Celebrate Bicycle Day with Alex and Allyson Grey!

On April 19th, 1943 Albert Hofmann accidentally took the first LSD trip in history. After ingesting a dose of 250 micrograms at his lab, he went for the strangest bicycle ride of his life.

Here’s an excerpt from Mystic Chemist: The Life of Albert Hofmann and His Discovery of LSD on the history of how Hofmann’s psychedelic cycling changed the world:

His spectacular bicycle ride from the Sandoz factory through the outskirts of Basel and on beyond the city limits to his house became the stuff of legends. Since 1984, April 19th has been celebrated as “Bicycle Day” among pop-culture LSD fans. It was initiated by Thomas B. Roberts, emeritus professor of educational psychology. Americans in particular found the idea of a bike ride on LSD amusing and admirable. Back then, hardly anybody in that land of boundless possibilities used bicycles and certainly not in the condition Hofmann was in on his original trip.

Looking back, Hofmann thought about the circumstances and significance of his discovery: “From a personal perspective, without the intervention of chance, I think the psychedelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide would not have been discovered. It would have joined the tens of thousands of other substances that are produced and tested in pharmaceutical research every year and are relegated to obscurity for lack of effect and there would be no LSD story.”

You can commemorate this momentous event in the history of psychedelics with live painting by Alex and Allyson Grey and other visionary artists in San Francisco, CA. Tickets are available here: http://www.axs.com/events/268841/bicycle-day-tickets.

Even if you can’t make it to San Francisco for Bicycle Day 2015, you can still celebrate at home with Mystic Chemist: The Life of Albert Hofmann and His Discovery of LSD and get ready to read more psychedelic stories and see more visionary art by Alex Grey, Allyson Grey and others by pre-ordering Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics.

Wherever you are on that day and whatever state you may find yourself in—go ride a bike!

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Urban Ecology: 10 Cities Lead The Way

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A small farm in the New York borough of Queens (Alamy)

Ever since Gilgamesh cleared the forest to improve the city, civilization has persisted with dominating nature in the name of progress. But in recent decades, humanity is confronted with a new enemy, a monstrous behemoth born through millennia of unconscious disregard for that great mother who once held us so dearly.

The reality of climate change is such that civilization, the city, and even the idea of what it means to be human is itself undergoing an essential transformation. And with this metamorphosis a new myth is being created, one that transcends the old notion of progress and domination by surrounding the exhausted narrative with a life-affirming dedication to conscious global participation in the future of the biosphere.

The anthropocene, a scientific idea that redefines humanity as a geological force, is also the story of the end of civilization and the beginning of a planetary epoch in which new symbiotic relationships are being discovered between culture and nature.

A recent article in the Independent, a popular British publication, features the ideas of German biologist, journalist, and Synergetic Press author ChristianSchwägerl , as he summarizes the vision presented in his book, The Anthropocene: A New Planet Shaped By Humans:

In the Anthropocene, there is no longer an “inside” and an “outside”, no alien, antagonistic nature with which humans are faced. The environment becomes the “invironment,” something with which humans are existentially interwoven. This is why it is far from sufficient to create “nature reserves” on a small percentage of the Earth’s land surface. Instead, we have to consider whether civilization itself can act and perform within nature, with technologies that don’t act as parasites and destroy, but enrich the living world.

In such a world we can no longer speak of “nature” and “culture” as two separate spheres. Rainforests will no longer exist just because they have always existed, but because people want them to exist.

Schwägerl’s insight is simple and profound. Rather than leading to more anthropocentric destruction, the act of identifying humans as the geological force that we evidently are awakens our sense of responsibility as stewards of the biosphere. Either/or dichotomies such as nature and technology or self and world become a kind of  habit that cripple humanity in the act of rediscovering our home in and through the world.

In practice, what this means is the re-imagination of the city itself, a new kind of urban planning that incorporates nature within the city walls. It’s worth noting that these walls of the city go back to the neolithic revolution and the ancient Sumerian epics; they are the same walls that bred ecological destruction and the phenomenon of war by creating the dichotomy of city and nature, citizen and enemy. These walls are rapidly crumbling. But what is taking their place? As Schwagerl explains in the Independent article:

Such Anthropocene cities will draw energy and materials from local and renewable sources. Fossil-fuel driven cars are replaced by public transport, bicycle highways and rental systems for electric cars. Architects design high-rise buildings where facades, balconies and roofs double up as farms, air conditioners and habitats. Green bridges can link city quarters, helping to create a living roof-landscape. Biological life-support systems such as bogs, mangroves and riparian forests become integral to cities in order to hold back floods, absorb carbon dioxide and store water. Cities that adopt these kinds of strategies will experience positive social changes.

