicycle escalators - like magical moving carpets - made it easy for cyclists to climb stairs. Car traffic moved at bicycle speeds through narrow streets.

There's not much green space in Japanese urban communities. In Osaka we visited a gymnasium designed with a roof that doubled as a hill. This allowed for great savings in energy while creating a much-needed park within this dense city.

Kyoto is an ancient, beautiful city of a thousand temples and elaborate gardens. Nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains it retains much of its traditional charm. As host city for the international United Nations Climate Convention in 1997, it may be remembered as the place where 10,000 bleary-eyed delegates helped the world move away from the ecological brink. For the first time the global community agreed to limit our production of greenhouse gases.

We pondered the Japanese word kiki, or crisis. When written it contains two words: danger and opportunity. Global warming is a looming crisis, but there is opportunity too - opportunity for bikes, urban agriculture, mass transit, conservation, renewable energy, local economics and green jobs.

We left the frenzied city life behind and hopped on a boat to the subtropical Amami islands in southwestern Japan. Grunting over mountain passes, we swooped through thick green forests that stretched unbroken to the sea. It seems unjust that these forests are intact while Japanese corporate giants like Daishowa and Mitsubishi clear-cut Canada's boreal forests for chopsticks and fax paper.

In the land of the rising sun much of the electricity comes from nuclear power. But we were impressed to see that almost every tenth roof was adorned with solar panels for hot water. The Japanese Government underwrites much of the cost.

TAIWAN: Slow boat, no hurry

After 36 hours rocking and rolling through the East China Sea from Okinawa, Japan, we were glad to touch land at the port of Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Bikes and boats are a natural combination: neither are too fast, they're ecological, sociable and pleasingly relaxing. No need to unload the bike as you wheel it into the boat. Grab what you need, climb the stairs, and stare out at the endless blue horizon. Arriving at your destination you just untie the bike, roll down the ramp and presto - you're in the heart of the old city.

As we pedalled into Kaohsiung a pack of lawnmowers descended upon us - or at least that's what it sounded like. It was a horde of scooters, whizzing, belching, swarming and surrounding us. By the end of the day we were covered by a thin layer of grime from the unburned sooty fuel.

In the town of Chiku we visited a wet-land slated to be transformed into an oil refinery and steel mill. If the project proceeds, the livelihoods of 20,000 fishers will be destroyed, as will much of the last remaining habitat of the black-faced spoonbill. Only 400 of these gorgeous, egret-like wading birds remain in the world, and three quarters of them winter here. …

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