Archive | Sustainability & Ecology

What’s Really Happening To Our Planet?

Tony Juniper, well-known British environmentalist and adviser to Prince Charles, understands what’s happening on our planet. While he’s been fighting for a more sustainable society, Tony has also been sharing information about the dramatic changes that have been happening on earth. In the following video, you can hear some of the numbers that can help you understand the changes that are going on today.

10 Quick Facts About Climate Change from Tony Juniper

  1. Since 1950, the world’s population has tripled
  2. The number of cities with a population of over 10 million people was: one in 1950, ten in 1990, and is twenty-eight today
  3. Global energy demand is expected to double by 2030 compared to 1990 (with most new capacity coming from renewable sources)
  4. Only about 1/4 of the planet’s agricultural land is being used to grow crops, the rest is being used to raise animals
  5. About 97.5% of the planet’s total water resources is salt water, about 0.3% is liquid water at the surface, the rest is locked in groundwater and ice caps
  6. Since 1900, the consumption of construction materials, metals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass has increased tenfold
  7. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the planet’s atmosphere are higher now than at any point in at least the last 800,000 years
  8. Ten thousand years ago, 99.9% of vertebrate biomass was composed of wild animals; today, 96% of vertebrate biomass is made up of people and their domesticated animals
  9. The rate of animal and plant extinction taking place on the planet today is approaching a rate not seen on earth for 65 million years
  10. Since 1962, the area of protected habitat on the planet, in the form of national parks and nature reserves, has increased fourteen fold, to reach more than 33 million square kilometers

Understanding What the Planet Does for Us

Tony Juniper | What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?

As we try to understand what’s happening to the planet, we can also learn what the planet does for us. Take a more in depth look at the services that nature freely provides to humanity, many of which we don’t even realize.

In What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? British environmentalist Tony Juniper points out that we think everything nature does for us—providing water, pollinating plants, generating oxygen, recycling miracles in the soil and much more—is free, but it isn’t. Its economic value can, and has been, measured. And upon realizing what that value truly is we would stop treating our natural systems in a destructive manner. For example, in 2005 Hurricane Katrina cost the US $81 billion and the damage still remains. If the land around the levees hadn’t been redeveloped for shipping and aquaculture, at an estimated value of $100,000 to $450,000 per square mile of natural mangroves, then it is believed, much of the damage caused to the city would not have occurred.

During recent years, environmental debate worldwide has been dominated by climate change, carbon emissions and the greenhouse effect. But a number of academic, technical, political, business and NGO initiatives indicate the emergence of a new wave of environmental attention focused on “natural capital,” “ecosystem services” and “biodiversity,” things nature does for us.

What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? contains impactful stories imparting warnings about unfortunate occurrences such as a rabies epidemic that followed the disappearance of India’s vultures (drugs administered to cattle killed the birds, leaving uneaten carcasses that led to an explosion of wild dogs), as well as promising and enlightening tales of how birds protect fruit harvests, coral reefs shield coasts from storms, and rainforests absorb billions of tons of carbon released from automobiles and power stations. As a result of its immediacy, Tony Juniper’s book will entirely change the way you think about life, the planet and the economy.

Learning about the Biosphere: Inside of Biosphere 2

We’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Biosphere 2’s first mission! Hear more about it in this interview with NBC News, as Biospherian Mark Nelson describes what life was like inside of Biosphere 2 and how those lessons have shaped our thinking about future space colonization.



Mark Nelson

Mark Nelson, photo © Peter Menzel

For a closer look at life inside of Biosphere 2, you can read more from Mark Nelson, who spent two years enclosed inside the biospheric bubble as part of the innovative experiment and discover how he developed a passion for natural solutions to wastewater recycling. As the manager of these essential systems he realized how essential the proper re-use of human waste is to the health of the planet. Join him in The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time on a global expedition of discovery, which he recounts with his characteristic humor and humility.

