bookmark_borderDead Eden

A rainforest robin
Originally uploaded by viralbus

During our stay in Devon, we went on a daytrip to the Eden Project near St. Austell in Cornwall.

It’s supposed to be one of the UK’s main tourist attractions, and most visitors did look very happy.

I thought it was an eery place, however.

Basically, it’s supposed to be “a living theatre of plants”, and its “mission is to tell the world the story of plants that changed history”.

I guess it does that very well (although there seems to be an emphasis on plants used in herbal medicine), but it also achieves it literally: There are no animals!

Compare it to the delightful Randers Regnskov in Denmark, and the difference couldn’t be greater.

Randers Regnskov is teeming with life, but Eden’s huge greenhouses are strangely quiet – no insects, no birds, nothing.

To me, it breaks the illusion completely: No matter how well they reconstruct a Mediterranean landscape, an indivisible part of that consists of the background noices made by the animals. How can you believe even for a second that you’re in a rainforest if nothing’s moving and the fruit is rotting away uneaten on the branches of the trees?

To be fair, the place is not completely dead. There are plenty of Cornish ants, and I also spotted a robin next to their banana plantation, but that just made the absence of tropical fauna even more painful.

I wonder how they keep the place so barren. Not only are there no animals, but I didn’t see many weeds, either, and in a tropical climate you’d expect every square millimetre to be overgrown within a fortnight.

I think I hated the place so much because it was so stunning. The greenhouses (or biomes, as they call them) are enormous and full of the most amazing plants.

If they handed over the site to the people behind Randers Regnskov, it could become a true Eden.

bookmark_borderGenetic engineering of fruits

bananas and pineapples
Originally uploaded by

Am I the only one who loves the taste of pineapples and mangos but finds them a pain?

Pineapples are far too complicated to get into, and mangos have this horrible big stone in the middle.

All fruit should either be very easy to peel, like bananas, or have edible skin, like apples, and they shouldn’t contain any stones or seeds.

Why are the genetic engineers wasting their time on making wheat resistant to herbicides and other boring projects, when they should be developing pinanas (pineapples with banana skin) and pangos (mangos built like a pear, without a stone and with edible skin)?

The technology surely is there, so bring it on!

bookmark_borderBurying trees

buried tree
Originally uploaded by Genista

A scientist called Ning Zeng is proposing to bury trees (in Danish, scientific article in English here) to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

In many ways it’s a fairly obvious idea, given that coal and oil are the result on plants having been buried millions of years ago, so basically burying plant material now is just creating fossil fuel for the far future.

There’s something slightly weird about digging up ancient plants in the form of oil, gas and coal and burning them while burying modern plants to compensate, though.

Why not just stop using fossil fuels instead? Just because it’s more convenient to burn oil than a fir tree?

bookmark_borderNew countries

There is an alarmist article by Gaia Vince in the latest issue of New Scientist, called “Surviving in a warmer world”.

Its basic message is that a global rise in temperatures of just 4 degrees would lead to most current subtropical and tropical areas becoming vast deserts, leading to most people being moved to claustrophobic cities in the far north:

If we allow 20 square metres of space per person — more than double the minimum habitable space allowed per person under English planning regulation — 9 million people would need 18,000 square kilometres of land to live on. The area of Canada alone is 9.1 million square kilometres and, combined with all the other high-latitude areas, such as Alaska, Britain, Russian and Scandinavia, there should be plenty of room for everyone, even with the effects of sea-level rise.

These precious lands with access to water would be valuable food-growing areas, as well as the last oases for many species, so people would need to be housed in compact, high-rise cities. Living this closely together will bring problems of its own. Disease could easily spread through the crowded population so early warning systems will be needed to monitor any outbreaks.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Anyway, given that I’m not a climate scientist, I can’t really tell how likely this scenario is.

But one thing I must comment on:

In order to survive, humans may need to do something radical: rethink our society not along geopolitical lines but in terms of resource distribution. […] “We need to look at the world afresh and see it in terms of where the resources are, and then plan the population, food and energy production around that.”

I think they basically have some kind of planned redivision in mind, with the UN tearing down countries and creating new ones.

That is never going to happen.

If some smallish countries were lost to the sea, I guess the UN would be able to convince most countries to take their share of refugees, although most of them would be bound to end up in camps in neighbouring countries.

Alternatively, I guess some countries could try to buy new land. E.g., if Bangladesh were about to be submerged, I guess Russia might sell it a small chunk of Siberia.

I’m not convinced, though. 150 million Bangladeshis within Russia would lead to huge geopolitical change, and I’m doubtful Russia would agree to that willingly.

So I think reality would be a mixture: Some rich groups of people, or even countries, might buy new homelands in Canada or Siberia. Some peoples would be scattered across the world. And millions upon millions of people would lead hopeless lives in refugee camps.

Not neat, but much more realistic than the ultra-rational dystopia imagined by New Scientist.

bookmark_borderScottish beavers

Originally uploaded by *n3wjack’s world in pixels

I was thoroughly annoyed a couple of years ago when the Labour government in Scotland rejected a proposal to set beavers free in Scotland, just because some landowners thought they would be a hassle.

So I was very pleased when I learned that the proposal has now been given the green light by the SNP government.

Beavers were released in the wild in Denmark a few years ago, and it’s been a big success. Sure, they build damns and flood fields, but that’s the whole point – the resulting wetlands are great for lots of animals, not just the beavers.

bookmark_borderBiler i København

Copenhagen Car
Originally uploaded by jamo

En af de første ting, Phyllis lagde mærke til i København, var, hvor få biler, der var. Det føltes slet ikke som en storby, sagde hun.

Senere lagde vi begge mærke til, hvor beskidt luften føltes.

Hvordan kan begge dele være sande på én gang? Skyldes det mon den gamle bilpark, der igen skyldes de høje danske bilafgifter?