This summer Ecotopia Biketour will be cycling through southern Europe on a journey “towards degrowth” – challenging the damaging growth mentality of capitalism which overlooks real social and environmental values and linking the alternatives. Each summer for over 20 years people from diverse backgrounds, projects and parts of the world have come together to form an eco-mobile do-it-yourself activist community, journeying in critical mass through city streets and country lanes, up mountains and by the sea. We carry all our equipment on bikes and trailers and make all group decisions by consensus. We are just opening the process of participation and are searching for people and places to connect with along our way.
|The story of the biketour begins many moons ago with some motivated young people and an organisation called EYFA (European Youth For(est) Action). They created an environmental activist camp called Ecotopia, which lasted several weeks during the summer of 1989 in Cologne, Germany. One of the main aims was for young people from both Eastern and Western Europe to have the opportunity to learn and have fun in an international group. A lot of effort was put into making everyone’s participation as fair as possible. A new currency – the ‘eco’ – was developed especially for the camp, using rates calculated to take into account people’s different economic background. Another aim of the camp was for the general public to be made conscious of environmental problems and other issues in their local community, while maintaining a more global perspective. At this first Ecotopia, people from all over Europe sat down to turn the dream of a Biketour through Europe into reality. The aims would be the same, and it would be a sustainable way of getting to Ecotopia too.The first Biketour started in May 1990 in Norway – 4000km and 2.5 months later, the group arrived at Ecotopia in Hungary. The political objective of this tour was a campaign for an environmentally responsible traffic policy, less consumption and to end destructive ways of tourism. More than 500 environmentalists from 15 countries cycled along together. Both the organisers and participants were content and enthusiastic at the end. EYFA got the 1st prize of the “European Environmental Award” in Germany for the best youth initiative in 1990. Ecotopia became an annual event, and so did the Biketour. Its distance generally became shorter than the first one, and the group a little smaller but the aims stayed more or less the same. The Biketour continued to happen every summer, so far the mobile community has collectively cycled through almost every country in Europe!
EYFA decided that the Ecotopia camp in Turkey in 2008 would be the last one they organised. Yet the Ecotopia Biketour had become such a project in its own right that it has been organised each year since, through the network that had been built up. While we no longer ride to the Ecotopia Gathering, biketour lives on, after all, the Biketour is a journey not a destination!
Why we do it is pretty simple. For most people it starts with a love of bikes and an enjoyment of the freedom of a mode of travel which is better for the environment and better for your health. More cyclists on the road isn’t just good for those who are cycling, it also challenges the increasingly common idea that long distances can only be travelled by expensive planes, high speed trains and other polluting and energy intensive ways. Cycling is a political action in its own right. As well as this simple political act, we aim to learn from each other and increase our awareness of the network of complex and interconnected issues relating to degrowth by visiting people and places that are involved in struggles and creative responses, contributing in whatever way we can.
Sustainable degrowth is about getting away from an economic system based on endless consumption which overlooks the real social and environmental values of exchange. Rather than a new economic model, it is a tool for opening up discussion. It calls for a reduction in mindless consumption and production in favour of an intelligent use of resources, encouraging ecological stability and cooperative relationships. The vast majority of our ‘modern’ practices overlook these real forms of value, instead favouring limitless growth which is both irrational (as resources are finite) and contributes to social isolation.
This year we will begin in Barcelona in mid July, travelling through Catalonia and southern France into Italy, arriving in Venice just over two months later. On the way we aim to visit bike workshops, ecological agriculture projects, action camps, intentional communities, critical masses and ecovillages and other collectives and places that relate to degrowth. The route is taking form and we are gradually making contacts along the way. After a weekend of workshops and preparing in Barcelona we head via Ca l’afou, an ‘eco-industrial post-capitalist colony’ towards Girona. After that we visit Can Decreix, a new project in Catalunya, just on the French/Spanish border, it’s a new house which is putting degrowth ideas into practice and creating a physical hub for degrowth networks. Naturally we are excited to visit collectif velos en ville, an activist bike workshop in Marseille to try out some crazy bike designs. Many permaculture projects later and into Italy we will join forces with No Tav, the struggle against the high speed train in Val di Susa. At the end of the ride we reach Venice and the third international Degrowth conference where we will join with other groups to celebrate engine free transport. We are in contact with some places along the route but are still searching for interesting stop-offs, if you have ideas please get in touch.
Year after year the project has been pulled together by the effort of countless volunteers, depending on who has energy and ideas. Anyone can join this process; we communicate through an email list and a wiki and have a wintermeeting each year to make important decisions about the following tour. This is an informal network and we welcome all people who want to get involved and help shape the tour both in the planning stage and when our wheels are in motion. It’s an adventure for everyone interested in being part of a sustainable community and travelling without engines.
To find out more or get involved visit: www.ecotopiabiketour.net