Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship

Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship

What was it like to be “quarantined” inside a giant laboratory for twenty-four months? Our new book Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship from Two Years in Biosphere 2 tells the inside story of Biosphere 2, presenting the only account written inside of the two-year enclosure. 

Eight volunteers placed themselves in the world’s first mini-biospheric system, a facility that included a range of wilderness biomes as well as farm and human living area. This biospheric laboratory designed to be a new kind of experimental ecological apparatus research is where they lived separate from Earth’s biosphere for the first two-year closure mission. During this time, the biospherians devoted themselves to caring for and studying their small world, recycling their air, water, and wastes as well as growing their own food. 

We interviewed author and biospherian crew member Mark Nelson to better understand the insights gained from living in Biosphere 2, and how we can move towards being better planetary stewards individually.

Jasmine Virdi: Undoubtedly the greatest lessons that emerged from the Biosphere 2 experiment have a lot to teach us when it comes to planetary stewardship. How would you describe planetary stewardship?

Mark Nelson: Planetary stewardship is not necessarily about managing the biosphere [Earth], rather it has to do with managing ourselves and the human impacts on our planetary biosphere. I think Biosphere 2 has a number of teachings that are of crucial relevance to what is probably the greatest challenge of the 21st century. First, Biosphere 2’s lessons should motivate us to reassess how we design our technosphere; how we do business, how we farm, how we ranch, how we manufacture, and how we transport. We are coming to understand more and more, that everything we do has consequences for our global biosphere, our underappreciated life support system, affecting its natural cycles. Biosphere 2 was an amazing experiment in how to redesign and re-engineer a non-polluting technological system that is truly in service to the betterment of all life. 

That being said, what are simple, affordable, and easy steps that we can take on the individual level toward becoming better planetary stewards or better biospherians?

I get emotional when I give talks and people ask “What is the first thing that I can do to become a better biospherian?” My advice is to start by falling in love with the biosphere. In order to want to save something, you have to love it. Beyond falling in love, you need to rid yourself of the illusion that you are not in every moment of your life being supported and interacting metabolically with Earth’s biosphere. Literally every breath of air that you take is a product of our biospheric system. Our current ideas about the biosphere feed into an erroneous, dualistic, dyadic vision in which us humans are separate from the Earth. Even to imagine that the technosphere is opposed to the biosphere is incorrect – it is an integral element of the Earth’s biosphere. We need to move past the idea that the biosphere and the environment is something outside of ourselves. We need what the Greeks called metanoia, a profound change of thinking to come to realize that we are all biospherians. Stepping back from the illusion that there is the world of life separate from you is a great beginning for understanding what it means to be a biospherian. We will only be motivated to take care of our biosphere if we change our illusion that we’re not part of the systems and that it is something outside of ourselves. Biosphere 2 offered this understanding in a very experiential mode in that all of the biospherian crew members, and even those who went into our test module, grasped on a somatic, bodily level that they are connected to the biosphere. And what a great realization that is!

Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains north of Tucson, Arizona, the 3.15 acres Biosphere 2 facility is the world’s largest closed ecological system. Inside are tropical rainforest, savannah, desert, mangrove marsh, coral reef biomes, a half-acre farm, and human living area.

Do you see any parallels between your two-year experiment in Biosphere 2 and the current global situation of being quarantined due to COVID-19?

Many people have been asking me about the parallels between our two-year experiment in Biosphere 2, and the COVID-19 quarantine. For us biospherians, we left an unappreciated and daily degraded biosphere (Earth), and entered a new world with the objective of assisting that new world to grow up to be beautiful, and maintain its biodiversity. In Biosphere 2, we went into as clean an environment as engineers and ecologists could possibly devise, motivated by the self-interested goal of becoming good stewards of that system. We also had the knowledge that the health of our biosphere was inextricably interconnected with our bodily health. We knew that we were metabolically inseparable from the Biosphere, having a real sense that Biosphere 2 was our lifeboat.

However, in the current situation, people are in quarantine because there is a dangerous disease agent that is out there. Despite the gravity of the situation, we are looking out of our windows at a more beautiful world. We have finally slowed down our assault on the biosphere and stopped taking for granted the miraculous processes that give us clean air, water, and food. The ‘business as usual’ approach has slowed down as a result of our quarantine, and our biosphere has become a cleaner, healthier place. We are seeing wildlife regain some confidence, pollution is decreasing, and we are finally meeting greenhouse gas and climate change goals. People are really waking up to the fact that we have a tremendous impact on our biosphere and that there is not an environment external to us. There are no small actions, everything we do has an impact for good or for ill. That truth was super obvious in Biosphere 2, but is equally true on Earth. The current situation with coronavirus serves as a good shock point for the global cadre of biospherians. Being temporarily locked out of business as usual I deeply hope will allow us to rethink what will happen when we resume “normal” life. 

