Sir Tim Smit, the visionary behind the ground-breaking Eden Project in Cornwall, wants to team up with Australia’s scientific and arts communities to create a new project in Tasmania that he hopes will “blow the socks” off its visitors.
Smit says plans are already in progress to do an expanded version of his Eden Project in Tasmania. Only this time, the idea is to combine with the talents of the MONA art gallery and Australia’s scientific community to provide an even more profound experience, and to make Hobart a base for the Asian equivalent of NASA.
“What we seeking to achieve in Hobart is a science centre and artistic installation that draws upon the power of MONA,” Smit tells RenewEconomy in an interview from Cornwall, ahead of his appearance at WomAdelaide next month.
Quite simply, Smit wants visitors to the centre and have their lives changed.
“I want them to see theatre that blows their socks off. I want them to feel scared their lives may end, to feel lonely enough to cry for their mothers, and so fearful that they realise they are at one with the world.
“And I want to achieve all of that while doing away with classifications of being a rabid leftie or a right wing bastard.”
It sounds like quite a challenge. But Smit argues that it a natural extension of what has already been achieved in Cornwall, where the Eden Project has attracted 16 million visitors since its opening in 2001, and injected nearly $2 billion into the local economy.
Smit and his team transformed an empty clay pit into an extraordinary series of Biomes (glass domes) that feature the best in horticultural and sustainability practices.
It has been dubbed an “eighth wonder of the world” and is now looking to add a 3-4MW geothermal plant – drawing from the heat in underground granite rocks – to add to its 30kW of solar and a single wind turbine.
It is also looking to take the concept overseas. China and Australia are the first destinations.
“What we have done there is to create a cultural shift among a people who might have thought were parochial and in the middle of nowhere, but who started to see themselves at the start of something very important,” Smit says.
“In Australia, you are the kings of the Southern Ocean. There is an opportunity to create a world leading centre for study of southern oceans and the Antarctic.
“If you combine that with the artistic sensibility of MONA, and the power of the digital world, then I have no doubt that Australia can be a global leader in dealing with these significant environmental issues.”
Smit does not want to brow-beat his visitors, but he clearly wants to leave a big impression. It’s not a matter of “you should do this”, but if you ask people if they went to save the Great Barrier Reef, or the forests, then the answer is generally ‘yes’.
“I have always been obsessed with this idea where I imagine myself walking through a field, picking up rocks. I might add five rocks a day. Before long, there is suddenly a building and a shelter.
“These small bits of effort add up over short period of time to something significant. It makes the invisible visible. We are so used to looking for silver bullets because we wanted immediate solutions.
“We have to re-imagine the future .. but we have to change the dialogue. I have never changed my opinion about something when I have been shouted at.”
China is embracing the concept and last year signed an agreement to build three Eden projects in their country.
“They understand their nation is fragile and that they can develop themselves in way that history will write about the period thousands of yes from now if they can achieve it,” Smit says.
“They are aghast that we are not more dynamic in the west about climate change. They ask why we allow our politicians to say it’s not worth investing in renewables because China and India are emitting so much.
“They think we have betrayed capitalism. China is now producing more solar panels than the rest of the world … and more wind power. Yet we allow people who want to trash China to say that they are building one coal-fired power station a week – it is just not true.
Smit says the Australian concept is two-thirds its way through feasibility and design, and when that is finished it will be presented to the “political powers that be” to get further support.
“In Hobart there is the Antarctic division … you have got MONA, wouldn’t it be an incredible thing to say to use the Bureau of Meteorology to create the equivalent of NASA for Asia,” he says.
“Australia could then straddle that whole area for climate science and ocean science. Straddle it like a colossus. What we need is for politicians not to see it as left-wing plot for climate change, but see it as an opportunity to create an expertise for itself.”
Sir Tim Smit will appear in WomAdelaide’s The Planet Talks program on Saturday, March 11, in conversation with Richard Fidler.