The good news is that this evolution is already underway. Consider the following examples of cities that lead the way forward:

Hamburg, Germany The German city, which was the European Green Capital in 2011, uses 200,000 low-energy lamps across 400 public buildings. 3,000 hectares of state-owned parkland are also available for the million people who use them every week.

Hamburg, Germany
The German city, which was the European Green Capital in 2011, uses 200,000 low-energy lamps across 400 public buildings. 3,000 hectares of state-owned parkland are also available for the million people who use them every week.

Bristol, UK The birthplace of Banksy and this year’s European Green Capital, Bristol employs around 9000 people in its low carbon economy initiative. Additionally, 34% of the city is made up of green and blue open spaces and homes have become 25% more efficient over the last decade.

Bristol, UK
The birthplace of Banksy and this year’s European Green Capital, Bristol employs around 9000 people in its low carbon economy initiative. Additionally, 34% of the city is made up of green and blue open spaces and homes have become 25% more efficient over the last decade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oslo, Norway The Norweigan capital has the world’s most electric cars per capita, reducing emissions by 50% since 1991. With the aim to make public transport fossil fuel-free by 2020, the city’s authority is making sure residents are as eco-friendly as possible.

Oslo, Norway
The Norweigan capital has the world’s most electric cars per capita, reducing emissions by 50% since 1991. With the aim to make public transport fossil fuel-free by 2020, the city’s authority is making sure residents are as eco-friendly as possible.

Nijmegen, Netherlands Located on the River Waal, this lesser-known Dutch city fuels its buses with biogas and citizen participation is encouraged through multiple green initiatives. Around 14,000 homes are heated using a network of waste heat, and the city aims to be energy neutral by 2040.

Nijmegen, Netherlands
Located on the River Waal, this lesser-known Dutch city fuels its buses with biogas and citizen participation is encouraged through multiple green initiatives. Around 14,000 homes are heated using a network of waste heat, and the city aims to be energy neutral by 2040.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copenhagen, Denmark 55% of residents in the Danish capital cycle to work or school, and over 30% of public transport uses renewable fuel. The city is also aiming to be carbon-neutral by 2025.

Copenhagen, Denmark
55% of residents in the Danish capital cycle to work or school, and over 30% of public transport uses renewable fuel. The city is also aiming to be carbon-neutral by 2025.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see the remaining 5 cities that lead the way forward, visit the original source of this list at the Independent.co.uk

All of the images in this article, as well as the captions and lead image, were sourced from the Independent article linked above.

 

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Forests For Our Future

Scientists are busy looking for high-tech geoengineering solutions to our most pressing ecological problems, namely, climate change. A few of the ideas that have been considered thus far include: placing giant mirrors in outer space to deflect the sun’s rays,1 dumping billions of tons of quicklime into the oceans to capture carbon,2 and shooting sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere to mimic the cooling effects of a volcano.3

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A constellation of billions of mirrors free-floating at the Earth-Sun Lagrange point blocks solar radiation and cools earthly global warming. Credit: Dan Roam

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A scheme to dump quicklime into the oceans to sequester more carbon in their depths is being revived with backing from Shell.

While it might seem that the best way to solve our growing and technologically-created problems would be to use the most advanced means available, the Committee on Climate Geoengineering at the National Research Council concluded that these interventions haven’t yet been studied enough to be put into action. According to the committee, “There is no substitute for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change.”

 

 

 

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Injecting aerosols into the stratosphere mimics the cooling effects of volcanoes

A recent report from Oxford University seeks practical solutions that promise the best long-term hope. To achieve this, researchers consider approaches that have the potential to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere without leading us to unforeseen consequences.

One of the most promising techniques explored is called afforestation, which means establishing a forest where one formerly did not stand. And though this solution seems obvious, it’s putting a measure like this into action on a large scale that proves an obstacle to enjoying all of the services that trees provide naturally.