What are some of the main lessons that came out of Biosphere 2?

Biosphere 2 presented a challenge to the exploitative and extractive way that modern business i.e.,  large-scale capitalism thinks about our earth. Biosphere 2 made a big statement as it included a range of wilderness biomes like a tropical rainforest, a desert, an Everglades marsh, and even an ocean with a living coral reef. Each biome had intrinsic value because it made our mini-world more beautiful, and provided habitat for some of the other species that share our biosphere. Like nature does on Earth, those natural biomes contributed to the quality of our air and water as well as the joy of living in a wondrous world.

It was recognized that each biome had its own integrity and was not free for humans to convert to farm or ranch land or exploit for natural resources. Our role within each biome was to protect its integrity, to protect against loss of biodiversity, and to keep an eye on their overall health because we knew our bodily health depended on the health of the system as a whole. People who came to Biosphere 2 saw its biospherian crew taking tender, loving care of their environment. We learned by listening to our biosphere. I think that is a very powerful lesson in planetary stewardship that can be extrapolated from Biosphere 2. This new edition of Life Under Glass is a great way to appreciate the drama, the joy, the adventure we had during the two years.

Another great lesson was that even in a mini-biome using technology to supplement the natural functions that weren’t present, it was clear that humans and technology were not dominating or “controlling” the environment. Ultimately the microbes, fungi, plants, animals, and atmospheric cycles that we were helping to maintain were responsible for our health. Nowadays, we are so in love with the technologies that we have invented and sometimes become very grandiose, running away with the notion that humans run the biosphere. Thank goodness we don’t.

“Spaceship Earth” the Film 

The film Spaceship Earth chronicles the true, stranger-than-fiction adventure of eight visionaries who in 1991 spent two years quarantined inside of a self-engineered replica of Earth’s ecosystem called BIOSPHERE 2. As the current pandemic forces us to confront the fact that the narratives that inform our modern-day existence do not serve us, this tale of dreamers reimagining a new world may inspire our own vision of the future. The film is now available to stream in the US and will be released in Europe this July.  

“To have a research station on another planet, we have to figure out how to recreate a tiny biosphere for humans. That’s what the Biosphere 2 project in Arizona was trying to do in 1991. I was so interested in this experiment that I spent time locked inside their test module. But this $150 million structure was built by a theater group instead of scientists, and therein lies the drama worthy of a film. Skip the comedy (Biodome, 1996) and watch Spaceship Earth (2020), a new sympathetic documentary on this remarkable project. What they learned, of life support and human dynamics, should be better known. (Imagine being really locked down for 2 years.)” — Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine

Watch Spaceship Earth


Life Under Glass coverLife Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship from Two Years in Biosphere 2 

Abigail Alling, Mark Nelson, and Sally Silverstone, Foreward by Sylvia A. Earle

Planet in a bottle. Eden revisited. Laboratory under glass. The largest self-sustaining closed ecological system ever made. Biosphere 2 is many things to many people. From its half-acre farm to its coral reef to its emerald rainforest—this unique research facility has proven itself a marvel of human engineering and a testament to the human imagination.

For two years, four men and four women lived and worked inside the structure, recycling their air, water, food, and wastes, and setting a world record for living in an isolated environment. But what has this giant glass-and-steel greenhouse been to those most intimately involved with it? What has it meant to the first crew who studied and cared for it? What was it really like to be sealed inside a giant laboratory for twenty-four months?

“Life Under Glass details an extraordinary scientific experiment, one in which a handful of idealistic citizen scientists, at considerable personal risk, volunteered to enter a closed system, Biosphere 2. The audacity of the effort brings to mind that famous quote of Teddy Roosevelt in which he hails not the critics, but those in the arena who strive valiantly, who spend themselves in a worthy cause, and who, if they fail, do so while daring greatly, their faces marred by dust and sweat and blood.” – Professor Wade Davis, BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Get your copy now!

 

Bicycle Day 2020 and the Lessons Learned from LSD

Bicycle Day 2020 and the Lessons Learned from LSD

Image credit: Illustration of Albert Hofmann by Jakob Krattiger, 2004

Excerpt From: Dieter Hagenbach, Lucius Werthmüller. “Mystic Chemist”. Apple Books.

