Enviro-Idiocy in Cornwall

I just got back to London from Cornwall where, among other things, I visited something called the the Eden Project. It’s basically a big terrarium (or botonical garden) set in a former clay pit in Cornwall. Since the people who set it up couldn’t be satisfied just setting up a big garden (something the Brits do quite well), it’s billed as a major “educational project.” Fair enough, except that almost all of the “information” conveyed to the public was utter bollocks. (That’s Brit-speak for nonsense, rubbish, bullshit, etc.) Upon entering the ticket area (and gigantic souvenir shop), you are confronted by a gigantic “informational” display that informs you that:

If we could shrink the earth to a village with a population of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, there would be:

57 Asians

27 Europeans

14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south

52 would be female

48 would be male

70 would be non-white

30 would be white

70 would be non-Christian

30 would be Christian

89 would be heterosexual

11 would be homosexual

6 people would possess 59% of the entire world’s wealth and would be from the United States….

[More pseudo-facts follow after those…}

Now what’s wrong with that? Well, it’s full of rubbish. I’ve not got access at the moment to reliable statistics (but will check the various sources when I get back to D.C., or maybe before), but notice the claims about sexuality (the most reliable evidence indicates probably between 2 and 4 percent of males are homosexual) and about the distribution of wealth (which is remarkably wide of the mark). In addition to being inaccurate:

A) It’s misleading, as the actual disproportion (about which more in a later posting) has to do with how much of “the entire world’s wealth” is produced, not merely “possessed” (as if it just fell from heaven, or as if the inhabitants of the U.S. were just lucky to get all the good land);

B) It’s hate propaganda, as remarkably disproportionate numbers could have been put up about Sweden, Italy, or even the Duchy of Cornwall, all of which are quite wealthy in comparison to the world average. (The Eden Project displayed the kind of hatefulness that is usually manifested as anti-Semitism. It would be made more obvious if we were to write instead: “1 person would possess 12% of the world’s wealth and would be a Jew.” The point of the pseudo-fact would be clear in that case, as it should be in the one actually put up by the Eden Project.)

When I was photographing the gigantic posters, a very friendly lady offered me a printed version of the poster. When I asked where the information had come from, she said that someone had seen it on the internet and so they put it up. Donors to the Eden Project (including taxpayers of the European Union and the United Kingdom) should know just how the Eden Project is “educating” the public. A project that has consumed millions and millions of pounds on the pretence of being an educational trust that just slaps up some bit of spam from the internet as the centerpiece of their “educational project” should be subject to serious scrutiny by its trustees and donors.

5 Responses to “Enviro-Idiocy in Cornwall”

  1. Listen mate,
    just cos we decided to build a big monument to Mother Nature instead of Michael Eisner as a family attraction doesn’t mean you have to scoff and belittle it. Everyone I know has really enjoyed it as entertainement and a gentle ‘heads-up’ about world biodiversity; CITES has more detailed info.

  2. Now, is anti-americanism analogous to anti-semitism? Please. The scale and depth of feeling doesn’t even come close – let alone the fact that the US is a giant superpower, not a vulnerable ethnic minority. I love you guys but you need to do yourselves a favour and get humble if you want to win any popularity contests!

  3. Tom G. Palmer

    Dear Mr. Parker,

    Thank you for your comments. (It was on a rather old posting so the system asked me whether it should be posted, which I approved. Such old postings are normally where the porno spammers place their “comment/advertisements”, which is why the system I use asks for my approval for comments on very old posts. In any case, that posting was up before I added the comments section, which is why your comments are the only ones there…So, with all that as prologue, please allow me to respond.)

    My disappointment in the Eden Project was not with the lack of commercialism (which, come to think of it, was not lacking at all).

    I found it disappointing as a garden, but that’s not such a big thing. Since I have lived in and very much love Britain, I am acquainted with the glories of English gardening. The Eden Project is no Trelissic. But I’m not a garden critic and would not have written on the subject had it not been for a much more serious disappointment.

    The Eden Project is an organization that claims to be a scientific and educational organization but which was spreading misinformation that would have been very easy to correct. I see that you have an Oxford address (I took my D.Phil. at Oxford) and I assume on that basis that the accuracy and veracity of claims matter to you. What are the standards that move something that “someone had found on the internet” to the most prominent set of claims that visitors encountered? What are the standards that sprinkle strange little errors of fact stenciled on coffee bags around the exhibits? Have you abandoned all pretence to scientific objectivity the primacy of facts and taken up the kind of postmodern nonsense associated with Jacques Derrida and Paul Feyerabend, according to which one “narrative” is just as good as another? Do the facts and the truth matter to you?

