One of my favourite things about summer in the UK was the abundance of berries that adorn the paths of Cardiff. When I first arrived in Cardiff last year, I saw some people picking blackberries along the Taff Trail. When I asked them whether it was okay to eat the berries, they looked a bit confused and responded 'of course!'. (In Australia blackberry plants are considered a horrendous nuisance and are sprayed with poison to prevent their spread. Apparently this is not the case in the UK.) For the rest of that summer, and this year too, I have been making the most of the fact that delicious berries grow freely throughout the city in Cardiff.
But blackberries aren't the only edible plant growing around Cardiff. I have now been on two foraging walks with Green City Events, and I have learnt so much about the edible plants in Bute Park. (I was on crutches for the first one and missed a lot of the explanations because I was so slow! The second one was much more enjoyable - both because I could hear all the explanations and also because it was berry season!)
Even after these two walks I am still very much a novice at foraging, but I am a big fan for several reasons:
As wonderful as foraging is, I'm not suggesting that it is possible, or even desirable to entirely live on foraged foods. The foraging walks also taught me about the ethics and etiquette to foraging. Our tutor, Michele from Edible Landscaping, also emphasised the essential etiquette of foraging - leaving enough of any plant for nature to regenerate, and for wildlife to eat (as they don't have the option to go to the local shops if a pesky human has picked all their food!).
I'm planning to make the most of the rapidly disappearing light in the evenings to put what I learnt at the recent Autumn foraging walk into practice. So if you see someone wandering around Bute Park randomly picking berries off trees - come say hi!
Related stories and resources:
I absolutely love public libraries – anyone can join and they let you take books to read for free! And then you get to give them back when you are done, so someone else can use them. (The sharing economy is perhaps not such a new phenomenon.)
The one downside is that I tend to read non-fiction books super slowly. It is probably because I am one of those millennials with a short attention span (although that somehow doesn’t apply to fiction books). In any case, I don’t seem to be able to finish a non-fiction book within the allocated 3 week borrowing period at my local library and as a result I’m halfway through a bunch of really good books which I hope to finish one day.
If you are looking for some reading inspiration (and inspirational reading), perhaps check these out:
Who? Friends of the Earth and C40 Cities. Two awesome organisations - FoE is a global network of grassroots environmental organisations founded almost 50 years ago, while C40 is a cooperative of 96 cities working towards tackling climate change.
What? Why Women Will Save the Planet.
Why? With a title like that, how could I resist? This book is a compilation of articles and interviews with women leading the climate change movement all over the world. There is so much inspiration packed into this book, with stories ranging from very local case studies to insights into global climate agreement negotiations.
In the meantime...Mothers of Invention is an excellent podcast which explores women’s role in solving the climate crisis. C40 has also published some really interesting reports, including Deadline 2020 (which examines action needed by cities to meet climate change targets of the Paris Agreement).
Who? George Monbiot, British political and environmental activist and writer
What? Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea and Human Life
Why? I’m so fascinated by the concept of rewilding. Conservation has often been about preserving nature the way that we humans think it should be. Rewilding is more about letting nature do its own thing. I have borrowed this book a couple of times already - the only problem is that every time I start reading it I really want to go outside and frolic in some trees. So I never get any reading done but perhaps this is not such a bad thing.
In the meantime...Monbiot writes a column for the Guardian which covers a wide range of topics. Recent widely shared columns have discussed coffee cups and veganism.
Who? Naomi Klein, Canadian author and social activist
What? Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
Why? Again, with a title like that it is just begging to be read. My understanding of climate change and the surrounding issues mostly comes from a science/engineering/technology background, so I am always fascinated to learn more about the economic perspective.
In the meantime...there is also a film with the same name, which I haven’t seen either. (I could probably do a whole post like this for movies/documentaries as well I think I’m the only person in the UK that hasn’t seen Blue Planet II!)
Who? Kate Raworth, an economist that thinks a bit differently.
What? Doughnut Economics
Why? I think the headline doughnut model is a fantastic and simple way to explain what we should be aiming to achieve with sustainable development. It basically says that there is a minimum impact on the earth that we will have in order to provide enough for people to live, and also a maximum impact that the earth can sustain. Humanity needs to live within the ‘doughnut’ between those two limits. It is a very powerful concept, and the book also presents a range of supporting arguments that break down a lot of traditional economics theories - all discussed in an easy-to-understand way!
In the meantime...If you are interested in understanding the title idea of doughnut economics in 16 minutes, check out Kate’s TED talk.