Bicycle Day 2020: An Interview with Lucius Werthmüller, Co-Author of Mystic Chemist 

The celebration of ‘Bicycle Day’ commemorates the day that Swiss chemist and discoverer of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Albert Hofmann, first intentionally ingested LSD in a self-experiment conducted in order to ascertain its effects. On April 19, 1943, Hofmann ingested 250 micrograms of the substance, believing it to be a threshold dose of the drug (he later discovered the threshold dose was a mere 20 micrograms). About an hour after ingesting the drug, Hofmann began to feel its effects take hold, asking his laboratory assistant to escort him home that evening. However, due to wartime restrictions, cars were prohibited; they had to travel home by bicycle.

In honour of Bicycle Day 2020, we interviewed Lucius Werthmüller, co-author of Mystic Chemist: The Life of Albert Hofmann and His Discovery of LSD and personal friend of Albert’s to gain a deeper perspective on Albert’s personal relationship to LSD, and the lessons he learned about it over the years.

To help you celebrate Hofmann’s discovery,  we are offering 50% off
Mystic Chemist, the definitive biography on Albert Hofmann
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Jasmine Virdi: How did you first meet Albert Hofmann?

Lucius Werthmüller: I met him when I was a child as he was a dear friend of my parents. To me, he was just another visitor at our house so I didn’t think he was particularly interesting at the time. At the age of 15, I had my first LSD

Albert Hofmann

Albert Hofmann showcasing the molecular structure of LSD

experience, and only later I learned that this friend of my parents was the discoverer of LSD, and that fact obviously made him much more interesting to me. We were often guests at Albert and [his wife] Anita’s home where we had barbecues, and harvested cherries yearly to make homemade schnapps. Later, we came to  develop our own relationship aside from the one we had through my parents. Becoming friends, we often  met, discussing matters of parapsychology, and life after death, especially in his last years leading up to his one-hundredth birthday. He was often asked by the journalists: “What do you think, will there be a life after death?” And he usually would say, “No I don’t believe in a life after death…” and after a short pause, he added, “I know that there is life after death.” 

Bicycle Day wasn’t the first time that Hofmann had tried LSD ? It was the first time intentionally, but before that, he had accidentally dosed himself.

Yes, that was on the 16th of April 1943. Before that, he reflected that this molecule [lysergic acid diethylamide] would not leave his mind. He first synthesized it during November 1938 for pharmacological research, but the chemical was not of interest, and so it was put away. However, it stayed ever present in his mind, and thinking there must be something special about it, he decided to synthesize it again five years later. When he re-synthesized it, he experienced a mildly intoxicating effect, and was unable to imagine how it had happened as he was a rigorous chemist, following strict safety protocols. His only explanation was that he must have absorbed it transdermally. This initial experience made him decide to intentionally ingest LSD three days later. 

Around the age of eight, Albert began having deep mystical experiences in nature. He describes that, from one step to another, he fell into a completely different state of mind, whereby he felt united with all of nature, feeling the miracle of nature in its full glory. From that experience, he decided that he wanted to study nature further, eventually becoming a chemist. He said that, by some kind of coincidence, these strange mystical experiences that led him to be an organic chemist led him to discover a substance that can also promote these mystical experiences.

After his initial revelatory experience which was described to be both “blissful” and “terrifying” what made him decide to go back for more?

It was terrifying for him because he genuinely believed that he was on the verge of death. If you don’t know what to expect or what is happening to you, LSD can be truly terrifying. When he was cycling home he entertained the idea that he was being poisoned by the drug, and so upon arriving home he called his doctor. When the doctor told him that everything was normal, all body functions were working properly, he could finally begin to relax, and enjoy the experience, realizing LSD’s tremendous potential to unlock the realms of the unconscious. 

What did Albert perceive the function of LSD to be? 

He saw it as a tool for making psychotherapy much more profound, to access the unconscious more easily, and he was quite sure from the beginning that it could help transform psychiatry, psychotherapy, and also our model of consciousness. 

LSD blotter art, Albert Hofmann, The Father of LSD

When was it that he started referring to LSD as his “problem child”? 

That was in the 60s. During the 1950s, LSD was the subject of study for hundreds of research programs all over the world, however, the drug was contained within the scientific community. He could’ve never imagined that LSD was to become a drug on the streets, being taken at parties as he had a  deep respect for it, believing that one must be very careful when ingesting it. Subsequently, he was put into contact with Timothy Leary, who was doing research at Harvard at the time, by Aldous Huxley. Initially Albert and Tim had quite an interesting correspondence, but after Leary was kicked out of Harvard and became a target in the media, Albert took his distance. He didn’t want to have LSD on the streets, and he couldn’t understand why the hippies took it in such high doses. 