    After I got back to my office, I was able to check the statistical sources for a number of claims that were prominently featured in The Eden Project — and all of it was a complete load of crap. I published an essay in The Spectator on 22 February 2003, which led the director of the Eden Project, Mr. Tim Smit, to threaten on the BBC that he would hit me in the face if we ever met. If my claims were true (and he did not dispute a single one), is that how we arrive at truth? Is that science or education?

    How is it a “gentle heads up about world biodiversity” to make factually incorrect and uncorroborated claims? Where is the “gentle heads up” in writing the following erroneous claim “6 people would possess 59% of the entire world’s wealth and would be from the United States”? Is it true? Or is it just an opportunity to make a cheap shot at the hated Americans? How could you possibly defend that?

    Or is your response like Mr. Smit’s, to threaten on the BBC to hit me in the face for uncovering a pack of utter lies that were being presented as “science” and “education”?

    I hope that the Eden Project has since reformed itself sufficiently to remove such astonishing misinformation. It would not have done so had I not blown the whistle on the complete disregard for facts, for truth, and for the simple standard of checking claims before publishing bits of politically correct spam that “someone had found on the internet.” You should be thanking me, not sending me snippy and catty notes. It is unfortunately typical of a certain kind of Oxford academic to assume that every citizen of the United States is a representative of all Americans.

    If winning popularity contests is what motivates your attitude toward science and objective truths, I urge you to take a long look into your own soul.

    Tom G. Palmer

  4. Team Kernow

    Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, is the latest high profile figure to be recruited into the pantheon of media ‘ celebrity ‘ recruits dragooned by Tim Smit and his London club of cronies for vicarious endorsement of the hugely extravagant but transparently environmentally harmful greenhouses at Bodelva Pit, hubristically branded by its originators as the ‘ eden ‘ ‘ project ‘.

    In her apparent naivety in ecological matters the palatially endowed, much transported and poorly advised Queen Elizabeth II, probably, of all women, the one with the most enormous carbon footprint on the planet has accepted an invitation ( or rather an invitation has been touted for by palace flunkeys) to come all the way from England to Cornwall, on June 1st 2006, to open an idiosyncratic, whimsical building at the overblown Bodelva Pit greenhouses. The building is, as usual, given a flamboyant spinmeistered name — The Core. Its fabricators claim a contrived connection between its architecture and the mathematical Fibonacci sequence which, in turn, it is claimed, reflects geometric patterns in some plant life. So around Ã?Â??Ã?Â?Ã?£15M of public moneys in one form or another have been blown on this single small building which can be readily seen simply as ugly, pretentious and irrelevant to Cornwall’s and, indeed, our planet’s wider needs and mankind’s place within them.

    In Cornwall itself, Cornwall ‘ County ‘ Council recently announced a swathe of cuts across public services throughout Cornwall in the areas of education, health and social care and the library service. In this context the bizarre waste of public moneys at the Bodelva Pit greenhouses is nothing short of scandalous. In the first months of 2006, the administrators of the fossil fuel intensive and misleadingly self-styled ‘ eden ‘ ‘ project ‘ demanded and received an interest payment suspension, due to repayment difficulties, on an outstanding start-up loan of Ã?Â??Ã?Â?Ã?£1.8M from Cornwall ‘ County ‘ Council along with an additional non-returnable grant of Ã?Â??Ã?Â?Ã?£360, 000 – http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=30393.
    Short on the heels of that Ã?Â??Ã?Â?Ã?£360,000 grant, library services throughout Cornwall suffered a budget cut of Ã?Â??Ã?Â?Ã?£350,000 – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cornwall/4949686.stm .
    In the meantime, the fossil fuelled and misleadingly self-styled ‘ eden ‘ ‘ project ‘ continues to sidetrack Cornwall’s economic thrust away from sustainable real year round job creation and stability up the disenfranchising and socially and environmentally disruptive and destructive garden path of tourism dependency.
    Some informative references:

    At war with nature:
    Tarmac over that indigenous plantlife!:
    Cognitive engineering:
    Big Brother primer:
    Can there be more?���¢�¢?�¬���¦

    Surely some mistake?