Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Gardens - revisited

A few months ago I blogged about a forthcoming new attraction in Singapore—the Gardens by the Bay—a biodiversity exhibition under domes such as those that have become familiar through the UK’s Eden Project. The expansive confidence of the enterprise in Singapore’s downtown is undeniable, including a cloud dome and a flower garden boasting blooms from every continent.  Just opened now, I have been able to walk around the first phase and wonder at the engineering feats as well as the splendour of the natural flora on show.

The striking centre-piece of the gardens are some false super-trees constructed out of steel, like something from a fantasy movie and intertwined with a variety of real trees and saprophytes. The engineering is awesome, just as the giant framework of the skeletal domes also stretch into the sky. They seem to be straining at the very limit of human endeavour, holding up immense structures that protect the biospheres.  It is a metaphor, I thought, for the decisions we are making right now about sustainability. Either we are straining at the edges but will be able to extend technology so that it can protect and enhance the environment or we have reached the limits of what is humanly possible (typified by these super-rich city states of Singapore and the Gulf) and will find ourselves soon falling back, overcome by the strain. I wonder which it will be?

The really interesting aspect of the Gardens is the highly educational presentations and displays that every visitor has to pass through setting out the facts of global warming and explaining what each person can do. I did not know, for example, that human beings breath in 0.8 kg of oxygen per day on average, while we breathe out 1 kg of carbon dioxide per day—so we are on a losing wicket right from the start! While nature’s carbon cycles potentially balance out, man’s additions to greenhouse gasses could add up to 5'C this century cumulatively and exponentially. We can argue projections but there’s no doubting the power of the overall story being told.

Great efforts have been made to make these gardens carbon neutral (let’s not ask about the embedded carbon in the physical structures) but like our planet, what we do next and how the many thousands of visitors respond make the difference to the outcome, or at least the next pages, of that crucial story.

David Jackman

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