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Sir Crispin Tickell
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Last Updated:
12th June 2014

Created by
Denis Wright and
Jonathan Guillebaud


1994 - 2044
The Environment Time Capsule
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Contents of the Ness Botanical Gardens capsule, 1994

Letter from an Eco-person, 1994, to an Eco-person, 2044

History of the Time Capsule Project


HISTORY OF THE ENVIRONMENT TIME CAPSULE PROJECT

JOHN GUILLEBAUD MA FRCSE FRCOG MFFP

Professor of Family Planning and Reproductive Health
University College, London

"...we must deal with the problem of human numbers if we are ever going to meet human needs...."

In 1959, while still a teenager at Cambridge University, I attended a lecture which changed my life. The biologist Dr Colin Bertram painted a picture of a future in which too many humans might cause ever increasing pollution and resource depletion and seriously threaten the habitats and very existence of many other species with which we share this fragile planet. I learnt that we must deal with the problem of human numbers if we are ever going to meet human needs - and yet, that rather than counting people we should remember that 'people count'.

"...success in death control over the past two centuries must be balanced by adequate voluntary birth control...."

I was then and remain mystified by the lack of effective action, when it ought to be obvious that success in death control over the past two centuries must be balanced by adequate voluntary birth control. Massive national surveys in 60 countries show that family planning is wanted by most of the world's women, yet we do not meet their unmet need - and many mothers die through unwanted pregnancy as a direct result. As UNICEF puts it so well:

"Family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology now available to the human race." [Annual Report, 1992.]

Moreover, UNICEF went on to say "this would still be true even if there were no such thing as a population problem", if one just considers the prevention of maternal and infant deaths from unwanted conceptions.

"Why Isn't Everyone as Scared as We Are?"

This chapter title from Paul and Anne Ehrlich's 1990 book [London: Arrow Books] was echoed by the world's Scientific Academies in October 1993:

'Humanity is approaching a crisis point with respect to the interlocking issues of population, environment and development'.

With well over 7 billion humans now (of whom a mere third by their misapplied technology are already causing well-documented environmental disintegration) and a million new arrivals every four days, to an outsider it might appear that we prize quantity of human flesh above quality of human life! Meeting the material needs and legitimate aspirations of billions of present and future 'have-nots' will threaten global security and irreversibly damage the planet's environment, unless simultaneous attention is paid to the numbers issue - in every country and at all income levels, since births in rich families lead to the greatest environmental damage - and unless the 'haves' live more simply, controlling their consumption of resources and consequent pollution.

"...most world leaders are still fiddling while Rome burns - and the planet chokes...."

Numberless species of animals and plants will be known by our grandchildren only through museums and video-recordings. Whatever will they think of us? In their time there will certainly be mechanisms at work to reduce the imbalances caused by the surfeit of humans, but which mechanisms? Will it be by Nature's crude weapons of famine, old and new diseases, and ever more violence within and between countries? There is still time to reverse the frightening trends. But most world leaders are still fiddling while Rome burns - and the planet chokes.

The Environment Time Capsule

Click here for a larger picture! Linked to the UN's World Environment Day in this Year of the Family, 1994, and addressed to the people of 2044, this was an Apology, a Pledge, a Competition for schoolchildren, a Media Event and a Family Party. Time Capsules containing environmentally relevant objects were buried with explanations and letters of apology at significant sites. In the UK these were Kew Gardens in London and the University of Liverpool's Botanic Gardens at Ness on the Wirral. On the same weekend similar time capsules were buried in Botanic gardens in Mexico, South Africa, the Seychelles and Sydney, Australia.

'...we have not so much inherited the earth from our grandparents, we have borrowed it from our grandchildren....'

The apology concept came to me through that well-known saying 'we have not so much inherited the earth from our grandparents, we have borrowed it from our grandchildren', as I reflected on how they will view us if we continue to weck their inheritance. More important and empowering for all concerned was and is the pledge: to do all we need to do to save the planet, of individual and united action according to our talents and opportunities, changing as necessary our own lifestyles, from that June day onwards: with the goal that the finders of each Time Capsule in the year 2044 will wonder why we apologised!

Children and the Project

Children were central to the project, using their thoughts and ideas as catalysts. They were invited to enter two competitions: one for the best brief letter or poem addressed to the Finder in 2044; the other was to designate a small 1994 artifact for the capsule, either environmentally friendly (eg a bicycle pump) or the reverse (like a petrol cap to represent a car).

On the day itself mothers brought their young children, who wera given certificates entitling them to free entry to the same Botanic Gardens in 2044. This symbolised the importance of children as prime stakeholders in the future. At some of the sites there continue to be regula reunion gatherings on World Environment Day.

Supporters

We had and have the enthusiastic support of David Bellamy and the Conservation Trust, Susan Hampshire the actress, Professor Ghillean Prance, Director of Kew, Professor Robert Marrs, Director of Ness and the staff and management of both Gardens.

The project is ongoing: other countries are invited to join any year by organising a similar time capsule ceremony, still addressed to the people of the same year 2044, and containing the same 'main' letters of Apology, translated as necessary.

Control of consumption, social justice, birth planning, 'leading full lives without dirtying a single stream'! Reader, join us! Come if you can to Kew, or to Ness, and read the inscription above ground. As we campaign together with equal vehemence on all these interconnected issues, why shouldn't apologies to our grandchildren become truly superfluous?

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness!

J0HN GUILLEBAUD MA FRCSE FRCOG MFFP

Professor of Family Planning and Reproductive Health
University College, London