Imagine you are in a helicopter over York. It is early on a winter’s weekday morning. Picture the scene: miles of roads and streets leading in and out of the ancient, medieval city centre. From such a high vantage point you can see it all, the suburbs, the ring road, roads feeding into the ring road from Leeds and North Yorkshire.

Many of the roads are in a dysfunctional, crawling gridlock, a masterpiece of inefficiency. One thing unifies what you see: fossil-fuel belching vehicles. Cars. Lorries. Precious few buses compared to the number of single driver vehicles. In short, autogeddon.

The language may seem dramatic, sadly the impact of such scenes on our planet is equally so. Less than a month ago, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned our species has only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, wars, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

Yet this story – perhaps the most important conceivable – has disappeared from mainstream media like blossom in spring. So, here are few suggestions for how York could work towards being part of the solution to climate breakdown, rather than part of the problem.

First off, geography. Our city is flat. Is it not logical that the bike should be the go-to form of transport for most able-bodied people? Even for people with health issues, there are hybrid electric bikes on the market. Cycling is not only good for our mental and physical well-being, but will help relieve pressure on the NHS via one of the best forms of preventative medicine available: fitness.

But riding a bike requires a safe place to use it, and the safety factor puts too many off cycling. Surely it is time for us to learn from possibly the most cycle-friendly nation in the world, the Dutch. For decades they have developed road systems that actively prioritise the use of bikes and public transport. When you look at how they have achieved it, the words ‘common’ and ‘sense’ spring to mind.

Above all, they have a continuous network of cycle paths, clearly signposted, well maintained and well lit, with road/cycle path junctions that often give priority to cyclists. Many of the paths are physically divided from roads and pavements, with a growing number of residential streets outlawing cars altogether. The aim is to make cycling convenient, pleasant, and safe. In addition there is a thriving industry of bicycle shops throughout the country and, personally, I believe all bike-related goods and services should be exempt from VAT to incentivise getting us on two wheels.

The Dutch are also masters at planning for the bike instead of the environment-destroying combustion engine. They consciously prioritise cyclists, public transport and pedestrians over cars and lorries, with towns designed to limit access by vehicles. As a result, heavy traffic and very limited car parking makes car use unattractive in towns. Anyone from York reading this might argue we have that problem already. The difference in the Netherlands is that alternatives to cars are not just catered for, but encouraged.

Of course, York already possesses a network of excellent cycle paths, some of which are in a better state of repair and lighting than others. The big challenge is creating new ones and contemplating radical ways of linking cheap, regular public transport to increased bike use. Is it too far-fetched to imagine a fleet of publicly maintained York Bikes for rental and return, as you see in so many modern cities?

Finally, we come to the biggest problem of all: our mindset and culture when it comes to car use. It is no exaggeration to say we have all been carefully trained since birth by politicians, the oil industry, manufacturers, advertisers and the general media to believe there is no alternative to cars. Indeed, that those polluting metal boxes on wheels somehow define our success as human beings. Cars are presented as objects of power, security, beauty. For the sake of our children and planet, we need to get pedalling away from those attitudes – and fast.