Then, he began to have problems in his workplace. In 1962, some members of the Nobel Prize Committee had come from Stockholm to visit him, and it was almost certain that he would receive the Nobel Prize for chemistry, but that was the time when everything was becoming more and more scandalous with Timothy Leary in the media, leading Albert to start considering LSD as his “problem child.”

He also always said that a “problem child is not a child that creates problems, rather it is a child that has an enormous potential.” The German term “das Sorgenkind” cannot be adequately translated into English, meaning a child that you have to take special care of. Despite this, Albert was always convinced that LSD would never disappear from this world, and would continue to play an important role in the research of consciousness. 

What would he think of the psychedelic renaissance as it exists today? 

As long as he worked in the company [Sandoz], he was quite a conservative man, keeping his distance from the counterculture, but the older he became, the more open he was to LSD use that went beyond therapy. He compared it often to the Eleusinian mysteries, and he hoped that it would become a tool for initiation. In 2007, one year after our big conference and one year before he died, LSD research was once again permissible in Switzerland, and this made him incredibly happy. He didn’t want it to be misused by the youth as he truly felt it was something to be approached with reverence. However, by the end of his life, he was open to the idea of it being used outside of medical settings by those who approached it responsibly. His contact with writers and artists from all over the world convinced him that it can play an important role outside of medical contexts, and he was more and more happy that people took it. He would love the psychedelic renaissance today!

LSD was the first psychoactive substance that Albert synthesized, but it was not the only one. What were the others? Psilocybin, and psilocin?

Yes psilocybin, and he was also taking samples of Salvia divinorum when he was with Gordon Wasson in Mexico. The two had a journey to Mexico after Albert had first synthesized psilocybin to give it to Maria Sabina, the famed Mexican curandera who had first led Gordon Wasson on a mushroom ceremony. Wasson, on his first trip, had taken back some samples of salvia, but Albert was not able to find the active component. What was important for Albert was to look for the active component in these morning glory seeds ololiuqui that were used also as a sacrament in shamanic ceremonies in Mexico. 

He was deeply thrilled when he found out that there was also lysergic acid in these morning glory seeds. Apart from the psychoactive chemicals, he synthesized many medications, some of which are still in use. What he loved the most was methergine, a chemical that makes birthing easier for women. Speaking of his two favourite substances, he said “methergine makes physical birth easier, and the LSD makes spiritual birth easier.” These ergot alkaloids were used in medieval times by midwives to make the birthing process easier. For him, psilocybin wasn’t that interesting. The thing he wanted on his tombstone was “Albert Hofmann, discoverer of LSD.” 

Do you think that the messages that can be learned from LSD and other psychedelics can be helpful now in light of the coronavirus crisis? 

I don’t know how helpful it can be in this specific crisis, but one of the most important things about LSD is that it can reconnect people with the living creation, with nature. Albert’s biggest gripe with the modern world was our alienation from nature. He was unable to comprehend how people are seduced by materialism, turning a blind eye to the miracle of nature. I think that is what it really can do now to help us is to connect us with the living creation and the wonders of nature. Albert wrote up a summary of his life that he wanted to have read at his funeral ceremony which perfectly summarized how he saw LSD contributing to a better future: 

“Nature, the creation, was described by Paracelcus as the book written by the finger of God. In my life, I was fortunate to have this profoundly uplifting and comforting experience. To whomever understands how to read this book, not only with scientific curiosity but with wondering, loving eyes, will be revealed a deeper, more marvellous reality in which we are all secure, and forever united.”

Photo credit: Albert Hofmann in the Dordogne, France, 1990 by François Lagarde

Mystic Chemist: The Life of Albert Hofmann and His Discovery of LSD

Mystic Chemist By Dieter Hagenbach & Lucius Werthmüller

Mystic Chemist is the authoritative biography on arguably the most famous chemist of the 20th century. Authors Hagenbach and Werthmüller, close friends of Hofmann, take us on a journey through the 20th century from his mystical childhood experiences with nature; to his chemistry studies with Nobel Prize winner Paul Karrer in Zurich through his discoveries of both LSD and psilocybin at Sandoz; to his adventurous expeditions and his many years of retirement devoted to philosophy of nature and a rich social life. The authors also reveal a thorough and eventful history of the impact that LSD had on culture and the ensuing struggles between its advocates and opponents, many of which persist today.