Author Tony Juniper describes these benefits in economic terms in his book What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does Grow on Trees:

The economic value of the photosynthesis going on in the forests is thus vast. Even taking the low cost of carbon dioxide credits that companies must now buy via the European Emissions Trading scheme, the work being done by the forests in moderating the impact of our emissions is truly massive, worth literally trillions of euros. Our 2008 review on the value of forests estimated that halving the deforestation rate by 2030 would provide carbon capture services worth around $3.7 trillion, and that enormous figure takes no account of the many other economic benefits provided by forests, such as regulation of water supplies and sustaining species diversity… Beyond such fundamental ecological functions, plants are also the source of building materials, drugs, landscape and inspiration. They cool cities and sustain the soil that plays such vital roles in water cycles and atmospheric regulation.5

To effectively receive the benefits of trees, forest preservation and afforestation will need global support. Forests must be managed, cared for, and protected through active resistance to deforestation efforts around the world while the priorities of corporations and states will have to change in order to develop an infrastructure to grow new forests.

It’s important to note that economics and ecology are not the only things that benefit from trees. Our photosynthetic friends also remind us of the natural beauty of the Earth, especially as we find ourselves spending more and more time in man-made spaces.

By planting a tree (or several!), you can enjoy the benefits of trees for yourself and help to reduce carbon globally.

Find information about how to choose a tree for your region and plant it successfully here.

  1. http://www.livescience.com/22202-space-mirrors-global-warming.html
  2. http://www.wired.com/2008/07/new-geoengineer/
  3. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-25639343
  4. http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=02102015
  5. What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does Grow on Trees, Tony Juniper
  6. http://www.arborday.org/trees/index.cfm

 

Feature image source

 

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Crash Course in The Anthropocene

This quirky “Crash Course” video from Vloggers John Green, Hank Green, and Emily Graslie. introduces viewers to the Anthropocene concept through attractive animations, rhythmically edited broad-stroke research statistics, and a reasonably hi-resolution evaluation of the pros and cons of our now technologically saturated environment. While the factual downloads are helpful in bringing the big-picture questions to the average information consumer, their final formulation of solutions leaves a little to be desired.

Following a nice overview and set-up of the cultural-ecological problems that we face in the Anthropocene, Graslie and the Green brothers provide a distractingly oversimplified solution set , which basically amounts to:

  1. Technological miracle
  2. Collapse miserably into ruins and ashes
  3. “We can guide human society in to a creative descent, a gentle decline of complexity to more simple subsistence living.”

Despite this vulgarization of our options moving forward in the Anthropocene epoch, no doubt a side-effect of the Green brothers’ mastery over the vlog (video blog) medium, this ‘Crash Course’ IS a helpful way to draw viewers into the big questions that we face today.

For a more complex, dialectical approach to these very same cultural-ecological problems, I refer readers to Christian Schwägerl’s “The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet.”

See more ‘Crash Course’ vlogs on an extremely wide range of topics here.

 

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From the Archives: Millbrook Wedding

(Play video above by clicking image) 

Timothy Leary was getting married to a model named Nena Von Schlebrugge up in Millbrook, New York at the Hitchcock house, where Leary had been carrying on his hallucinogenic revelries for the past year or so after leaving Harvard. It was rumored that this was going to be the wedding of the season, the wedding of Mr. And Mrs. Swing as Cab Calloway put it… There were Hitchcocks and friends and relations of Hitchcocks, the Baron and his court, a score of models, and Charles Mingus playing a lonely piano. Even Susan Leary fresh out of jail.  It was indeed an amazing wedding, and for all I know, an amazing marriage, although someone later told me it was over before I’d even finished editing the film.  – D. A. Pennebaker

LSD has a funny way way of creating significance whether we like it or not. A leaf, a lover, or even a stray thought meandering throughout our inner life might well up to become the all and everything, a consuming fire of meaning and revelatory insight. For those of us born on this side of the psychedelic revolution, that startling shock and wonder experienced by our elders when they abruptly smacked their head on Albert Hofmann’s alchemical anvil can hardly be imagined.

We’ve grown up with electronic technologies that store, augment and transmit information at the speed of light (formerly the business of angels), often questioning ecological relationships and organic values, fully aware that we are deeply embedded within complex systems. Video games extend our consciousness into realms that distill animistic concepts; gnomes, fairies, or ogres emerge as a necessary language for operating in these liminal spaces. We can go to Fantasycon or Burning Man and hyperlink our favorite metaphors or experiment with other modes of being. – I have a friend with a 7 month-old baby girl who’s been to three psychedelic music festivals- or 8 if you count the ones she attended in the womb!

