Petro “Sains”, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I don’t speak Malay. I’d assumed the “sains” in “Petrosains” translated roughly as it was pronounced: sai-ince. It was even billed to me as a “science centre”. After our visit this weekend, I wonder if it’s best translated as “propaganda”. Let me show you what I mean:

Through a simple game of reflexes, we learned how nerve signals are transmitted around the body:

And how people who burn lots of oil are just awesomer than people who don't.

And how people who burn lots of oil are just awesomer than people who don’t.

This hip, friendly dinosaur is rapping about how natural oil is:

And how he and his friends made it together, like, deliberately for our use, and as a team.

He and his friends made it together, like, deliberately for our use, in some sort of cheerful prehistoric animal worker’s collective.

This hologramatic wand, if misused, will destroy petrochemicals:

Hurry kids! <strike>Design and implement a range of alternative energy sources! </strike>Physically wrestle the wand back under your control!

Hurry kids! Design and implement a range of alternative energy sources! Physically wrestle the wand back under your control!

Drilling is cool fun!

Drilling is cool fun!

Petrochemical Mascot Guy loves coral reefs so much he’s preserved this whole tankful for future generations:

Petrochemical Mascot Guy loves coral reefs so much he’s preserved this whole tankful for future generations.

Would we have had this much fun with bubbles if Uncle Petronas hadn’t supplied us with the ingredients to make our magic bubble wands?

Would we have had this much fun with bubbles if Uncle Petronas hadn’t supplied us with the ingredients to make our magic bubble wands?

And for those on whom subtlety is lost:

Petrosains! KLCC, Malaysia (sponsored by Guess Who?)

It wasn’t all about Big Oil, mind you – Petronas did take a moment to discuss the issue of renewable energy towards the end. This gave them the opportunity to present it as either a) slightly perverse:

Electric-powered windmill.

Electric-powered windmill.

…or b) mainly useful to creatures which are likely to survive the apocalypse anyway:

"Solar"-powered cockroach.

“Solar”-powered cockroach.

…or c) highly controversial, and not especially effective:

Petrosains Energy Game: renewable energy is highly controversial and not especially effective.

Game play tip: nobody complains if you keep the original greenhouse-gas-emitting power stations intact, and it’s impossible to make enough energy without adding emissions or nuclear facilities.

Then there were the planes:

P plays with Petrosains aeroplane.

Ah, the planes – there goes my high horse. As a traveller, they’re my weakness, aren’t they? The thick, sticky stain on my carbon-hungry existence. The greenhouse-gas-belching elephant in the room.

Now, I can buy carbon offsets, of course – I’ve bought a few. I can explore closer to home, and make more distant trips worth their while, by allowing them extra time. And I can favour surface travel over air – up to a point.

Here’s the problem, though: flights are so often cheaper. Standing in the middle of the Petrosains Discovery Centre, I was struck all over again by just how wrong it is that a plane across Europe should be so much less costly than the same jaunt by rail. The secret’s in this exhibit, which helps kids explore the rising and falling costs of oil:

Toggle several variables up and down - supply and demand, for example, or economic growth - and watch what happens to the bottom line.

Toggle several variables up and down – supply and demand, for example, or economic growth – and watch what happens to the bottom line.

You’ve got to look at the variables they’re not presenting. Who pays for environmental pollution or habitat destruction? Shouldn’t that factor in to the price of oil? Despite updates in law since this exhibit was designed, I’m not sure the accounting’s much more correct in the real world today.

It was after five when I persuaded P to leave Petrosains – he was captivated. We made a beeline for our local roti shop, and sat back to enjoy bread, curry, and freshly-squeezed apple juice. And darn if I didn’t give the boy a stern lesson in critical thinking, bias, and questioning your sources; so much so that it – and not our overnight rail journey from Singapore the previous night – probably explained his early bed time and extended night’s sleep.

Kids are like sponges, people say. Every so often you have to wring out the dirty water.

***

I usually prefer to let you respond freely (and of course you still can) but I’m interested to know how you reconcile getting on a plane with environmental protection. Do environmental concerns alter the way you view travel? If you travel with kids, do you discuss the issues with them as you go?

This post appeared first at Journeys of the Fabulist and was shared as part of Ailsa’s Weekly Travel Theme: CLEAN and the Hearts For Home Earth Day Blog Hop #37.

Hearts for Home @ Monsters Ed Homeschooling Academy
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