Save 50% from now until April 16th with the coupon code: BICYCLE2020

Living in a Glass House: Earth as a Closed Ecosystem

Living in a Glass House: Earth as a Closed Ecosystem

Life Under Glass: A Message of Planetary Stewardship

We are excited to announce the soon approaching release of the second edition of Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship from Two Years in Biosphere 2 which tells the inside story of Biosphere 2, and what it was like for eight researchers to be sealed in a giant laboratory for twenty-four months. 

Despite the fact that the biospherians lived isolated within Biosphere 2, the insights from their vision have leaked far beyond the boundaries of the physical structure, forever changing the lives of the crew members and those that came into contact with it, encouraging them to pursue paths of planetary stewardship. 

What was Biosphere 2?

Biosphere 2

Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains north of Tucson, Arizona, the 3.15 acres Biosphere 2 facility is the world’s largest closed ecological system. Inside are tropical rainforest, savannah, desert, mangrove marsh, coral reef biomes, a half-acre farm, and human living area.

Biosphere 2 consisted of seven biomes within a three-and-a-half acre closed-ecological system built in Oracle, Arizona. Each of the seven biomes was a carefully created replica of one of the various ecosystems on earth, including a tropical rainforest, a savannah, a desert, a marshland , and even an ocean complete with a coral reef! Technologically, architecturally, and ecologically ambitious, it was constructed during 1987-1991, being the largest laboratory for global ecology ever built. 

From 1991 to 1993 eight researchers, called ‘biospherians’, undertook an experiment in which they lived fully enclosed within the airtight structure for a period of two years. During this time, the biospherians devoted themselves to caring for their small world, recycling their air, water, and wastes as well as growing their own food. 

In Life Under Glass, biosperian crew members, Abigail Alling, Mark Nelson, and Sally Silverstone, present the full account of their remarkable two years living within and caring for Biosphere 2. From the daily struggles of growing their own food, to learning to help sustain their life-giving atmosphere. They give us a sense of how Biosphere 2 caught the world’s imagination, tapping into the desire of people to reconnect and forge a new relationship with our planetary biosphere. Its lessons are increasingly relevant in the Anthropocene era as we find ourselves desperately in search of a new direction.

Learn about steps you can take to protect our Biosphere.

The Earth as a Closed-System

Our home has been under threat for decades from the pressure our expanding technosphere has placed upon the biosphere. In one view, the economic and social structures that we now inhabit have been founded upon the premise of “techno-optimism.” Techno-optimism is predicated around the idea that technological progress and development will be used for the betterment of mankind. 

Although, there is truth in the fact that technology has a beneficial impact on many of our lives, its major lack is that technological advancement has not been harmonized with ecological and regenerative practices. To quote R. Buckminster Fuller, “Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for the wrong reasons.” 

By contrast, Biosphere 2 was carefully designed using non-polluting technologies to support ecology. Similar to our Earth, Biosphere 2 was a closed-systems ecological unit, and the biospherians deliberately factored out the use of any polluting components such as pesticides and chemical products. They did not take up the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude that is so widely adopted in our world today. Instead, the biospherians understood that any chemical that leaked into the air, water or earth could be dangerous to their health.

“We understood on a profound level that our health and that of Biosphere 2 were the same. We were intensely aware that every action, everything we did, had immediate consequences. Our bodies understood and rejoiced in our cooperation with and dependence on all life. We had our responsibilities to work cooperatively with our living systems so as to maximize their well-being.” — Abigail Alling, Mark Nelson, & Sally Silverstone, Life Under Glass

Living Aboard “Spaceship Earth”

Earlier this year, some of our authors, John Allen and Mark Nelson, attended the Sundance 2020 Film Festival to attend the premiere of the long-awaited documentary film detailing the long, incredible story behind the construction of Biosphere 2. The film, entitled “Spaceship Earth”, is based in part of the memoir of John Allen, Me & the Biospheres, and includes extensive interviews with Mark Nelson and Sally Silverstone.

The title of the film alludes to the concept as used by the visionary architect R. Buckminster Fuller in the mid-1960s. One of Fuller’s primary concerns was the “vision for comprehensive planetary planning that resulted in new strategies intended to enable all of humanity to live with freedom, comfort and dignity, without negatively impacting the earth’s ecosystems or regenerative ability.” John Allen, Biosphere 2 inventor, was close friends with Buckminster Fuller and drew much inspiration from his ideas. 