But take a minute to step back into the brittle atmosphere of the post-war generation… imagine growing up with an allegiance to stale cultural forms that are all but broken, overstating their presence like the sun before it disappears into the horizon: the Catholic Church before modern psychology, meditation, and yoga; patriotism before Vietnam, music before the Beatles. Imagine that many of the cultural norms you now take for granted are but a potent thought seed pushing outwards and threatening to burst forth like Athena from the head of Zeus in ancient Greek mythology.

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Now imagine that you are a successful Irish professor at the oldest and most prestigious university in America and that your earnest, but controversial work with substances like psilocybin and LSD has gotten yourself, your collaborator and your graduate student in a heap of trouble. This was the scene when Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert were fired from Harvard and took up residence in a cozy mansion at Millbrook in upstate New York- the scene of the Birth of a Psychedelic Culture.

While Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters pioneered and propagated a less clinical, and less intentional adventure quest of communion and psychonautic exploration, Leary, Alpert and Ralph Metzner (a Harvard graduate student at the time and so not technically fireable) contemplated the bardo of eastern philosophies and experimented with set and setting to inaugurate a new era.

Bold and courageous pioneers live the benefit of meaningful events and encounters at every turn. Their firsts are the firsts and their faults become the faults of archetypal patterns that will play out many times along the road ahead by many seekers karmically drawn to resonate and develop emerging forms. So when Dr. Timothy Leary writes, in the fall of 1964, to his friend and colleague Ralph Metzner, who was inspired by Herman Hesse’s writing to travel throughout India, we can only take him at his word:

NEW YORK… Cooper Union… all 1300 seats filled and 300 standing… crowds so receptive it was like whispering things in your lover’s ear… Richard was a smash at U of Minnesota and faculty cocktail party was held etc. The political educational battle over psychedelics has been won and from now it’s just a matter of time… Nena and I have been together almost every minute for the last three weeks and she is an unending series of beauty and wise lessons. We moved directly into the bowling alley which is now the most relaxed, warm, glowing room in the world. We are visiting the Episcopalian minister in town to arrange the most romantic, mythic wedding in history … very soon.

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Nena von Schlebrugge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peggy Hitchcock, the jet-set young lady who hooked up the rebel psychologists with that mysterious Millbrook mansion, describes the bride to be:

Nena was a very young, very beautiful, very successful fashion model. Today we would call her a super model. She was born in Sweden in 1941 and had lived in China with her family as a refugee during World War II, before returning to Europe. Her father, who was a German baron, was much older than her mother had died when she was a child. When I first knew her, she was in her early twenties and had been the sole support for her mother, the baroness, and her younger brother, since she was fifteen. I don’t believe she had much of a happy childhood. I remember feeling protective towards her. As I remember, she and Tim first connected at my brother Billy’s birthday party on her first visit to Millbrook.

leary&alpert pre-wedding title00_170957854

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nene had arrived at Millbrook with Van Wolff, as Dr. Ralph Metzner explains:

Van Wolff was a kind of PR-agent-impresario, whose New York apartment was a hub for the glamor set from fashion, photography, film, and the arts. It seemed to be always buzzing with vibrations of seduction, intrigue and gossip. Nena’s picture was on all the New York City buses advertising Winston cigarettes at that time. Tim called her, “A thoughtful and romantic woman, an icon of beauty, surrounded by, instructed by, manipulated by the technicians and producers of the fashion industry.” When they took their first LSD session together, he wrote: “… Nanette allowed her jet-set facade to fall away, just so much childhood scar tissue. From within, emerged an archetypal nobility, the radiant essence of a Valkyrie… I fell under her spell.” (Flashbacks, pp 203-204). She moved into the Big House with Tim and set up a routine of being there and working in New York a few days a week. His relationship with Peggy Hitchcock had for some before evolved into more of a friendship – which continued long afterward. In one of those strange synchronicities, Nena had a close friend, Katy, also a model, who she brought up to Millbrook. She had auburn hair and green eyes, she was gorgeous. I fell under her spell.

leary&alpert pre-wedding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As far as the wedding itself, Darlene De Sedle, who was brought up to Millbrook to  make the wedding veil for Nene, explains:

When we arrived at Millbrook, we went to the tennis house where the brides and bridesmaids were getting dressed. The bridesmaids in their spring gowns were scattered here and there around the room like flowers, light blue, yellow, pale pink. I found a comfortable place to sit, shook out the pink and white tulle, and began to sew… (Nena) was glowing blonde and gorgeous, and beautiful light was pouring into the room through the leaded windows. Monty (the hair dresser) handed me a glass of punch spiked with LSD and told me to drink it. It was my first time.

