Three generations of the family are taking on the challenge to highlight the need for church action on climate change
The Hansons are raising funds for anti-poverty charity Tearfund, and Jubilee Cooperation, an organisation focused on environmental stewardship and community-supported agriculture. Both organisations aim to demonstrate how faith communities should respond to environmental issues.
This isn’t the first time that the Hanson family have undertaken this kind of challenge. In fact, the journey is the third in a trio of fundraiser cycles.
Forty years ago, John Hanson and his friend John Rodgers set off on an ambitious bike journey that took them around the world in 12 months. The two Johns left Dungannon on their bikes in September 1981 to return just over a year later.
Their 13,000-mile route took them through countries in Europe, Asia and North America, and the pair raised over £50,000 for Tearfund.
“If you think that’s a lot of money now, imagine what it was like 40 years ago,” jokes John Hanson.
John, who was preparing for Presbyterian Ministry at the time, had begun to think more about world poverty.
For him, the main purpose of the cycle was “to draw attention to the appalling fact that millions of people didn’t have food to eat or clean water to drink”.
John published a book on the journey, Around the World in Cycle Clips, and donated his bicycle to the Ulster Transport Museum, where it remains on display.
In 1998, John took once more to the saddle. This time he was joined on a tandem by his son, Jonny. Father and son cycled 330 miles from Cork to Coleraine to raise money for the Camphill Community at Ballybay.
To mark the 40th anniversary of John’s ‘Around the World’ trip, on August 14, John and Jonny will be joined by Jonny’s eldest children, Joshua and Bethany, for another epic cycle.
The four Hansons will cycle from County Kerry to Country Antrim on two tandems, a journey which totals 312 miles.
A lot has changed in forty years, and during this time, the two seasoned cyclists have thought more about how “environment and development — often treated as two separate issues — need to be considered together”, as Jonny says. John explains how the global food shortages that we are experiencing are “a clear example” of how poverty relates to climate change.
Hotter temperatures, longer periods of drought, and unpredictable weather patterns have an impact on supply chains.
As a result, “hundreds of millions of people are going to bed at night without anything to eat,” John explains.
Father and son want to use the cycle as “an opportunity to raise awareness about the need for church goers to engage further with climate.”
“The ‘get-up-and-go’ that characterises these cycling adventures is the same ‘get-up-and-go’ required to transition our economies and societies to sustainability,” says Jonny.
However, John and Jonny not only want “to inspire members of faith communities to make environmentally responsible decisions”, but also push church leaders to show “real leadership” on this issue.
“Church leaders ought to say and do more,” Jonny explains. In his view, the connection between climate and faith is a straightforward one to make.
He explains that “although the climate crisis is a technical issue that requires a more technical response, it is also an issue which also evokes intensity, emotion and feeling.” For him, “faith is one the ways that people can process those feelings”.
John agrees, explaining how caring for creation is a way of “glorifying God”.
“It can also help people to feel closer to God,” he adds.
For Jonny, being outside provokes a “sense of wonder”, and it is this same “wonder” that can inspire people to inform themselves more on environmental issues, and to really take an interest.
As well as the connection between church and climate, the second message that the Hansons want to promote is about active travel. They want to use their cycle to highlight the need for safer, easier and more sustainable modes of transportation in Northern Ireland. A former Sustrans Ranger for a section of national cycleway, this is an issue which John feels particularly passionate about.
“We need more protected spaces for people to cycle,” says John. “People will not compete with traffic.”
He argues that cars and lorries put people off, and we need to “make it easy for people”.
In his view, more greenways, safer cycle lanes, and shared-use paths will “get more people walking and cycling.”
As well as enhancing tourism and economic development, greenways offer people more safe and accessible spaces to bike or walk. This creates better opportunities for healthy lifestyles, enabling people to more easily incorporate physical activity into their day.
Jonny, who has just returned from a sabbatical in Europe, agrees with his father. Bicycles are “defacto modes of transportation in places like the Netherlands,” he says.
So, does this change the way that the Hansons have planned their route?
“We are taking the safest route, not the shortest route,” says John.
The family have planned their journey “to connect with as many greenways as possible.”
However, when they were planning their route, they noticed that there was a marked difference in cycling infrastructure north and south of the border.
The Republic has more paths along canals, and they have also converted some former railway lines into cycle lanes. We have not seen the same rates of conversion in Northern Ireland.
“Converted railway lines are ideal for cyclists because there are no steep gradients,” John explains.
There is a lot to be done, but things are slowly improving. John explains how “the revision of the Highway Code this year has delivered good news for cyclists in Britain, guaranteeing them greater protection than before.”
The new version of the Code, some of which does not apply to Northern Ireland, includes updated guidance on safe passing distances and speeds for cars and motorcycles. Cars and motorcycles should not cut across cyclists, they must give them a wider birth when overtaking, and cyclists have priority going straight ahead and at junctions.
The Hanson Global Cycle distils a huge conversation about faith, climate and active travel into 40 years, three generations and one world. Yet, the family want to show that “everyone has a part to play” and demonstrate how people can fundraise in innovative ways for causes they care about. In this case, it is the power of the pedal in the fight against climate change.
For information on the Hansons’ cycle, see www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/hansonglobalcycle