“The notion was to create an enclosed space with every form of habitat — ocean, desert, jungle, and more — to act as an accelerated version of Earth, to show the rest of us how to fix our environmental problems and figure out how to colonize other planets… Wolf chronicles how the idea for Biosphere 2 developed into a real, functioning laboratory project…The copious footage — this was an experiment, and someone wanted it documented — shows how the crew had highs and lows, and dealt with challenges such as the build-up of carbon dioxide in the dome…Though it’s clear Wolf sides with the Biospherians, whom he sees as the first people to illustrate the dangers of climate change, the director is smart enough to present the facts and let viewers draw their own conclusion.” — Sundance review: ‘Spaceship Earth’ makes the case for Biosphere 2 as America’s first climate change experiment

Want to learn more about Spaceship Earth? Read: ‘Spaceship Earth’ and Planetary Stewardship

Inside Biosphere 2

In the rainforest, Linda Leigh reseeds planting pockets of the cloud forest mountain overlooking the lowland forest area. Fast-growing trees formed the initial canopy, protecting light-sensitive ones which will dominate the rainforest as it matures.

The Interdependence of Life on Earth

 

We live in an extraordinary and delicately balanced biosphere, wholly taking for granted the remarkable processes that supply us with clean water, air, and sustenance. In our modern-day world, it is easy to feel cut off from the interdependent relationships that characterize life on earth, and remaining unconscious of this interconnectivity has come at a high price to the only real home we have.

In these times of unprecedented uncertainty, the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) demonstrates how unnervingly delicate the balance of human life is on earth. Beyond the health issues associated with this virus, the effects that it is inevitably having on our social and economic system are of equal concern. The nature of ecosystem change is slow, and steady, compared with the immediate crisis of the pandemic we are now facing, making ecological crises seem like something distant, and far away, thus not spurring us into action.

Perhaps the strongest lesson millions of people will learn from the dramatic changes in our daily lives is a more profound appreciation for interconnectedness of all life. We are one species of billions that share one home on this planet.


Life Under Glass coverLife Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship from Two Years in Biosphere 2 

Abigail Alling, Mark Nelson, and Sally Silverstone, Foreward by Sylvia A. Earle

Planet in a bottle. Eden revisited. Laboratory under glass. The largest self-sustaining closed ecological system ever made. Biosphere 2 is many things to many people. From its half-acre farm to its coral reef to its emerald rainforest—this unique research facility has proven itself a marvel of human engineering and a testament to the human imagination.

For two years, four men and four women lived and worked inside the structure, recycling their air, water, food, and wastes, and setting a world record for living in an isolated environment. But what has this giant glass-and-steel greenhouse been to those most intimately involved with it? What has it meant to the first crew who studied and cared for it? What was it really like to be sealed inside a giant laboratory for twenty-four months?

“Life Under Glass tells the inside story of an extraordinary scientific experiment, one in which a handful of idealistic citizen scientists, at considerable personal risk, volunteered to enter a closed system, Biosphere 2. The audacity of the effort, together with the courage that drove them to persevere, brings to mind that famous quote of Teddy Roosevelt in which he hails not the critics, but those in the arena who strive valiantly, who spend themselves in a worthy cause, and who, if they fail, do so while daring greatly, their faces marred by dust and sweat and blood.  — Professor Wade Davis, BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Available April 2, 2020. If you wish, you can purchase the book now, and you will be sent an email notification when the book arrives and is being shipped.

Purchase Life Under Glass

 

‘Spaceship Earth’ and Planetary Stewardship | Sundance 2020

‘Spaceship Earth’ and Planetary Stewardship | Sundance 2020

“Spaceship Earth” Documentary on Biosphere 2 Premieres at Sundance Film Festival

Last weekend, some of our authors, John Allen and Mark Nelson, along with publisher, Deborah Snyder, attended the premiere of this long awaited film at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Audiences gave standing ovations. The film is based in part on the memoir by John Allen, Me & the Biospheres, and includes extensive interviews with authors Mark Nelson and Sally Silverstone, both authors of our next book, Life Under Glass, a second edition of the account they wrote while living inside.

“Spaceship Earth” unravels the compelling tale behind Biosphere 2 — the largest laboratory for global ecology ever built, comprised of seven biomes within a three and a half-acre closed ecological unit. Each biome was a carefully created replica of one of the various ecosystems on Earth. The film spans a fifty-year history of the small group of individuals who embarked on this extraordinary venture. Directed by Matt Wolf, Produced by Stacy Reiss (The Eagle Huntress).

Spaceship Earth Crew at Sundance 2020

The Directors and producers with the Biosphere 2 team at the Sundance Film Festival 2020.

Costing $200 million to build, Biosphere 2 was complete with a tropical rainforest, a grassland, a coastal desert, and even a coral containing ocean. From 1991 to 1993 eight researchers across different scientific practices, called ‘Biospherians’, began a two-year-long experiment in which they lived fully enclosed within the structure with the aim of studying how the environments would evolve, and if they could sustain human life. But just how did this wild experiment come to be? 