 

USA_SCI_BIOSPH_86_xs Biosphere 2 Project founder John Allen inside Biosphere 2 teat greenhouses and livestock areas. Biosphere 2 was a privately funded experiment, designed to investigate the way in which humans interact with a small self-sufficient ecological environment, and to look at possibilities for future planetary colonization. The $30 million Biosphere covers 2.5 acres near Tucson, Arizona, and was entirely self- contained. The eight ‘Biospherian’s’ shared their air- and water-tight world with 3,800 species of plant and animal life. The project had problems with oxygen levels and food supply, and has been criticized over its scientific validity. 1990

John Allen, photo © Peter Menzel

And for another perspective on the epic tale of Biosphere 2, turn to the legendary John Allen, who was the conceiver and inventor of Biosphere 2. Allen was first inspired when he began to learn of the sphere that supports all life on earth⸺the biosphere⸺ through study of Vernadsky at the Colorado School of Mines. Through his travels around the planet to study the many biomes that cooperate to keep earth in balance and his journeys inward through shamanic ceremonies to explore the nature of consciousness, Allen expresses the wisdom gained through a lifetime of adventure and inquiry in Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2.

 

 

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Silver Winner in the category of Home & Garden in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Award, 2014 Living Now Book Award—Gold Winner in the category of Gardening / Farming / Landscaping, Foreword Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award—Silver Winner in the category of Ecology & Environment, Finalist for the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the category of Science/Nature/Environment, and Winner of the 2015 Southwest Book Design and Production Award for Best Cover and Jacket Design

Me and the Biospheres

Winner of the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Biography/Memoir

 

Twenty-five years of Science and Imagination at Biosphere 2

Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Biosphere 2

This year the revolutionary laboratory on earth sciences, Biosphere 2, is celebrating its 25th Anniversary. The initial experiment began in September of 1991 when eight pioneering individuals were enclosed inside of its glass walls for two years. The existence of Biosphere 2 and the research conducted there continue to gain attention, as it fuels understanding of planetary systems and calls attention to the realities of our circumstances on the original Biosphere, the Earth.

In 1993, in the first moments when the human experiment was coming to a close, the biospherians re-entered the outside world after two years of stewardship in their enclosed home. Mark Nelson, who managed the wetland sewage treatment system inside of Biosphere 2, shared a few words on the experience:

Mark Nelson in the wastewater treatment marsh of Biosphere 2

Mark Nelson in the wastewater treatment marsh of Biosphere 2. Photo from biospherics.org

“We’ve come out of another world. Through that thin airlock there is another world living… What’s been surprising and profoundly wonderful is that operating Biosphere 2 has changed the way I operate my organism. To live in a small world and be conscious of its controls, its beauty, its fragility, its bounty and its limits changes who you are.”

Mark Nelson, PhD, one of the original Biospherians and author of The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time

Several recent articles have revisited the story of Biosphere 2, while highlighting the role that the facility continues to play in inspiring a new generation to be ecologically minded.

“Many older generations know of us thanks to the experiments conducted in the early 1990s,” explains John Adams, deputy director of Biosphere 2. “But we really want to engage with the younger generations.”

The experiments Adams refers to are two missions which saw a team of scientists seal themselves inside the laboratory. The first mission garnered the most column inches; four men and four women entered Biosphere 2 in 1991, vowing to stay inside the lab for two years, without any physical contact in the outside world. The team hoped to demonstrate the viability of closed ecosystems in maintaining human life, and also explore how such a closed biosphere could be used in space colonisation.

Huffington Post UK

Flowing Through Changes Over Time

Whenever there’s an experiment at Biosphere 2, it’s a big experiment. This summer, Biosphere 2 will be home to the largest study ever conducted on how water moves through a landscape.

Photo credit: Gil Kenny

Water is clearly vital to life, but so are the minerals and nutrients it picks up as it flows through rocks and soil. This process, called weathering, underlies everything else in an ecosystem, including microbes, plants, animals, agriculture and how the landscape changes over time. . . .

