Written by Leslie Lube
I’ve been doing some traveling on my own to try to get acquainted with my surroundings and satisfy some of my curiosity about the United Kingdom before my study abroad program at Bangor University in Wales begins next week During the last couple of weeks I’ve explored only a small part of England and Wales, but I’ve been very fortunate to have spent time in three very unique locations.
I began my trip in Bangor, Wales, which is one of the smallest cities in the U.K. It’s a beautiful little town on the coast of the Irish Sea that has achieved an interesting blend of history and modernity. I also spent time in Oxford, England, a medium-sized city heavily influenced by its famous university. Right now I’m in London, not only the largest city in the U.K. but also one of the largest in the world.
Visiting cities of different sizes and populations has given me a glimpse of how varied the country is – even though it seems so small when compared with the U.S. More importantly, however, I have noticed a lot of similarities that seem to represent trends spreading throughout the nation.
Many of these similarities relate to the idea of “going green,” which has become such a popular topic of discussion recently both here and in the U.S. What has impressed me here is that the idea is not limited to mere discussion but is being noticeably incorporated into everyday life.
This is probably most evident in the amount of public transportation available here, and the fact that people actually take advantage of it. Each of the cities I have visited has an extensive bus system, and each has been connected to national rail lines. These modes of transportion provide convenient and efficient service for thousands of people each day. I’ve seen people on their way to work, students on holiday and families out shopping all using buses, trains and the London Underground.
What’s interesting is that even with the large number of people who already use public transportation there are constant reminders of the importance of conserving fuel and reducing pollution. The people who do own cars are discouraged from using them by congestion charges for driving in busy parts of the city and the expense of fuel in comparison with a bus pass or a train ticket. People are encouraged to share taxis during the busiest times of day to cut cost and air pollution. Also, so many of the cars that I have seen are much smaller and more fuel-efficient than the vehicles in the U.S.
I find it interesting that while the American approach to “going green” involves a lot of research into alternative fuel and higher gas mileage, the big push here is for reducing total vehicle usage. U.K. travel companies are even advertising green vacations and showing individuals how to reduce their carbon footprints while traveling.
Another aspect of the green campaign here is the use of locally grown and organic foods. Restaurants and pubs offer specials featuring fresh ingredients from local growers, and some of the food sold at supermarkets is even labeled with the name of the farmer who grew it. Much of the food that is not produced locally is fair trade merchandise. Almost every coffee shop and tea room that I’ve passed advertises fair trade fare from the drinks themselves to the candy sold at the registers.
This brings me to the fact that I’m very impressed by the ways that charitable institutions and nonprofit organizations are supported here. A lot of pubs have jars located on the counter so that instead of tipping the staff, a person can donate to a cause. All of the cities that I’ve visited have Oxfam, Red Cross or similar stores where people can shop to support philanthropic work. There are also bins located on many streets where people can donate clothing. These are usually located next to recycling centers that accept a surprisingly high and varied amount of items. One sandwich shop I visited claims that 96 percent of the waste it generates can be recycled, and signs ask customers to sort their trash when they return their trays.
So far I’ve enjoyed the ancient buildings and important landmarks that I’ve seen here, but what has impressed me more during my brief time here is the commitment to improvement that I have witnessed. These cities are proud of their history, but they are not afraid to move forward and improve the future.
The poor, filthy streets of a Dickensian novel are nowhere to be seen. The streets of even a city the size of London are surprisingly clean, and a growing number of people seem ready to do their part to help each other and make their nation a better place. I see a definite difference in the level of commitment to change here and in the U.S. We’re good about bringing up the topic of “being green,” but we have a lot of catching up to do to reach the level of progress I’ve seen here.