June 5th 2014 at Kew Gardens and June 7th at Ness Gardens on the Wirral

20th Anniversary Events celebrating the Apology to the Future Time Capsule: since 1994, some Good News and rather more not-so-good news...

Our 20 year celebration involved:

At Kew Gardens

A ceremony was held in bright sunshine on the timecapsule Mound in Kew. Those who witnessed the burial of the timecapsule in 1994 and who returned to mark the 20th anniversary included actress Susan Hampshire, also Benjamin Kill and Henry and Pia Hitchcox whose parents had brought them as babies to the original event. Messages of support had been received from many of those unable to be there on the day, including Sir David Attenborough, Jonathon Porritt, Lionel Shriver and Kim Ellis, Director of Sydney and Mount Annan Botanic Gardens - whose Director Kim Ellis joined the commemoration from the site of the Australian capsule at the end our proceedings, by time-shifted video link.

Proceedings began at 1620 with an introduction from the Lady Mayor of Richmond, Meena Bond (click here for photos of the event). Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, was to follow but since he had unexpectedly been subjected to a '3-line whip' for a vote at Westminster, his excellent speech was read by John Guillebaud. Kevin Reid then brought greetings from the other UK site of this project, at Ness Botanic Gardens on the Wirral.

As is now tradition at our anniversaries, right there as a group beside the plaque in the grass that marks the burial site, we read aloud together some selected emotive and often moving readings from The Promise (the booklet from 1994 of poems and letters written mainly by children to people of the future) - and cut up an apple representing the earth, as described there on page 32.

All participants then boarded the Kew Explorer 'road train', for transfer to the Reception combined with a fine commentary on the gardens which were looking their best. After refreshments at the Pavilion Coach Room, Dr Christopher Guillebaud premiered his new song about the eco-timecapsule project, with a catchy tune and words specially written for the occasion. Professor John Guillebaud introduced Kew's Director, Richard Deverell, who highlighted in his speech of welcome the crucial conservation activities of Kew and Wakehurst Place, which make the current financial threats to their work completely unjustified. Lord Robert May, former President of the Royal Society and Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, described the sheer scale of the historically recent explosion in human numbers. Since greenhouse gas emissions inevitably increase with this growth, he found it inexplicable that, for example, in his submissions to the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), he had had such difficulty in having the relevance of this even considered: leave alone persuading the IPCC actually to advocate for comprehensively resourcing of worldwide voluntary family planning as an emissions-reducing measure....

Sir Crispin Tickell, former UK Permanent Representative on the United Nations Security Council (and co-author of the 1994 letter on page 3 of The Promise), voiced our mutual concern that the few of us who understood the scale of the threats that life on the planet faces are as yet unable to influence the many - voters and politicians - who continue so blindly with 'business as usual'. (NB a Press Release for the day's event did attract some local (here and here) and national publicity; but an invitation to speak on Radio 4's Today programme had been withdrawn, revealingly because "no-one could be found to provide 'balance'" by arguing against the likelihood that we shall have to apologise to our grandchildren...!)

Baroness Jenny Tonge, who is Chair of the all-party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, brought us the good news that voluntary, accessible and rights-based family planning works; and that it is indeed a win-win intervention, since it also has the potential to reduce maternal mortality by almost half and infant mortality as well. Finally Roger Martin, Chair of Population Matters led some discussion from the floor and thanked the staff of Kew and others involved. John Guillebaud invited all present to Save the Date June 5th 2019 and come back with their friends for the 25th Anniversary!

Two days later on Saturday June 7th this anniversary was celebrated in similar manner at Ness, as it is every year.

Cycling to Kew - the Green Transport Challenge

cycling route

Enlarged version of this map is here.

Earlier, in London, a number of us took part in a Green Transport Challenge, to demonstrate the greenest and actually also fastest means of city travel and to raise funds for Population Matters: which in truth is primarily an environmental charity campaigning not only to reduce all our environmental footprints but also the 'number of feet' (i.e. of humans doing the footprinting) through fully accessible, voluntary contraception. This was a competition between: cycling (John Guillebaud on my Brompton - 47); London Transport (John Collier - 60); running (Dr Christopher Guillebaud and Dr Rebecca Foljambe - 73) and car (Stephen Bown - 75), all finishing at the Elizabeth Gate at Kew Gardens [the numbers are minutes taken for each journey]. The starting-point in central London was the Margaret Pyke Centre, where John Guillebaud formerly worked in family planning, with sustainability as a motive. In fact the URL of the linked justgiving web-page says it all: www.justgiving.com/2wheels2kidsgreener! Fundamentally, we believe that for sustainability, Pills are like bicycles! Indeed, back in 1994, he put a packet of Pills into the Kew time capsule along with a bicycle pump. In every country, shouldn't every child arrive by choice not by chance?

The above web-page will be remaining active until August: please consider sponsoring John/John/Chris/Becky/Stephen.

bicycles pills

Recapping: the Background to this event

How can we environmentalists, when we simply 'say things as they are' (and likely will be, i.e. decidedly not good news) avoid being routinely dismissed as 'purveyors of doom and gloom and the imminent end of the world, which has always proved wrong in the past'?

As I (John Guillebaud) pondered that back in 1994, a possible way of conveying the extreme urgency without, hopefully, triggering all that 'switch-off' came to me, when I first heard the saying "we have not inherited the earth from our grandparents, we have borrowed it from our grandchildren". With colleagues, as a UN World Environment Day (WEDay) project for the year, I arranged the burial of these 'Apology to the Future' timecapsules in the UK and at significant sites abroad: Kew Gardens in London and Ness Gardens near Liverpool, in Mexico, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, the Seychelles and at Mount Annan Botanic Gardens near Sydney. 25 years is an accepted duration for one generation, so "our grandchildren" meant people living in 2044. The capsules therefore addressed an apology to that year, to 'all our grandchildren', and also contained environmentally relevant items (both bad and good). We believed an apology was called for because of the risk that we would have wrecked their 'loan' to us, of this beautiful, bountiful, bio-diverse planet: our only home.

20 years later there are 1.5 billion more people and available evidence suggests that that risk, to all life on earth - including our own - looks greater than ever....

And yet! More important than the Apology in this whole project is the Pledge, to do everything required to save the planet by individual and united action, influencing those in power and changing as necessary our own lifestyles. If all humans were to do the right things environmentally, including fully resourcing international voluntary family planning as a human right for all and - as Baroness Tonge highlighted at Kew - as a win-win intervention that reduces maternal and infant mortality, plus dealing with global poverty and injustice: might we even now, although clearly we are in 'last chance saloon', achieve the goal that the finders of the time capsules in the year 2044 will wonder why we apologised?!

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