Mingus

And what would a mythic wedding be without the Jazz great Charles Mingus? Fellow psilocybin researcher Rolf Von Eckartsberg describes the potent figure who plays his bass with the force of nature itself :

Mingus is very wise, down to earth and basic, grounded, and we had a most meaningful encounter with him and his art, his bass, his “woman,” whom he asks questions in the solitude and darkness of his attic, to whom he plays and is played and answered. What a sonorous strength it is that emanates from his bow and his strings that set up a column of vibration, rising like a twirling storm, transporting and elevating everything in its path. It penetrates right through the bones and opens the wide luminous landscapes of the internal, this fantastic otherworld of playful color and geometry, radiant energy and ecstatic resonance. Isn’t there some primordial power which sits with love and plays with bow and strings at the flow of life?

And also from Von Eckartsberg, a general depiction of the scene as psychedelic as the substance that Harvard rejected:

The whole house has become a beckoning, enveloping, nurturing tropical ocean of forms, colors and sounds, as millions of fractured, incongruous elements are transformed into beautiful flowers and ornaments of a gigantic organism, radiating joy and peace.

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But as my generation has learned more readily, the metaphysical laws of the ecstatic experience mandate that we endure the downs as well as the ups, and that separation can often follow the realization of the oneness of being. The excitable Leary would have a dynamic career. He would find himself in and out of prison and experiencing life as a cultural icon whose perception would go from hero to scapegoat. Of course, his love-life would be no exception. On p. 223 of “Flashbacks,” Leary describes the end of their “Himalayan Honeymoon:”

So we’re moving on. We had connected as fairy-tale lovers in the enchanted woods of Millbrook, had lived out a season of courtly romance. She had taught me tender lessons of girl-love and female splendor. We had time-traveled through a few mythic incarnations, played out magical dramas in panoramic realms. Now we would have to rise to that most complex human art, gentle separation.

In 1967, Nena went on to marry the Indo-Tibetan Bhuddist scholar and ex-monk, Robert Thurman, with whom she gave birth to the popular actress Uma Thurman.

With the exception of the opening quote from a letter by D.A. Pennebaker, all of the quotes for this piece can be found in “Birth of A Psychedelic Culture,” a book that, like this article, comprises a mosaic of interviews, letters, artifacts and images, depict through concrete anecdotes, the vibrant and mythic scenes of that mysterious episode in psychedelic history.

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Technature

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What is the ‘nature’ of technology?

While some people think that nature and technology are in fundamental opposition, and others rest in the assumption that all that is must be natural simply for having come into being, Synergetic Press author Christian Schwägerl explores the implications of “bioadaptation” as a symbiotic interweaving of technology and biospsheric systems:

Seen from the perspective of a future bio-technosphere, today’s wasteful machines appear to be rudimentary organisms with outdated cycles in urgent need of improvement. Fuel-guzzling Porsches or SUVs, coal-fired power plants and persistent plastic seem to be old-fashioned leftovers from the Holocene, about as impressive as horse carriages and typewriters. Cars of the future would either decompose into material that boosts the environment or give way to other, networked kinds of transport. The guiding principle in this process might be called bioadaptation: using nature as a source to “breed” machines.

In this chapter excerpt from Schwägerl’s “The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How it Shapes Our Planet,” the author takes us on a visionary journey into inspiring and possible future grounded in a real-world dialectical synthesis of technology and nature. Read the Chapter excerpt ‘Technature’ on Realitysandwich.com here.

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Book Launch at the Derby Library, Wednesday February 27 at 7pm

logoMark Nelson, pioneering sustainability ecologist and partner at Birdwood Downs, and author of The Wastewater Gardener, will speak on Ecotechnics and Wastewater Gardening at the Derby Library on Wednesday, February 27th at 7pm.