Chronicling back to San Francisco in the early 1960s, “Spaceship Earth” traces the journey of artist-engineer John Allen and his group of like-minded, free-thinking friends who set about making the earth a more sustainable place through theater, art, and ecologically driven projects. Together, the group formed the avant-garde theater troupe, the Theater of All Possibilities, mixing together noetics, science, and ecology with experimental theater. 

The group went on to establish several other projects including Synergia Ranch, an intentional community in New Mexico focused on ecology, architecture, and art. With Synergia Ranch as their headquarters, the group started to scale into even more ambitious projects, founding the non-profit organization the Institute of Ecotechnics (IE). IE’s main goal has been the development and application of innovative approaches to harmonizing technology and the global biosphere.

The team embarked upon constructing their own hand-built sailing vessel from scratch, starting a sustainable forestry project in Puerto Rico, and even an art gallery in London. Their far-sighted scope ultimately led to their most inspirational project — Biosphere 2.

“Synergia’s members hungered for knowledge and were always looking to one-up themselves, under the philosophy that life could be playful and meaningful if you were open to all possibilities. So in the late 1980s, Allen and his band of visionaries embarked on their most ambitious project ever: the construction of a biosphere that would sustain the lives of eight crew members for two years without any outside interference.” — Matt Patches, “Spaceship Earth uncovers the goodness hidden in the debacle of Biosphere 2

“In the end, Spaceship Earth is an epic story told over the course of 50 years about epic people. That we could imagine everyday humans being as epic as the Synergists and Biospherians is the invitation of the film. What would it take for a small group of people to set their vision and imagination on a wild goal and get up every day to accomplish it? Does that have to be such a wild proposition? Have we become too cynical? Has our belief in possibility diminished? If you need a reminder about the awesome creative potential of humanity, see this film.” — Hariette Yahr , “A reminder about the power of Imagination”, Modern Times, the European Documentary Magazine

Biosphere 2 was built as an educational apparatus to study planetary workings by replicating key components of earth’s (Biosphere 1’s) fantastic diversity, and observing how it evolved in a closed system. Beyond this, the Biospherians took the threat of ecological collapse seriously, wanting to develop a harmonic balance between ecology and technology, potentially suitable to colonize space, and gaining insight into how humans can better our impacts on earth’s biosphere.

A Testament to the Power of Small Groups  

Ultimately, the story behind Biosphere 2, and the many initiatives driven forward by the Institute of Ecotechnics serve as a testament to the power of small groups. Wild dreams of envisioning a better world do not have to be cast-off as an idealistic pastime, but rather they can become an even more productive reality when put into an actionable plan. 

A Beacon of Planetary Stewardship 

Today Biosphere 2 continues to serve as a beacon of hope with a message grounded in harmonizing human actions with nature. One of the most crucial insights that we can draw from the Biosphere 2 project is that we already live in a closed ecological system, Biosphere 1, the Earth!  

We can re-empower ourselves with the knowledge and know that what we do as individuals makes a difference to the outcome at large. In the words of Buckminster Fuller:

“I’ve often heard people say: ‘I wonder what it would feel like to be onboard a spaceship,’ and the answer is very simple. What does it feel like? That’s all we have ever experienced. We are all astronauts on a little spaceship called Earth.” 


What Reviewers Said About Spaceship Earth 

“The film’s larger frame is something more spiritual, an innate quest for knowledge and adventure whose principal crime was naiveté. Operating outside the usual government and academic realms for such projects, the Biosphere 2 personnel weren’t prepared for the extent to which they’d be scrutinized and dismissed for that independence. Drawing on a wealth of archival materials as well as interviews with all surviving participants, “Spaceship” is an involving, oddly poignant tale that should have broad appeal to those on the lookout for distinctive documentary features.” — Dennis Harvey, “‘Spaceship Earth’: Film Review for Variety


Books on Biosphere 2

Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2 

Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2In today’s world, where the problems of climate change, pollution and ecological destruction become ever more pressing, we often tend to forget about the things which have already and are still being done for the environment, in attempts to align man with the natural world.