“Chemical weathering is the first thing you need in order to form a habitable planet,” says Dixon. But the process is still not well understood.

That’s where Biosphere 2 comes in.

New Scientist

Although weathering has been studied in laboratories, there is no other laboratory that can compare in providing such large-scale conditions with the benefit of being a controlled atmosphere.

. . . the University of Arizona is transforming part of the site into a “Land Evolution Observatory”—a 10-year, $5 million project to study how vegetation, topography and other factors affect the movement of rainwater through watershed to drinking water.

Newsweek

The substantial site provides a unique opportunity to see how water moving over the land causes changes over time on a real-world scale.  

Living in Harmony at the Heart of Biosphere 2

Aside from serving as fertile ground for conducting scientific research on how water and soils operate, Biosphere 2 provides an experimental mirror for the way humanity relates to the Earth. John Allen, the inventor, conceiver and co-founder of the Biosphere 2 project provided an unparalleled opportunity to reflect on our own lifestyles. He spoke at the re-entry ceremony, when the eight people who had dedicated two years of their lives to the ambitious project emerged back into the larger atmosphere of the biosphere that we all share.

Project founder John Allen inside Biosphere 2

John Allen inside the Biosphere 2 test greenhouse. Photo Copyright: © Peter Menzel www.menzelphoto.com

“The biospherians have shown in practice for the past two years the do-ability of a comprehensive code of ethical behavior in a new area in which we can no longer depend on the aesthetic interests of the few or the economic interests of the many to maintain proper behavior in humanity’s relationship to the very basis of our life, to the biosphere. The eight biospherians ate, slept, worked, dreamed, enjoyed and suffered, in short existed in harmony with their biosphere. Their biosphere flourished with their way of life, they recycled their food, their wastes, their water, their air. They protected biodiversity and enhanced the beauty of their landscapes. Their own bodies purified and their biosphere sparkles undimmed without a ghost-like fog of smog. They lived with high tech instrumentation and communications but in a non-destructive, ecotechnic way… Sophistication and love of wilderness blended and fulfilled their dreams. I appreciate the biospherians’ skill in operations, their integrity in research, their zest for exploration but I honor them for their ethical achievement, achieved at no small cost to their immediate gratifications, for having done what they perceived they ought to do.”

John Allen, Inventor, Conceiver and Co-Founder of Biosphere 2, author of Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2 

 To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Biosphere 2, we’re offering a 25% discount on The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a TimeMe and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2, Life Under Glass: The Inside Story of Biosphere 2  as well as our other significant biospheric titles such as Geochemistry and the Biosphere: Essays by Vladimir VernadskyThe Anthropocene: The Human Era and How it Shapes Our Lives, What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does Grow on Trees 

Use coupon code Bio25 at checkout from our Synergetic Bookstore for 25% off of these important ecological books!

Wastewater Gardner CoverMe and the BiospheresThe Inside Story of Biosphere 2geochemistry and the biosphere

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What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Architectural Overview of Biosphere 2

And to read more on history of biospherics, the creation of Biosphere 2, and its continuing legacy from an architectural point of view, check out this paper written by Antonino Di Raimo, Architect PhD, Dean of Architecture at POLIS University from Tirana Architecture Week.

Allowing the Unknowable: The experience of Biosphere 2

Interview With Tony Juniper: ‘No Nature, No People’

Tony Juniper was interviewed for Forbes by  to talk about about climate change, sustainability, and how nature is actually the basis of economic activity.tj 

Here are a few of the responses that Tony gave, and you can read the full interview here.

What were the most pressing issues now, and how have they changed?

For a long time, effort was necessarily devoted to gaining some agreement as to the scale of the challenge at hand, while making the case for what with hindsight looks like relatively narrow action to address some of the symptoms of it, such as pollution control laws and protection for some areas of especially important natural habitat. Today, the job at hand still embraces this kind of work, but is now also about making the case for completely new ways of looking at business, and indeed the economic system that determines which ones do well and those who don’t. There are also big questions of culture on the table, for example about what follows ‘consumerism’ as a viable and sustainable way of meeting people’s needs and desires.