Mark will discuss his land restoration and wastewater recycling work he has been doing around the planet (including the Kimberleys) for the past four decades, and talking about the lessons he learned while living for two years “under glass” inside Biosphere2 research facility in Arizona where they grew their own food, recycled all the air, water and wastes. He will also be signing copies of his new book, The Wastewater Gardener.

Any enquiries, please call the Library on 91910900.

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From the Archive: R. Buckminster Fuller at the 1982 Galactic Conference

R. Buckminster Fuller

R. Buckminster Fuller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Saturday, September 18th 1982, the renowned inventor and visionary R. Buckminster Fuller presented his talk The Galaxy: A Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Challenge to the Institute of Ecotechnics at their Galactic Conference in Les Marronniers, France.

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John P. Allen and R. Buckminster Fuller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sitting to Bucky’s left in the above image (taken during the conference) is John P. Allen, co-founder of Synergetic Press and inventor/visionary behind the massive Biosphere II closed-systems experiment that took place in Oracle, AZ in the early 90’s.

In Allen’s memoir, “Me and the Biospheres,” he writes:

I had first met Bucky Fuller at Harvard, when he spoke before several hundred enthusiastic Harvard and Radcliff men and women. Even with their famous capacity for attention, I wondered how many would make it to the far end of his speech.

Fuller’s being-challenging technique in speechmaking consisted in starting anew on his comprehensive thought at every major talk to see if he would come to the same conclusions and, if not, adopt the new position that had evolved.

… by the end of four hours, the audience had dwindled to a handful. After another thirty minutes, there were only four of us, hungrier for ideas than food. 

‘Now we can get down to something,’ Bucky said with his contagious grin, descending from the platform to stand around the deserted coffee table with us.

Following that initial meeting, Allen, passionately concerned for the future of human culture and the biosphere and inspired by Fuller’s book “Synergetics,” worked to apply synergetic design principles to human enterprise itself.

With fellow synergists, many of whom met in Haight-Ashbury in the late 1960’s, Allen was instrumental in founding Synergia Ranch in Santa Fe (where this press is located) as well as the Institute of Ecotechnics that hosted the 1982 Galactic Conference pictured above.

In a letter to Richard Dawkins, another presenter at the 1982 conference, the zoologist and author of “The Selfish Gene, ” Institute of Ecotechnics chairman Mark Nelson explains the organization:

I.E. was started in 1973 as a private, self-funded research institute to engage in pioneer and demonstration projects around the planet. At present, field projects are underway in India, West Australia, France, Nepal, United Kingdom, U.S.A and the tropic seas, coral reefs and river basins with the Institute’s research ship, the Heraclitus.

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R.V. Heraclitus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since 1976 we have hosted annual conferences on ecosystems: deserts, oceans, mountains, jungles, transition zones, the Planet Earth, and last year, the Solar System.

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I.E. 1982 Galactic Conference Roster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Besides R. Buckminster Fuller, John P. Allen, and Richard Dawkins, other notable attendees of the 1982 Galactic Conference include the microbiologist and Lynn Margulis (author of the theory of symbiogenesis) and the chemist and discoverer of LSD Albert Hofmann.

buckminsterFuller12jpg

 

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2015: International Year of The Soils

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The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has declared 2015 the official International Year of Soils. This is a year to raise awareness among policymakers and the public about the important role that soils play in human life. According to their website, “Soils have been neglected for too long. We fail to connect soil with our food, water, climate, biodiversity and life. We must invert this tendency and take up some preserving and restoring actions.”1

When FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva announced the International Year of Soil in Rome last month, he described what a crucial moment this is to reform our relationship to soil: “Thirty-three percent of our global soil resources are under degradation and human pressures on soils are reaching critical limits, reducing and sometimes eliminating essential soil functions.”2 A few of the main enemies listed by the FAO as currently posing a threat to healthy soils include: expanding cities, deforestation, unsustainable land use, pollution, overgrazing and climate change.

