We walk down the path, past rows of medicinal herbs and clusters of flowers of colours almost too vibrant to be natural. The sun’s muted behind a bank of cloud, a pleasant break from the bright, dry heat that beat down from morning to midday.
My dad and I are discussing the word ‘biome’, whether it’s word of its own or a portmanteau of ‘bio’ and ‘dome’. We both lean towards the latter. Then something strikes me: ‘But, in Minecraft the separate climates are called biomes,’ I say, ‘so I guess its some kind of specific ecosystem.’ I look it up on my phone’s dictionary: a complex biotic community characterized [sic] by distinctive plant and animal species and maintained under the climatic conditions of the region, especially such a community that has developed to climax. ‘Well, there we are then.’
The Eden Project has two bio-dome biomes. The Mediterranean biome and the rainforest biome, where I, my dad and my partner – with our daughter Audrey settled against her chest in a sling – are headed.
Nestled in an old clay quarry and surrounded by woodland, with its geodesic domes rising like giant Halo bubble-shields, the Project feels like some science-fiction secret garden. Or perhaps a futuristic utopian community in a post-apocalyptic world, living off the land, oblivious to the horrors without, like the Treeminders of Oasis in Fallout 3, an impossibly verdant settlement in the irradiated wasteland of post(nuclear)war Washington, D.C.
My sister says this would be the prefect place to settle in a zombie apocalypse. Sure, it’s big, but there must be some kind of barrier to stop people sneaking in, plus there’s the natural defence of it being sunken in a clay pit, so you should be able to secure the perimeters; there are fortifiable structures and bridges, high vantage points, and an abundance of plant-life for medicine and food and all the horticultural equipment you could need.
It may seem a bit doom-and-gloom, thinking about the end of the world, whether it be by biological weapons (Oryx & Crake), nuclear war (Fallout 3) or Zombies (my sister), but that’s what the Eden Project brings to mind. Things are defined be what they’re not – they’re haunted by their opposites. The name itself is obviously taken from the biblical garden of Eden – paradise before the Fall – highlighting that such a place does not and cannot exist.
As a conservation charity and an institution of environmental education, the Project reminds us that our world is in jeopardy – it is in need of conservation. After wandering round the rainforest biome captivated by the flora (banana trees, papayas, peanuts, rice and chilies), the architecture (various little hunting huts and a replica Malaysian home of bamboo and corrugated iron) and the fauna (roul-roul partridges and their chicks, the male with a red mohawk like Rufio from Hook) we reach the end of the exhibition – and a stark reminder of the state of the world: An area of primary forest the size of this Biome is destroyed every 10 seconds, reads a plaque besides a scene of devastation, charred tree trunks jutting out of arid soil like an extreme close-up of a stubbly chin.
It’s sobering. Disheartening. An area of primary forest the size of this staggering construction is destroyed every 10 seconds. The Eden Project is here as much for our education as our entertainment.
What can we do about it? In the shop between the biomes there is a sign beside a cut-out of a bloody chainsaw, it reads: Your wallet is your weapon. Consumer power has facilitated huge changes in recent times. Fairtrade products have become commonplace over the last dozen years, and new companies and products focusing on being eco-friendly, ethical, organic and green are gaining popularity, challenging big businesses to follow the trend or fall behind.
Corporations are legally bound to make as much money as possible, even if that means breaking the law. Remember in Fight Club the protagonist’s job is to calculate the potential cost of lawsuits in cases of injury or fatality and compare it to the cost of recalling faulty cars, always choosing the cheaper option? That’s actually a thing. Any corporation that professes to be concerned about environmental issues can only act on those concerns if they benefit the shareholders. Hence consumers have the power to force corporations to act responsibly by only purchasing goods or services from those companies which already do so.
One problem, however, is that companies are often covert about the negative effects of their products. Whereas the issues in the limelight eventually become the norm and woe be the brand who fails to comply, new unethical and damaging practices can often slip below the radar. Take, for instance, the recent revelations about plastic microbeads in some exfoliating scrubs and toothpastes – plastic particles small enough to pass through our filtration systems and pollute our oceans. Consumer power may be making headway, but the effort is ongoing and we must remain vigilant to new threats and dangers.
I may seem to have suddenly jumped from deforestation to some anti-corporation rant, but vast swathes of rainforest are being destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. While in Malaysia and Indonesia steps are being taken to limit deforestation, palm oil producers are now looking to the forests of Central Africa to set up new plantations. As a consumer, you have the power to limit this destruction by boycotting items that contain palm oil and therefore reducing the demand for the substance. You can find a palm oil product guide here to help you make informed choices as a consumer.
The world is cottoning on to the need to protect our planet. Even the climate change skeptics who choose to ignore overwhelming evidence can’t argue with the simple logic that pollutants pollute, finite resources will one day run out and that the decimation of habitats, homes and oxygen-producing plants due to deforestation is a bad thing. We’re moving in the right direction, but each of us needs to do more, and I for one will start trying harder to do my bit.
This is the resolve with which I leave the Eden Project, walking back up the path past medicinal flowers, with my daughter now asleep against my chest in the sling. The sun has burnt through the overcast clouds, and I shield Audrey’s eyes from the bright light. Jason deCaires Taylor’s ‘The Rising Tide‘ is being exhibited outside the Core. It is a series of stark concrete sculptures depicting the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the horses’ heads replaced by oil extraction machinery. I look at the defiant, suited figures, and the two children who inherit the mess their elders have made, and I hold my daughter close.