There’s a growing body of research that suggests that when we fail to protect nature we end up with long-term losses, despite potential short-term gains. Why is that not only difficult to understand and accept, but also to act on?

One big reason why we fail to act in the face of overwhelming evidence is because of our human propensity for short-termism. This is a well-known psychological phenomenon and is manifest in politics, economics, and the media. Politicians have short terms of office. Economics works in part on quarterly financial results, while the profile of stories in the media is generally fleeting and very much about events, rather than the trends that shape the long term, such as climate change and ecosystem degradation.

On top of this is the fact of uncertainty. For while we know that there are long-term risks inherent in unsustainable behavior, no one can predict how they will unfold in the real world. Various skeptical voices have focused on this to create doubt as to the need for any action, nevermind decisive moves in the short-term so as protect more distant interests. Despite the blockages toward longer-term thinking, a lot of people are seeing the need for it and finding ways to do it.

The world’s climate scientists have explained how to avoid drastic global warming and… well, it’s not easy. But what is working best, and what do you consider to be our best hope for sustainability?

One thing we need to realize is that sustainability is not only about climate change. That is a big part of it, but there is a whole lot more. It is also about society and the economy, and how we can share the productive capacity of our Earth between even more people than we have now. That is a big political issue, and political issues tend to get resolved when voters demand that solutions are provided by the people they elected. This leads me to believe that a very big part of what is needed relates to the rather neglected subject of awareness and how to spread it. The more people know about what is happening, the more likely they might be determined to see solutions to protect them and their children. The fact that sustainability issues are rarely debated properly in the media is a serious cause for concern.

For more from Tony Juniper on recognizing and appreciating the value of the services provided by nature, check out What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does Grow on Trees

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Vernadsky’s Revolutionary Vision of the Biosphere

In 1926, Vladimir I. Vernadsky introduced the term “biosphere” to the scientific world in his seminal research paper “The Biosphere.” Many of his ideas outpaced their time, but we’ve finally been starting to understand what he meant. We can continue to uncover Vernadsky’s comprehensive mind through the writings he left, such as essays like Geochemistry & the Biosphere.

The following video examines the groundbreaking work of Vladimir Vernadsky and the ways that his ideas continue to inform scientists today.

He was born in the 19th century, the prime of his career was in the 20th century, but to talk about Vernadsky’s work we can look at the present day:

vernadksy_bioAt an Antarctic research station, his idea of bio-inert bodies is shedding light on the life that exists below the surface of the rocks. Communities of green cyanobacteria thrive as they conduct photosynthesis with sunlight that penetrates the top layer of rock. The interaction of the rock and cyanobacteria forms a system of life, creating a unique, natural bio-inert body. Vernasky coined the term “bio-inert substance” in 1926 to describe a substance that results from the interaction of living organisms and abiotic natural processes. But we don’t need to travel all the way to Antarctica to find an example of this phenomenon.

He advocated that all rocks, all materials on Earth contain the presence of life. The idea of “the everywhereness of life,” that life spreads in a way similar to gas throughout the biosphere was revolutionary. He conceived the idea of considering the living organisms on the planet as a whole, which he called “living matter.” This living matter participates in the geochemical processes of life on Earth, such as the Earth’s crust. This led to the formulation of the study of biogeochemistry. Vernadsky’s ideas were so comprehensive, they encompassed the interactions of systems into more holistic understandings of the processes on the planet. He formed generalizations at the largest scales of life based on examples from the smallest realms of matter.

He understood the unity of life to include all of the living organisms on the planet, bringing him to the concept of the biosphere. What is a biosphere? Vernadsky explored this question and included the deepest depths of the oceans in the hydrosphere, into the lithosphere including the Earth’s crust and extending upwards to the heights of the troposphere in the atmosphere surrounding us. The term biosphere was first coined by geologist Eduard Suess in 1875, but Vernadsky formulated the modern understanding of what we mean when we talk about the biosphere.