Who? Michael Pollan. I really appreciate his very famous quote/manifesto (eat food, mostly plants, not too much) so thought I should actually read some of his books.
What? The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Why? Having been vegetarian for quite a while I thought this would be a good book to start with. I have already read the first part of the book, all about corn. As someone who delights in eating corn on the cob each summer (except this most recent one, it doesn’t seem to be so available in the UK), I never realised just how much it has infiltrated the entire industrialised food system in the US.
In the meantime...I turned vegetarian without watching any heart-wrenching documentaries, but I have been meaning to watch Cowspiracy and Dominion (an Australian one!).
Who? A coalition of over 200 researchers, scholars, scientists, policy makers and business leaders contributed to this project, lead by Paul Hawken, an environmentalist, activist and author.
What? Drawdown — The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming
Why? Rather than dwelling on the problem, this book jumps straight into solutions. An incredible amount of research sits behind the ideas, which quantifies the benefits of 80 ranked actions to reverse (not just slow down) global warming. It points to actions that are robust, scalable and will have benefits beyond just reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as educating girls and family planning (ranked at 6 and 7).
In the meantime...the Drawdown website has so much to explore, including continual updates to the research.
And if that isn't enough inspiration, check out this epic compilation of books to 'change the world'.
I just had a notification from the library that Drawdown is ready to pick up, so I know what I’ll be reading this week. What’s on your list? I'd love to hear any recommendations!
I was home in Australia recently for a visit, planned to coincide with my nephew's first birthday. As has been the tradition in every Australian household for the last 40 or so years, I opened the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book to look for some inspiration. Not having looked at the book in 15 years, I was surprised by how outrageously gendered it was - the 'for boys' section had a truck, pirate and rocket, while the 'for girls' section had dolls, a sewing machine and a stove (I chose the classic swimming pool, which is apparently 'for everyone').
It isn't just cake that has had me thinking about gender and gender equality recently. Gender pay gap reporting, PROCESSIONS marking the centenary of votes for (some) women here in the UK, and conversations around International Women’s Day back in March, to name a few.
As a female engineer, I have been aware since the first time I stepped into a university lecture theatre that I have chosen to work in a pretty male-dominated industry. My university was so proud to have 20% females in the engineering intake the year I started. It didn't really bother me at all while I was at uni (to be honest it was a bit of a relief after spending high school at a gossipy all-girls school). And since starting work I have never felt at a disadvantage because of my gender, but every now and then something will happen that I find a bit concerning.
Concerning anecdote #1
Last year we had a big team building trip when my team merged with a couple of others. During the trip, one of the speakers asked all the females in the room to stand up. Looking around at all the others standing up I got super excited - there were so many of us, it seemed like about three quarters of this new team was female! But it turned out the gender split in the team was pretty much exactly 50-50.
It is a common phenomenon that people perceive there to be more women in a group than there actually are. In an interview with NPR, Geena Davis pointed out:
We just heard a fascinating and disturbing study, where they looked at the ratio of men and women in groups. And they found that if there's 17 percent women, the men in the group think it's 50-50. And if there's 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.
Within engineering, the environmental discipline seems to have the largest proportion of females. Yet when I have actually stopped to count the number of each gender in the supposedly ‘female-dominated teams’ of which I have been part, they are actually pretty balanced. Even as a female, I seem to suffer from the same unconscious bias as those men in the study.
Concerning anecdote #2
Earlier this year I attended some industry events around International Women's Day. Interesting, the gender balance at those events was very different to most events (i.e. majority were female). At one, the speaker asked two questions:
For the first time this year in the UK, employers with 250 employees or more were required to publish their gender pay gap. According to the Government Equalities Office:
In the UK today, women earn on average 18% less than men. The gender pay gap exists because women tend to work in lower-paid occupations and sectors, and occupy less senior roles. Many women take time out of the labour market and work part-time because of unequal sharing of care responsibilities. Stereotypes and workplace culture are also factors.
(The gender pay gap also exists in Australia - check out this informative data explorer.)
In large engineering companies that I have worked for both in the UK and back in Australia it is certainly the case that there are fewer women in senior positions than men. But there are other factors that contribute to the pay gap as well. In addition to the reasons noted above, an interesting one is that women tend to stay in the company longer than men, so don't have the larger jumps up the career ladder that likely accompany a new role. It isn't surprising that this is the case - I have spoken to women who are literally planning when to have children around the maternity leave policy of a company they have recently joined.
These are issues that concern women (people!) in all industries, not just engineering.
