Francis Bacon

Eden and the overburden

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Wallace Heim writes: 

The partnership between the Eden Project and Rio Tinto has been billed as supporting education projects about sustainability and research into post-mining regeneration. This was a working partnership, not merely a “social license to operate” – the creating of a benevolent public image for corporations such as BP, Shell, Rio Tinto, through their association with cultural institutions, and now the Olympics.

One of the education projects of this partnership is a pop-up children’s book, Earthly Treasure, full of pictures of dazzling jewels and brightly coloured pages showing how modern life can only exist through minerals that must be mined.

There’s a page showing a huge open pit mine, a sombre, near-monochrome dug-out bowl. You can slide trucks to take away the “surface layer” and “pull down the tab and blast away the top layer of earth, called the overburden”.

The “overburden”. The infinitely complex soil that makes life possible is merely a weight, a waste to remove to get to the riches below. The phrasing harks back to Francis Bacon who wrote in his Novum Organum in 1620 that miners were the new class of man who would interrogate and alter nature. Nature could be “forced out of her natural state and squeezed and molded”.

But now, the soil holds no more secrets. It’s only the burdensome surface layer.

This normalizing of open cast mining and mountain top removal is given to children as if a game, one more gem to absorb in their education. Many reasons may lie behind using that phrasing, but the license it condones is not merely cultural benevolence.

h/t: Robert Newman in the Guardian


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