Many misunderstand the biosphere to mean a community of organisms, but Vernadsky was saying that the biosphere is the medium of life itself, the environment in which life exists and is created. Following successful research on Vernadsky’s biospheric ideas, UNESCO established Biosphere Reserves to serve to protect ecosystems and act as hubs for research. There are over 600 of these Biosphere Reserves around the world today!

Biosphere 2

John Allen, ecologist, writer, engineer and adventurer was the key ideologist who inspired the project of Biosphere 2. The works of Vernadsky, such as “Biogeochemical essays,” “Biosphere,” “Biosphere and noosphere” acted as the starting point of the experiment. The goal of the project was to create a self-sustaining, closed ecosystem that could support human life in an externally hostile environment. Seven biomes were created with the closed system of Biosphere 2: desert, savannah, tropical rainforest, ocean with coral reef and mangrove estuary, and an agricultural area for farming. Many lessons were learned about balancing oxygen and carbon dioxide levels for human life when considering the balance of soils and plant life within a closed system. One of the biggest lessons from Biosphere 2 is how little we understand of the incredibly complex nature of life in the biosphere. Vernadsky’s ideas continue to serve as the foundation for the ongoing research in Biosphere 2 which transcends disciplinary boundaries.

Vernadsky viewed all life as impacting the geological processes of the Earth, and considered humans to be “a geological force of planetary scale” in the short time that we have been on the planet. From his view nearly a hundred years ago, he foresaw the Anthropocene Era, describing how through human activity the features of the Earth are being converted along with the entire biosphere.

Tvernadskyhe power of humans in this situation, according to Vernadsky, is the power to predict and foresee possible outcomes. In foreseeing what may happen, we have the power to change our behavior. The biosphere with intellect “noos” becomes the noosphere. In his final work “A few words on noosphere” in 1944 he wrote, “…We are now experiencing a new geological evolutionary alteration of the biosphere. We are entering the noosphere…” The idea remained undeveloped by Vernadsky with his passing, but we continue to work with the concept today. With the coming of the noosphere, humanity will work with nature in facing critical conditions with technology and insight. Vernadsky remained optimistic that reason will win and bring not only power to humanity, but also a sense of self-restraint based on an understanding of our place in the biosphere.

The comprehensive, scientific mind that Vernadsky brought to our understanding of life has increased in relevance since his lifetime. His visionary viewpoints are captured in Geochemistry and the Biosphere: Essays by Vladimir I. Vernadsky. Now available in an ebook edition, Geochemistry and The Biosphere contains Vernadsky’s groundbreaking work on the biosphere and the noösphere, as well as his seminal work on geochemistry. A recognized catalyst written over sixty years ago, this premier scientific work addresses in detail humanity’s impact on the living systems of the planet. An understanding of Vernadsky’s work is absolutely crucial to grasping planetary processes and acting as better stewards of the earth.

You can purchase paperback and ebook editions of Geochemistry and the Biosphere: Essays by Vladimir I. Vernadsky in our bookstore.

 

Eco-Psychology and Plant Teachers: Ralph Metzner’s Green Earth Vision

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At the core of consciousness researcher and pioneering psychologist Ralph Metzner’s work is an attempt to understand our eco-psychology: how we as human beings relate to the natural world.

This conversation between consciousness pioneer Ralph Metzner and eco-visionary Michael Gosney was recorded at the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies conference in Oakland, California (the annual gathering of scientific research on the healing and psychological effects of entheogenic and psychedelic agents Plant-teachersfound in nature) this Earth Day 2013 edition of Eco Evolution features a wide-ranging conversation with one of the most informed minds on the human condition, and potential.