Concerning anecdote #3
Also during the industry events around International Women's Day this year - I realised I was becoming quite frustrated at the way many people (mostly, but not all men!) were talking about the difficulty of achieving gender equality in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, maths).
And I don't deny that there are difficulties. Issues raised included:
It took me a while to work out what was annoying me about these statements (not the italics, that is my mental commentary). While distractedly ruminating after an event it suddenly dawned on me - the most grating comments were all based around the fundamental assumption that with all other things equal, females would be less interested in studying and working in STEM fields than males. That even if we addressed all the barriers to entry, cultural norms and biases that are currently standing in the way - and waited 30 years for the next generation - that there still wouldn't be equal numbers of women in all levels of an engineering company because they just don't want to be there.
But I really don't believe that is true. Maybe because I love maths and science so much, I really can't comprehend that females are inherently less interested in STEM fields. Once I had distilled this very frustrating implicit assumption, I challenged other attendees with it. To my surprise some actually agreed with that assumption even when it was made explicit, but to my relief many others were just as outraged as me at the concept.
In her TED talk Reshma Saujani (founder of Girls Who Code) points out that girls are raised to be perfect, while boys are raised to be brave. Listening to it on my way home one day, I was struck by this observation:
Most girls are taught to avoid failure and risk. To smile pretty, play it safe, get all A’s. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then jump off head first. By the time they’re adults and whether they’re negotiating a raise or even asking someone out on a date, men are habituated to take risk after risk. They’re rewarded for it...Our economy, our society, we’re losing out because we’re not raising our girls to be brave. The bravery deficit is the reason why women are underrepresented in STEM, in C-suites, in boardrooms, in Congress, and pretty much everywhere you look.
Girls Who Code is a US non-profit organisation working to close the gender gap in technology - but I think Reshma's key points are equally applicable to STEM professions more broadly (and probably other industries too).
While there is a long way to go in resolving the issues surrounding gender equality and the pay gap, there is already much being done by individuals, businesses and non-profits like Girls Who Code.
So what can we all do to make a difference?
Encourage girls to be brave (and also take STEM subjects at school and look into uni courses relating to STEM fields). Let your child dream of being an engineer, fire truck, unicorn, marine biologist - no matter their gender. If you see something that you are uncomfortable with, call it out. Destigmatise paternity leave and male caring roles (and never, ever call looking after your own kids ‘babysitting’). Be transparent with hiring, promotion and pay decisions.
I’m sure there are a million other things that can be done, but at least this is a start!
Further reading, links and resources:
And some final notes:
I love finding hidden things. Even better if they are adorably tiny pieces of public art. We had been living in Cardiff for about a month already before I thought to take a peek inside one of these bollards on the Hayes. And how exciting to find a tiny story hidden in each one!
So what is my (somewhat tenuous) link to sustainability this time?
I think that public art like this is a really nice way to encourage people to take a moment to discover something about a place that might normally seem mundane. By enabling us to engage with our surroundings in a positive way, we are more likely to care about and therefore take care of public areas. The Living Building Challenge has a beauty petal which recognises the value of public art and design features “intended solely for human delight and the celebration of culture, spirit, and place”. Similarly, one of the principles of the One Planet Living framework is health and happiness - and it certainly made my day a little happier to find these hidden treasures.
(On a less hippy-dippy note, the Greenwich Peninsula piece was actually part of a hoarding around a development under construction. I thought it was a highly effective way of engaging with the passing public and informing them about the development.)
Public art like this provides an excuse and an opportunity to engage with the local environment, and perhaps share the delight it brings with those around you. So next time you are out and about, slow down and keep an eye out for hidden things.
As much as I love cycling, until recently I had never taken an entirely human-powered holiday. Which means that every holiday I have ever taken has been powered by fossil fuels (some more than others, thanks to those international flights!). Perhaps it is understandable - in Melbourne you have to cycle at least 50 kilometres in any direction just to get out of the city.
We seized the chance over the Easter long weekend to try something new, and what resulted was one of the most satisfying and refreshing short breaks I have ever had. With the prospect of two weekends of international flights ahead (a wedding in Hungary followed by a trip back to Australia), I really couldn't stand the thought of being cramped in a bus, train or plane. So I came up with the slightly crazy idea of riding the entire length of the 88 kilometre Taff Trail over the weekend - and my boyfriend, supportive as always, went along with it.
