Metropolis Environmentalist

I’m now living in London, not just studying here. I feel, at times, like a Londoner. I can navigate Central without a map, most of the time; I get bothered by tourists standing on the left; I have been to more pubs than I have digits to count on; I’ve been on every tube line (bar the stupid Waterloo and City, but that’s a matter of principle) and now I even know whether the Thames is filling up or flowing out at any given time.

It has changed me.

There are lots of ways I’ve changed here, and most are because of what I’ve been doing. New education, new friends, new perspectives. But I’ve also been changed by living in such a big city, and it’s only recently I realised how subtle yet strong the shift has been.

Midnight last night; the Thames on a very low ebb tide, revealing a riverbed studded with rubbish.

The fire of my environmentalism, strong enough that a mere 15 months ago I was actively lobbying MPs and campaigning on this blog, has been doused by the grinding reality of being surrounded by sprawling, ubiquitous urban development.

It’s hard to avoid. Time is a precious commodity in such a busy city, and it takes time to care about things. The ‘environment’ – or what I care about in it – is out of sight and, too often, out of mind. Standing in the middle of a uniformly concreted suburb, with rubbish bags full of leaves piling up on the corners, it’s hard to be motivated to pick up one of the dozens of bits of plastic littering the gutter. In a poorly designed house, it’s hard not to turn on the radiator to push away the chill and gloomy morning haze (I haven’t… yet).

My handful of trips out of London have been snatches of natural air, but they’ve never been long enough to arrest the slide. I put it down to the nature of the cityscape, and the people and society in it. Walking around Broulee Headland on my own in 2010, I was experiencing the exact thing I want to preserve for the future.

Broulee Nature Reserve, on New South Wales' South Coast.

But when I walk home past Chelsea’s wealthy streets, I’m never struck by the same feeling, that this is something beautiful and fragile and worth my time to save.

It’s not all bad. My time here has fanned the flames of my passion for science outreach and education, and in the often-strange and chaotic job I’ve found myself in, I have some great chances to share the creativity, inquisitiveness and intrigue of science with lots of people. And it’s not like I’m driving a Hummer, or wasting stuff needlessly (too poor for that!). But I do find myself being more laissez faire about some habits, like light switches, that I’d come to think of as hard-wired back home. And I understand better how living in a city the size of London, especially for a long time, can make environmental protection seem impossibly distant, irrelevant and idealistic.

I’m not the same person I was a year ago. London has seeped into my system, eroding some of my beliefs and building up others. Intellectually, I am still deeply concerned by the plight of our planet, but the spark of motivation to really act, that I was able to find so often while living in Australia, is fainter and wavering in this hard-edged metropolis.


On another note, this is my 600th post, and I’ve just tipped the 200 subscriber mark. It’s been two and a half years blogging now, and while my spare time and motivation have been on a bit of a dip recently, I ain’t planning on stopping any time soon, so thanks for reading! If you feel like it, have a spin on this link, which will jump you to a random post from my archive. Where will the time machine take you?

Categories: environmentalism, Problems, Thoughts | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Metropolis Environmentalist

  1. Depends on your perspective, Dave. You are living without a car. You walk to work. You are living in a place where lots of buildings are made to last. Where fast trains operate, Where decent emissions targets are law. That’s different to Australia. The hard edged metropolis isnt completely eroding your “green”!

  2. Hi there!! whatever London did to you, any place in the world will do. Because that´s the fantastic thing about getting to know new places and cultures, you are never the same after the experience, something, sometimes something very subtle, has changed. Believe me, it´s an enriching experience.

    Congrats on your posts!!

  3. Thanks Ellen, and John – I suppose it was just a bit of melancholy about the change because it was a real motivating force for me, and it has gone away a bit. I think it also shows I need to get out of the city more often to find a balance!

    • without a doubt David. I´d be dead in this city if it weren´t for my getaways … just a day by a river with no noise around me does wonders!!

      Have a nice weekend!

  4. Alana

    Hi Dave,
    I enjoy reading here. You lead such an exciting life, or at least appear to. The thing I dislike is
    that I have asked you questions, and of course, never receive answers. I will try to just make
    comments, I suppose. It’s not as interesting. I posted about the “blue plastic bag”, and asked
    questions that I will never get answers to. So, what’s the point….think about it. Perhaps you
    should state “Comments only, no questions.”

  5. Alana

    Steve Irwin’s daughter Bindy has grown into a really beautiful young lady. He would be so proud of her!


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