Topics include:

  • Metzner’s work with Theodore Roszak launching the field of eco-psychology and the Green Earth Foundation as a clearinghouse
  • Deep ecology
  • Plants as healing agents and “teachers”
  • Shamanism
  • Cannabis and entheogens used for veteran’s post traumatic stress syndrome
  • Bio-regionalism
  • Community currencies and banking systems
  • The role of media in our eco evolution, and more

Underlying this conversation is the increasingly relevant message of the deepening awareness in our collective psyche that we are out of balance with the divine, and that this divinity reveals itself in the loving intelligence of the living planet in which we are embedded.

Listen to the conversation here:

This interview was originally posted on Eco Evolution on April 22, 2013. 

You can go deeper into Ralph Metzner‘s entheogenic expertise in his new look at the “Psychedelic Tibetan Book of the Dead,” in Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics and experience an intimate understanding of his life with the founders of the psychedelic movement in Birth of a Psychedelic Culture.

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On the Side of Nature: An Age of Human Stewardship & Bioeconomics

David Suzuki called the UN Paris agreement a milestone in the Anthropocene Era, and an indication that “the Age of Humans won’t necessarily lead to an age of destruction.” (The Guardian) While I’m as optimistic as they come, it’s clear that humanity needs to act swiftly and on a grand scale to effect and uphold the major changes that must occur to prevent a planetary catastrophe.

One of my favorite eco-heros, Tony Juniper, a campaigner, writer, and sustainability adviser reports from Paris conference this month: “Increased atmospheric CO2 is doing much more than warming the Earth, it’s also acidifying oceans, something that is already having major impacts on ocean ecology in the Southern Ocean and the North Atlantic. Likely effects: more CO2 in the atmosphere, more jellyfish … We really have to put the brakes on carbon dioxide and very fast. These effects are already becoming very large and there are huge uncertainties as to how this will affect among other things food production.”(The Ecologist)

Atmospheric CO2 levels are the highest they have been in millions of years and the impacts of climate change are also impacting corporate and government balance sheet at such levels that corporations are starting to sit up and take notice. Trade can no longer trump climate, as the NAFTA’s policy has upheld for decades. There is no part of the economy that doesn’t depend on Nature, says Juniper. If there is no Nature, he argues, there can be no economy, no growth, no business.

The solution, Tony says, is a shift to a “bioeconomy” where our economic system is a subset of Nature, and not the other way around. A world where the technosphere is designed to support and sustain the biosphere, not use it up. See his talk at TEDxWWF.

TonyJuniper_squareLearn more about how it pays to be on the side of Nature in Tony Juniper’s  book, What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does Grow on Trees with a foreword by Prince Charles.

Read the Foreword by Prince Charles and Preface for Free Here.

The Whole Schmeer: Biospherics and Systems Thinking

In the following video, John Allen, inventor, conceiver and co-founder of the Biosphere 2 project, describes the interconnection among all of the systems of life on Earth, how humans have been altering these processes, and how exploring and studying these systems with a few friends can change the world.

“Everything connected with life, including the supporting cast: soils and air and waters, is the Biosphere.

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Las Casas de la Selva, a protected habitat for Puerto Rican native flora and fauna

Biomes can be looked at as the organs of the Biosphere, equivalent to the heart or the liver, and the key ones are the forests, the grasslands, the marshes, the deserts and the oceans.

Even the human tribes have clans which basically adjusted their lives to the biome they were in. But with the Industrial Revolution, the savannas by and large, tropical and temperate, were plowed up for farmlands. And the farms have now become a new biome.

The most important element to deal with is other human beings. That’s the most dynamic aspect of the biosphere today. The population growth is the driver of the problems that we’re having, and then the other thing is the creation of megacities.

So the big changes are the introductions of these two new planetary biomes: the world city and the agriculture system. So it was modeled to demonstrate that these could all live in harmony. But under the present system people at the ruling helm of society have for the first time in history abdicated; whether it’s a communist-type system or the capitalist system of taking any responsibility of looking at the total system.

