25 years on, eco time capsule (eco-TC) reunions spoke about past and future

Aerosols, bicycle pump and contraceptives reveal fears and hopes

What: 25th Anniversary Reunion of burying eco time capsules across the globe

Why: "We have not inherited the earth from our grandparents, we have borrowed it from our grandchildren" Our aim as always was to declare to all - again - a Warning, an Apology and a Promise

Where we met?:

  • a. Orangery, Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) at Kew, Richmond TW9 3AB
  • b. The Bulley Room, University of Liverpool Botanic Gardens at Ness, Wirral, CH64 4AY

When was this?: Wed 5th June 2019 (World Environment Day) at Kew and Saturday 8th June at Ness

Lead in this initiative & Contact: Prof John Guillebaud jguillebaud@btinternet.com


a. Kew first:

Environment time capsules [eco-TCs] containing environmentally-relevant artefacts of the time (both good and bad) were buried in June 1994 at RBG Kew, at Ness Gardens, and in South Africa, the Seychelles, Mount Annan near Sydney and in Mexico. To mark the 25th Anniversary, there was a Reception initially in the Orangery at Kew for about 110 participants. Apologies for not being present were received from, among others, Susan Hampshire, (who said she was 'devastated' to be absent as she had attended all previous eco TC events at Kew) and Sir David Attenborough (who has repeatedly written in support of this eco-TC project but was abroad filming). The Mayor of Richmond Nancy Baldwin opened proceedings, then the Director, Richard Deverell, welcomed all to Kew with a special mention of a distinguished predecessor in his role, Sir Ghillean Prance, who both authorised and participated in the original burial ceremony in June 1994. Others present had been brought as children or babies to Kew in 1994 by their eco-aware and already-concerned parents: they were asked to stand for a special welcome by all. UCL Professors John Guillebaud (Reproductive Health) and Chris Rapley CBE (Climate Science) followed with speeches on the three themes of the eco-TCs, namely:

  • a Warning to the present, focussing on the existential threats posed by climate change and on the whole web of life through the decimation of ever more species
  • an Apology to "all our grandchildren" in the future, highlighting the inter-generational ethics which Professor Rapley has also addressed, with Duncan MacMillan, in 2071: The World We’ll Leave Our Grandchildren; and crucially going on to
  • a Promise to do our collective best to work towards "changing hearts, minds and policies before it's too late". This remains the project's ambitious objective, to do all necessary on the required scale to achieve true long-term environmental sustainability, in harmony with the Natural world, so that 'sorry' in 2044 would not - against the odds - need to be said. At this reunion we had to admit, however, that the chances of "our grandchildren" digging the time capsule up in June 2044 and being puzzled by why we were apologising, were not looking too rosy...
    It had been easier to hope for that in 1994.

To make these themes more vivid, the event included: brief video links to two of the related projects similarly marking their 25th anniversaries, namely those in Australia and in South Africa; video clips including Greta Thunberg at age 16 challenging the World Economic Forum (WEF) about the climate crisis; and a "climate protest" staged by the "Green Team", all even younger than Greta, from Gillespie Primary school, Islington with their teacher Sue Egan. Sir David Attenborough was then shown on screen highlighting how that looming catastrophe and the other environmental threats have an "upstream driver" which is too often unmentioned, namely unremitting population growth. He spoke of his unequivocal support to Population Matters (OPT) of which he is a Patron. John Guillebaud quoted Sir Crispin Tickell (both being also Patrons) that "unending growth is the ethos of the cancer cell" and explained that the ongoing and scary increase in human numbers can and should be better addressed, wisely and compassionately, by removing barriers to accessing the choice to use contraception worldwide, by all couples. Education was crucial to this end, in a threefold way: education for women; the re-education of arguably the majority of men (to give their partners and other women a fairer deal, much greater empowerment and violence never); and better environmental education for both genders everywhere. The latter is paramount since so many adults in all countries, both voters and politicians, regardless of (often) high educational achievement in the academic sense, behave as though uninformed about, or certainly devoid of understanding about, the planet's finitude and the impossibility of unending growth.

The meeting then took the short walk together to the mound where the Kew Eco-TC lies, for a brief ceremony, first reading aloud some of the poems by children and letters written 25 years ago to the future, interrupted frequently (and on message, one might say!) by jet planes about to land at Heathrow. Next we asked the ideal two people present - Mayor of Richmond and Professor of Climate Science from UCL - to jointly lay a replacement above-ground plaque, overlaying the earlier one, with all the previous wording but now also including our URL www.ecotimecapsule.com and its QR code (not possible in 1994). They did this to the accompaniment of Dr Chris Guillebaud's "The Promise", our theme song, now with a supremely relevant verse new for this occasion:

Pollution from us all causing environmental dangers,
We have to act right now, 'cos we are the climate changers;
Population matters, if we are to live sustainably:
We can't outgrow our only home, there is no 'Plan-et B'.

The video version having also featured earlier, we finally "played ourselves out" with those words ringing in our ears, and those of anyone else in the Gardens willing to hear and hopefully, indeed, act on them.

1994 2004 2014 2019


b. What happened at Ness on Saturday June 8?

There were about 40 of us who convened in the Bulley room (named after the first owner of these Gardens) for tea and biscuits. It was a very wet day but our spirits were not dampened; except a bit maybe, by the lack of progress since 1994 in addressing on the necessary scale the planetary sustainability issues raised by the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity, signed in 1992 by the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences and which in fact triggered the ecoTC project.

Mr David Burton, a green entrepreneur who was present at the original placing of the Ness eco time capsule on June 5th 1994, welcomed everyone: and in doing so paid tribute to Garnette and George Bowler, stalwart supporters of the project (and of Storeton Woods and the Wirral Environmental Network) ever since its inception and arranging reunions every year, until their deaths at advanced age in 2016.

Professor John Guillebaud followed with a presentation that covered much of the ground described above at Kew, with the same videos: those linking to the Australian and South African projects, also the Impossible Hamster; Greta Thunberg at the WEF (on the need to "panic" because climate change is so much like "your house is on fire"); and David Attenborough on the ongoing trashing of the planet which he points out is driven in large measure by the relentless increase in the number of planet-trashers (us!). Younger members of the audience then continued our tradition at Ness of cutting up an apple to represent the world, finishing with the peel from 1/32 of it that represents the tiny proportion of the planet that humankind primarily depends upon.

Mr Andrew Miller, formerly local MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston and one time Chair of the Science and Technology Committee in the House of Commons, and with his wife Fran an attender almost every year at past Ness eco TC reunions, then issued all of us with a wise warning against getting on the wrong side of those we are trying to influence. We and they, all of us, are forced by the way the modern world runs to be consumers. Hence, as little as we can manage, but still invariably, we are all caught up in the scenario of the Impossible Hamster video! Yet our concerns expressed in this eco time capsule project are based not on "opinions" but on facts: needing to "tell it how it is" on our finite planet, we must do so forcefully but never antagonistically.

Finally, again following tradition, we adjourned to the lower gardens around the pillar that marks where the time capsule lies, for selected readings of poems and letters from 1994, to play the Promise song in its 2019 re-recorded form, and this time also to attach the shiny replacement plaque to convey our Apology and Promise for the second generation of the project through until 2044.

Some other images from the 2019 events:

John Guillebaud - June 2019