UK Politics

'We need trust to inspire energy revolution'

Wind turbine
Image caption Tim Smit says energy independence should be our goal, to prove we are not a dying culture

Eden Project creator Tim Smit says Britain is far from being "broken" and should raise its sights, be confident and aim for energy independence.

I loathe innovation. I detest creativity. I hate centres of excellence, out-of-the-box thinking and cutting edge. I hate "thinking the unthinkable".

When I go to innovation conferences I am a nightmare. They want to hear the guru speak.

They look really depressed when I say: "The only thing I can tell you about innovation is to remember something that many of us have lost, and it is called trust."

We live in a world where the accountant is king, where lawyers rule, where trust is never really an option, and where cynics say things cannot be done and use words like "realism" to protect themselves.


As a result we aspire to very low benchmarks. Yet we all know, as CS Lewis famously once said, that whilst science may lead you towards truth, only the imagination can lead you towards meaning.

That is a really profound idea, because we live in a society where if we do not have dreams and aspirations, we are no better than pigs at a trough, consuming to pass time because nothing inspires us.

I wanted to build the Eden Project to inspire people, but it got built because of trust.

By 1997 we had nearly 100 people working with me, none of them paid, because they had a dream to build this extraordinary place.

They believed it so much that I knew it was going to happen. I call it the Tinkerbell theory. I never had a single moment of doubt, because I knew people would be persuaded.

Is there anybody aged 12 who did not dream of building something like the Eden Project or a massive dam or a huge castle? That is what you do when you are young.

Suspend disbelief

All I needed to do, in an age of terrible caution and tremendous safety cautiousness, was to persuade 300 people who had been professionally trained to say "no", to suspend disbelief and just say "yes".

Of course the Eden Project was built. We have had 13 million visitors, and put over £1 billion into the local economy, which is good stuff, but those are the things that accountants talk about.

The real joy was getting people to believe that wonderful things can happen when you get people to join together.

We do it with the Big Lunch that Eden started. We asked people to knock on people's doors and have a lunch out in the street.

Working together

Why? Because we believed that we are not living in a country that is broken.

Only shallow idiots think we live in a broken Britain. We may be a little bit bruised around the edges, but underneath the skin we live in a really nice place with a lot of really cool people.

Image caption Eden Project workers "had a dream to build this extraordinary place"

Just give them the excuse to get together and talk to each other, and you can watch magic happen.

Why is it important? Because those people who think the word "community" is just a New Labour line on a map with people in it do not understand that community comes from two Latin words - cum, meaning "together", and munos, "in gift".

You cannot have a community unless people work, one with each other.

And when you can see the power of people doing things together, and you also believe in optimism and hope, you realise that very often what stops us doing wonderful things is our belief that if you move one step forwards, other people will not come with you.

'You can't do it'

In Cornwall there are 200,000 households, each spending nearly £1,000 a year on energy.

If you used big city-style securitisation to bring them all together as a community energy group, over 20 years, just imagine the leverage you would have in cash to transform the energy landscape in Cornwall.

Do you know the amount of money you could borrow and service if everybody did that together would enable Cornwall to become completely energy independent? Yet other people say "you can't do it".

Well for me, as an honorary Englishman, I look at this country and I want to scream.

This was once the number one manufacturing nation on earth. We probably have about 15 years left before the folk memory of us being a great manufacturing nation has gone.

And yet you look at the technological advances this country has got at its fingertips. Would it not be amazing if we dreamed that we could be wonderful again?

Would it not be amazing if we made ourselves completely energy independent? Not to combat climate change but as a symbolic thing, to demonstrate that we are not a dying culture, but a vigorous culture?

We have over a million young, talented, bright people who are not able to get employment.

If we borrowed from the future and collectively decided that our nation was going to become energy independent, full stop, watch what would happen as we achieved it.

Watch what happens as everybody gets the confidence from realising that you have a direction. It puts the hair up on the back of your neck as you see it being achieved, and it makes you feel good.

Collaborative working is based on trust, but most relationships are based on trust, so why is the public sphere rendered so untrusting?

So learn to trust, do not worry about creativity and innovation. They are very unsustainable. Creativity is just another form of obsolescence.

The best thing we could do would be to build substance and pillars for the future.

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