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The R/V Heraclitus has sailed over 250,000 nautical miles studying oceans, coral reefs, rivers, lakes, estuaries and exploring the origins and futures of human cultures since it was built in 1975.

If you follow the leader, you’re very likely to follow him over a cliff, but if you follow a project… “-ject” is throw and if you throw something out, a path is going to emerge. For instance a group of fourteen of us we wanted to see what marshes and sea currents and coral reefs did, so we built a ship. And we went out and actually explored all these different biomes. There’s actually a project dealing with these realities.

For example, biospherics is the study of the total life system of planet earth, not hacked into little pieces to study here and study here, but it looks at the whole schmeer. We need to change the education system back to where you study total systems—what are all of the vectors that are involved?

So to save the evolutionary possibilities of the Biosphere, get together with some friends, form a group, and start studying some aspects of the biome—study the total system you’re in.”

For more by John Allen, check out Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2, his definitive autobiography, describing Allen’s extensive travels around the planet and how his experiences inspired him to invent the largest laboratory for global ecology ever built.

How Kids Are Contributing to the Climate Change Conversation

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One student considering how she can impact the planet. Photograph by and courtesy of Esha Chiocchio

One common difference between kids and adults is that adults love the news. Adults are usually listening to, reading or watching some form of news. And so much of the news these days is about what’s happening in the environment around the world. Information about the changes in the climate has already been starting to circulate in the collective consciousness for some time, and as the large-scale destruction of wild spaces continues, these messages will keep getting louder. We’ve reached a point where the news even features stories about climate scientists struggling with depression and feelings of hopelessness as they come to terms with the meaning of the current data.

As adults, we’ve already had some time to recognize and respond to these messages, but what about the kids who are just starting to learn about the conditions of the planet where they were born?

“Imagine you are eight years old and you just found out about what’s happening to the Earth. What would you want to do about it?”

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GWE Founders Marina and Joanna speaking with US Senator Tom Udall

For two kids, Joanna Whysner and Marina Weber, they started learning about the effects of climate change and the loss of species when they were eight years old. They were so moved by what they learned that they wrote a book about climate change and sent it to President Obama. After sending their message to the President, they created an after-school mentorship program, The Global Warming Express, in Santa Fe, New Mexico (home of Synergetic Press). At the Global Warming Express, kids help each other study climate science and general scientific principles, receive training in sustainability, and support each other in developing communication skills to advocate for the environment.

The kids at the Global Warming Express act by deciding on Big Goals and Small Goals that will help their schools, homes and cities to operate more sustainably. They encourage adults to adopt more earth-friendly practices, such as when they successfully advocated for the Santa Fe City Council to ban plastic bags and charge 10¢ for paper bags. And when the GWE kids learned how the fee would burden lower-income residents, they designed reusable bags that could be given to those in need.

Their enthusiastic and effective approach has brought them to speak with elected officials at the local, state and national level. A few of the inspiring actions that the Global Warming Express has been taking both close to home and at larger scales include:

The kids at the Global Warming Express show us that at any age, it’s possible to get informed and take action to radically change the way that we relate to the environment and each other.

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The Global Warming Express kids performing at the Mayoral Inauguration in Santa Fe.

You can find out more about The Global Warming Express and help to continue and expand this program by donating here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-global-warming-express#/story

And to read more about how, as adults, we can cultivate a sense of responsibility and harmony in the evolving relationship between humans and the environment, check out The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet.

Tony Juniper asks: “What If Winston Churchill Were Leading the Fight Against Climate Change?”

juniper_tight_cropTony Juniper originally wrote this article for the Winter 2014 issue of YES! Magazine.

Those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it, goes the saying. While there are few historical parallels to the existential threat posed by climate change, there is perhaps one: Nazi aggression during the Second World War.

In the years before he served as Britain’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill was an out-of-favor Conservative politician who raised a lone voice about the threat posed by the German Nazis—long before most of his colleagues in Parliament were prepared to recognize it. Churchill’s words, from a speech he delivered to the House of Commons in November 1936, give an example of how climate change might be described now.

Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have now entered upon a period of danger. . . The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences. . . We cannot avoid this period; we are in it now.

Churchill’s warnings were well-founded. Hitler invaded Poland, then France and the Low Countries. By May 1940, the continental side of the English Channel was occupied.

image via Gizmodo

A deadly heat wave melts the streets in India.

As the Arctic sea ice shrinks, glaciers retreat, and devastating floods and heat waves signal profound changes taking place in our Earth system, we are truly once again in a period of consequences. And as was the case in 1936, most politicians are happy to sit on their hands and not even offer half-measures. Quite the opposite in fact, as demonstrated by widespread political backing for expanding the exploitation of coal, tar sands, and shale gas.

When the threat of aggression became very obvious to the British, with dozens of German army divisions and fleets of bombers stationed just a few miles from England, Churchill’s words galvanized the nation for the titanic struggle that lay ahead.

Therefore, in casting up this dread balance sheet and contemplating our dangers with a disillusioned eye, I see great reason for intense vigilance and exertion, but none whatever for panic or despair. . . What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. . . Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war.

If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

Britain became doggedly focused and swung behind a campaign virtually without parallel. President Roosevelt moved with similarly determined leadership after the attack on Pearl Harbor, with the United States shifting to a war economy in a matter of months. The mobilization between 1939 and 1945 perhaps teaches us that a successful response to broad, systemic peril requires a combination of factors: scaling up technology, broad public support and participation, and inspiring leadership.

image via http://www.bls.gov/green/wind_energy/

Wind energy provided Europe with 8% of its electricity in 2014.

Spitfires, Sherman tanks, and submarines were mass-produced. Technology was refined, leading to the emergence of innovations, including jet engines and computers.

When it comes to climate change, we have technology with the potential to meet the challenge. Wind turbines and solar photovoltaics are among a suite of low-carbon power technologies. Electric vehicles work. We know how to farm more sustainably and have the means to reduce deforestation. The fact that these solutions are not being deployed is down to absence of leadership, an apparent absence of public demand, and crucially, the lack of perception of an immediate threat.

The rapid reorientation of the Western economies during WWII was achieved with the backing of voters. Women went to work in factories, rationing schemes were accepted, and men queued up to join the fighting forces.

Arousing a similar degree of popular support for action on climate change is a greater challenge, not least because the gradual warming of the atmosphere is different from tangible dangers such as imminent invasion. The situation is made worse by the activities of a “Fifth Column” of climate change deniers. Their campaign has successfully confused debate to the point where, in the United States and United Kingdom, policy and technology are going into reverse. Instead of pandering to these dangerous interests, as many modern politicians do, the street fighter in Churchill would have taken them on. Despite his age and shape, Churchill was a deft political operator who routinely outmaneuvered his opponents before they struck.

nazis20n-1-webIn his own words, Churchill summed up his approach thus:

One ought never to turn one’s back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!

As well as being a gifted brawler, Churchill knew how to do deals, even with people he considered murderous despots. His pact with Stalin might be compared to modern leaders working with the financial markets that some regard as enemies of democracy, but which have the massive resources needed to win the climate war. Such climate change action could herald a new industrial revolution, one rich in jobs and business opportunities.

Compared to the Second World War, the economic reorientation needed to do this is modest. Great Britain devoted more than 40 percent of its GDP to fighting the Axis powers. Just 2 percent of annual global GDP is required to win the carbon war.

As humankind drifts toward its monumental showdown with Nature, one that might well leave the Second World War looking like a modest emergency, the biggest need of all is for leaders who articulate the threat and galvanize action.

Churchill wasn’t able to predict events any more than politicians today, but he looked squarely at the facts and made judgments that proved correct. On climate change, and in the face of the plainest warnings, we need similarly inspired leadership now.

Tony Juniper is a campaigner, sustainability adviser, well-known British environmentalist and author of What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does Grow on Trees