Will Self: PsychoGeography #117

Eden today, gone tomorrow
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The Independent Online

January 2043: Another New Year - another massive challenge. Power is, as ever, the problem. Since we first turned the former Mediterranean biome into a peat bog, we have had enough fuel to keep our own, larger biome at a habitable temperature: but now it looks as if the bog is ceasing to be self-sustaining. I idly raised the prospect at this morning's pow-wow of making a foray into the outside world: there must still be some abandoned vehicles on the old A30 that have intact petrol tanks.

However, I am now so old that young men and women of the community will not listen to me. They cannot remember the first years we spent here at the Project, or how - before the conditions outside utterly deteriorated - Martin Bulmer and I succeeded in siphoning petrol from the cars and buses that had brought us here. Without that fuel we never would've survived. The young Edenites care nothing for this - to them Bulmer and I are living fossils. I try to tell them that before the Gulf Stream switched off, and Britain was plunged into a new Holocene, the realm outside the Project was like the interior of the big biome: grassy hillsides studded with deciduous trees, neat fields of wheat, vegetable plots and orchards.

This they frankly disbelieve. They claim that the Project was created by a Supreme Ecologist and that the evidence of his wisdom is all around in the form of inspirational signs. Bulmer and I have tried to explain to them that these hokey quotes from Lao Tzu, Gandhi and Xenophon, were placed in the biomes by very human designers, and that they should be taken as divine tablets is just one of the furious ironies of this new era. Almost as furious as the fate of the Project itself, which was originally built as an exhibition of the earth's biodiversity, and as ended up as the final redoubt of human life in Britain - perhaps even the world.

Strange how extreme old age bestows such clarity of recollection. I can see myself getting out of the family car in the Plum 1 parking zone as if it were yesterday. We walked down to the ticket booth marvelling at the way this old Cornish quarry had been transformed: its steep sides sculpted into artificial terraces, and at the bottom sat the two massive geodesic biomes, looking like alien spacecraft. At the time I thought the whole Eden Project faintly absurd. The Wee Man - a scarecrow constructed from the average amount of electrical equipment a Briton uses in his or her lifetime - set the tone. This was conservation dumbed down for the masses; a feel-better infotainment experience for those of us who had generated tons of carbon dioxide driving to see the thing.

We spent the morning strolling through the biomes and lunched at Pasty Pod, while watching a troupe of Rajasthani puppeteers. Looking out through the thick, hexagonal, polyurethane panels of the biome I could see the wintry landscape of Cornwall. Was it me, or did it look oddly parched and irradiated?

It wasn't me. A wall of ice spiracles swept down from the rim of the old quarry, lacerating the faces of anyone in the open. Families of eco-trippers ran for cover, their Gore-Tex jackets flayed from their torsos, their fleeces no protection at all against this catastrophic spasm of climate change. Panicking AA members foolishly made a sprint for their cars, which were already stranded in two-metre-deep drifts.

The first hectic months after the cataclysm were harsh. The 1,000-odd visitors who were trapped inside the Eden Project were reduced to a couple of score by vicious fighting. It was amazing to see what savage ideological differences gripped these former denizens of Middle England once the civilising gloves were off. Eventually, Martin Bulmer - a bloody-minded estate agent from Cheadle - and I emerged as the undisputed leaders of the survivors. We instituted the draconian measures necessary to turn the former tourist attraction into a life-saving ark.

Edmund Wilson, the respected evolutionary biologist, predicted that the next era would be dubbed "the Eocene". He thought humanity would be left alone upon a denuded earth. How ironic that instead a fragment of us should find ourselves alone in these linked biomes; lorded over by a quondam estate agent.