How did you become interested in environmental issues?
I grew up in Tasmania, Australia where environmental issues have been in the press and all around me since I was a young girl. I first got involved around the ‘Franklin Dam’ issue. This was a wild river in the South West of Tasmania that was going to be dammed to produce hydro-electricity.
At the time (in the 1980s for me) there were lots of protests and people came from all over the world to try to save the river (David Bellamy got locked up in a Tasmanian jail for protesting against the dam!). It was considered to be one of the most significant environmental campaign victories in Australia’s history, but it also captured the attention and helped in forming many ‘green groups’ around the world – including the German greens.
In retrospect, I’m really glad the river was saved and that I learned so much from being involved, but it saddens me that it is still such a divisive issue in Tasmanian politics. Environment should be important to everyone, but in Tasmania there are many negative attitudes towards green campaigners, and equally many green campaigners are negative towards industry. I’d like it better if we could all work together…
What are you most interested in relation to environment at the moment?
I have long been interested in seaweed as a resource. A little like bamboo, it grows really quickly and doesn’t require many resources to do so. It is full of nutritional goodies that don’t exist in land based plants, and I’ve long been interested in understanding why we don’t eat it much in the west, but it’s such an important food in other parts of the world.
Seaweed is an environmentally interesting product because it captures carbon, grows quickly and doesn’t need our precious fresh water to do so. I’d like to see us enjoying seaweed a little more in the diet, because it can taste great and it’s very good for you. I think younger people have a better chance of developing this resource because they’ve grown up with sushi and don’t seem so reluctant to try it.
I am also chair of a community garden in the north east of England, the ‘Station Masters Community Wildlife Garden’. We have one of the only known slow worm populations in this part of the world and we are working hard to ensure that the slow worms can inhabit the space alongside people using it to learn about growing food and biodiversity issues. You can look at our facebook site to see what we are up to – at stationmasterscommunitywildlifegarden.
What do you think you will be doing in 1 year, 5 years and 10 years’ time?
I will probably still be doing what I’m doing now but I hope I’ll be better at it as time goes on - and will have had more success at getting people interested in seaweed! I still have much to learn, and while the evidence is getting better, there is still so much we don’t know about the benefits of seaweeds in the human diet.
What makes you most optimistic, and what makes you most pessimistic about the future in relation to environmental issues?
I’m concerned about many things to do with the future, environment and the rapid loss of biodiversity on the planet. But what interests me most is how we are going to feed everyone and keep them healthy and happy. I think we need to think about food from ‘source to senses’ - this is a term my colleagues at the University of London and I thought up to replace the idea of ‘farm to fork eating’.
If we understand better the source of our food, what is the best thing to grow and why, and get better at understanding why we like the foods we do, we can not only ‘link up’ the important questions of where our food comes from, but we might enjoy it better and live better too!
I am optimistic about the future of seaweed and when I was at the last International Seaweed Symposium in Bali in April 2013 I saw lots more scientists and industry people getting behind these ideas.
This diary is featured in the Creative Climate Learning Journey Neither Land Nor Sea.