In a recent post in his blog, Synergetic Press author Ralph Metzner, PhD, describes the importance of taking immediate action during the Year of the Soils, “These reality-based developments have the potential to be shaped by the needs of ordinary citizens, rather than by corporate public relations campaigns and fabrications. . . you can spread the word that ‘Saving the Soil in 2015′ is not a merely a holistic metaphor; our soil is dying, and we will soon go with it, if we don’t act.”3

Likewise, in The Wastewater Gardener, author Mark Nelson helps us imagine just how elaborate the composition of soil truly is when he writes that soil is, “. . . a very complex material. One shovel full of fertile soil contains a greater number of living organisms than all the humans who have ever walked on Earth.”He goes on to write, One teaspoon of soil contains five billion bacteria, five million amoebas, thousands of fungi, tiny roots and hairs and other life forms most people have never heard of . . . Soil is not ‘dirt.’ Soils are full of life.”5

Some of the benefits that soils provide include:

  • Forming the basis of food production and food security
  • Providing the foundation for vegetation to produce feed, fiber, fuel and medicine
  • Supporting biodiversity
  • Mediating climate change effects through their role in the carbon cycle
  • Storing and filtering water, which helps to protect people from both floods and droughts

Dr. Vandana Shiva, founder of the seed conservation group Navdanya, posted an inspiring video on the importance of the ‘Year of the Soils’ for achieving food sovereignty, economic equality, social justice and effective climate action. Here are some of the powerful and optimistic messages she shares for the year:

This is the year where, everywhere in the world, a phrase rang in resonance: that we are all seeds. That, for a while, we might lie underground, but at the right moment, we germinate and burst out with all of our potential. I want to greet you for the year that is coming. A year that has been declared “The Year of Soil.” A year where, the seeds we sow of hope and love, the seeds we sow of abundance and creativity, are the seeds that will multiply and show the way forward, not just to each of us, but to the reluctant world that continues to be blind. And, in the Year of Soil, let us celebrate the connections between Mother Earth and ourselves. 6

As we examine the role that humans play in the life-cycles of the Earth, we must confront the reality of what the “Year of the Soils” actually means for us. This message is a call to radically change our economic, political and agricultural systems, beginning with the integration of these very ideas into our daily lives.

One practical way that you can help to regenerate poor soils is by composting. Compost both enriches soils, reduces greenhouse gases, keeps water cleaner, and offers many economic benefits.7

 Learn how you can start composting here and find more ideas about other ways that you can help conserve soil here.

And for more information about soils, dig into this infographic made by the FAO.

Sources: 

  1. http://www.fao.org/globalsoilpartnership/world-soil-day/en/
  2. http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/270812/icode/
  3. http://ralphmetznerblog.com/2015/01/18/2015-year-of-the-soil/
  4. The Wastewater Gardener, 16
  5. The Wastewater Gardener, 17
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fX5jsq74fAo
  7. http://www.epa.gov/composting/benefits.htm
  8. Image Source
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Next Generation Ecologists – Hayley Todesco

At the age of ten, the young Canadian Hayley Todesco watched the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth and immediately realized what a significant impact humans have upon the Earth. “I never imagined the possibility that humans could significantly affect the climate,” says Todesco, a realization that led her to commit to studying science in order to make her own positive impact on the climate.

So as a student, Todesco was inspired to address environmental issues through her science fair projects and, in her most recent experiment, went far beyond the paper maché volcano. In fact, she developed a system to filter toxic tailings created when mining for bitumen in tar sands, allowing these toxic acids to decompose fourteen times faster than they would otherwise.

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‘Slow’ sand filters (SSFs) are a water treatment process invented in 1804.

Tar sands mining involves a series of complex processes to recover oil from a mixture of clay, sand and water. This mining disturbs the land, requires large quantities of water, has an impact on the quality of air and water for local humans and wildlife, and even has far-reaching biospheric effects through the greenhouse gas emissions produced in the process. By 2025 the total volume of toxic tailings that have accumulated from tar sands mining is expected to equal one billion cubic meters.

While scientists and engineers continue to develop and implement cleaner forms of energy, we must continue to do our best to reduce the ill-effects of existing methods. It’s encouraging to see the innovations being brought forward by a new generation of planetary thinkers like Hayley Todesco. Her filtration method can lower the levels of toxicity that occur in ponds after tar sands mining much more quickly than current practices, which is how she won the 17-18 category in the 2014 Google Science Fair. Hayley Todesco is currently studying microbiology at the University of Alberta.

Watch the linked video above to see a brief overview of her project, and click here to read more about it.

Feature image courtesy of Smithsonianmag.com:

For more information on tar sands, click here.

 

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