For those not based in Wales (or not super into cycling infrastructure), the Taff Trail is a route that runs from Cardiff to Brecon through a lovely mountain range called the Brecon Beacons (perhaps that should have been a warning that the ride might be a bit hilly). It is part of the National Cycle Network in the UK, which signposts safe(ish) routes for cycling across the country. I say (ish) because some of the routes are on roads which never feel quite as pleasant as a fully separated bike path.
So how did it go? As you can see from the pictures, the scenery was nothing short of spectacular (actually the photos really don’t do it justice). However, it was definitely a challenge and I learnt some lessons for the next time that we decide to take an adventure by bike.
Tip 1 - Have something to look forward to. We weren't paying anything for transport on this trip so we splurged and stayed at a pretty fancy schmancy bed and breakfast. The thought of a hot shower made the last 25 kilometres coming into Brecon when we were soaking wet so much more bearable (refer also to tip 3 on weather). If you are looking for a place to stay, I highly recommend Herdmans Bed and Breakfast. Janie and Nick were wonderfully welcoming and helped us to dry all our wet gear and safely store our bikes, not to mention the delicious breakfast (they also have solar panels!).
Tip 2 - Know your limits. And then push them. I knew we had ridden 80 kilometres in a day before, so I figures 88 kilometres would be fine. I didn't quite take into account that it would be through a mountain range though. We spent a good 9 - 10 hours on the road each day of the ride, but that included quite a few breaks to eat and take photos. Nonetheless, we were glad for the lengthening spring days, as we only just made it to Brecon in daylight. If we had known what a challenge it would be, we might have just taken the sensible option of a bus to Brecon. And if there was an easy way for us to give up halfway after lunch in Merthyr Tydfil, I think we would have. But we pressed on and were rewarded with the most spectacular views in the second half of the ride.
Tip 3 - Check the weather. Turns out there was a yellow weather warning for storms on the first day of the ride. We didn't realise this until the last minute, and even then decided not to reschedule because we wanted to take advantage of the bank holiday. But if you happen to find a sunny weekend in Wales, definitely choose that one for the ride! I have never felt so miserable riding down a hill as on the last 25 kilometres of the ride to Brecon, because we were so cold and wet. Nothing a hot shower couldn't fix though, and we certainly felt a sense of achievement afterwards.
Tip 4 - Pack light. We were staying in a bed and breakfast so were able to fit everything we needed for the weekend in two panniers (neither of which were on my bike...lucky me!). While I will happily load up my bike (and myself) with 20+ kilograms of groceries for a quick trip through the city, I certainly had an easier time going up hills than my wonderful boyfriend who was lugging all our stuff. That said, I would like to try more bike touring after this ride. We passed and chatted to a particularly inspirational Polish family who were carrying everything that they needed to camp self-sufficiently - even their son who looked to be about 10 years old was carting panniers and a backpack. After seeing them I felt rather less impressed with myself, having carried nothing!
Tip 5 - Stay positive. We knew it would be a long ride so from the outset I was very conscious of staying positive and appreciating the scenery. It helped that we set out with the mindset to enjoy the journey, rather than focusing on the destination. Riding up an unrelenting hill on a gravel path for 10 kilometres at the start of the ride home was made much easier by making jokes, singing and exclaiming at the snow covered peaks which had been covered by mist on our way there.
If you are planning a ride around Cardiff, Wales or the UK, here are some fun and useful resources to check out:
Like everyone, I have moments where I lack motivation. This morning was one of those mornings...I was tired, it was raining, a car nearly ran into me on the way to work.
I thought it might be nice to post some inspiration for those days when I lose track of why I love to live sustainably.
I was reading an article on The Fifth Estate the other day which really resonated with my views on sustainability. The last two paragraphs especially:
Perhaps it’s time to reframe the conversation. Sustainability is not about “cutting pollution”, but improving access to fresh air and clean water. It’s not about “minimising energy consumption” but about having more money to spend on things other than utility bills. And it’s not about “reducing motor-vehicle dependence” but about gaining a healthy, active lifestyle.
Sometimes in the deluge of negative news around the cost of cutting pollution or the challenges of integrating new technologies, I find I can lose sight of the bigger picture. It's bits of inspiration like this that remind me why I love sustainability.
If you are in the mood for some more inspiration, check out this video. When I told my sister I had a blog about sustainability, she said I should write about it. It is a few years old, so apologies if you have already seen it. It is advertising, but at the same time, it makes me very happy.
I'd love to know what some of your sources of sustainability inspiration are. Let me know in the comments!
Welcome to Wonderfully Green...
My name is Kara and I created this blog as a way to document all the lovely aspects of sustainability. You can find out more on my About page.
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