The 2009 Winner of the Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Biography/Memoir, Me and the Biospheres is the definitive autobiography of John P. Allen, inventor of the largest laboratory for global ecology ever built and one of the most luminous minds of our time. Contained within a magnificently designed air-tight glass and steel frame structure, Biosphere 2 covered three acres of Arizona desert and included models of seven biomes: an ocean with coral reef, a marsh, a rainforest, a savannah, a desert, farming areas and a micro-city. Eight people lived inside this structure for two years (1991-1993) and set world records in human life support, monitoring their impact on the environment, while providing crucial data for future manned missions into outer space. Anyone concerned with the current world trajectory will identify with Allen’s uplifting account of the most ambitious environmental experiment ever undertaken. Humorous and Whitmanesque, Me and the Biospheres is a tribute to the ingenuity and dauntlessness of the human mind and a passionate call to reawaken to the beauty of our peerless home, Biosphere 1, the Earth.
 

APRIL 2020

Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship Learned from Two Years in Biosphere 2

What has it meant to the first crew who studied and cared for Biosphere 2? What was it really like to be sealed inside a giant laboratory for twenty-four months?

In Life Under Glass, crew members, Abigail Alling and Mark Nelson with co-captain Sally Silverstone present the full account of those two remarkable years. From the struggles of growing their own food, to learning how to help sustain their life-giving atmosphere, the general reader is offered a rare glimpse into how a group of dedicated researchers managed to surprise the world and fulfill their dream. In this updated edition, a new chapter reflects on the legacy of Biosphere 2 and the state of related scientific progress. Other crews will come and go, but no one else will face the risks, the uncertainties, and the challenges that this new breed of explorers did on Biosphere 2’s maiden voyage. Here is the fascinating story of how it all unfolded—the dramatic tales of learning to live in a separate world under glass.

Browse books on Sustainability & Ecology

Peyote Road Reflections

Peyote Road Reflections

Above: Peyote Meeting at Mirando City, Texas, from Reflections on the Peyote Road, by Jerry Patchen, ESPD50 (photo courtesy of Robert Black)

What is Peyote?

Peyote, scientifically known as Lophophora williamsii, is a small, spineless cactus native to North America, populating the vast desert thorn scrub that runs from the southwestern United States into north-central Mexico. It is commonly known for its psychoactive properties. Among its many alkaloids, peyote contains the naturally occurring chemical compound mescaline which has the ability to induce brilliantly colored geometrical visions. Classed as a controlled, Schedule I substance in the United States, Native Americans have had to fight hard for the sustained use of their sacred plant.

The sacramental use of peyote is the oldest known religious practice on the North American continent. By way of example, there are three archeological specimens of peyote that were discovered in the Shumla Cave in Pecos, Texas which have been radiocarbon dated between 3660 and 3780 BCE. Petroglyphs in the area adorned with peyote motifs have also been dated to the same period. Thus, the cactus has been used by indigenous groups in Northern Americas for millennia, being an integral part of the cosmology of Huichol peoples of Northern Mexico as well as the Native American Church. 

Western Culture’s Misunderstanding of the Plant Medicine

Despite being given such reverence by indigenous peoples and the NAC, peyote has been extremely misunderstood by outsiders for centuries. Since their arrival in the New World in the early 1600s, Spanish colonists set about replacing native religions with Catholicism. Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan friar, and missionary priest wrote about peyote: 

“Those who eat or drink it see visions either frightful or laughable… it stimulates them and gives them sufficient spirit to fight and have neither fear, thirst, nor hunger… It causes those devouring it to foresee and predict; such, for instance, as whether the weather will continue; or to discern who has stolen from them…”

Upon coming into contact with peyote in Mexico, the Spanish colonialists considered it to be an anti-christian, “diabolical root” in direct opposition to the integrity of the Catholic faith. The Inquisitor General ordered Christianization at the point of the sword, and plants used in native rituals were condemned. In 1620, an official order was issued by the Inquisitors declaring that “no person of whatever rank of social condition can or may make use of the said herb, Peyote” as it was considered to be an “intervention of the Devil.”           

Spanish Imperialists brought death and disease to Northern Mexico and with this its inhabitants fled, scattering south and west. One group, the Tarahumara Indians, made their home in the remote hills of the Sierra Madre Occidental. It is believed that their successors gave rise to the Huichol or Wixarika, who are the only remaining indigenous group in Mexico that continues to use peyote as a ritual sacrament.

The Native American Use of Peyote

Peyote Drummer

‘Peyote Drummer’ Via Museum of Photographic Arts Collections

Meanwhile, north of the border the European colonization of America had begun. Over the span of a couple of centuries, the Native Americans saw their buffalo food supply deliberately wiped out, with each tribe experiencing its own genocide, land seizure, displacement, and removal to reservations.

Acclaimed ethnobotanist, Richard Evans Schultes, was among the first few Westerners to study peyote. In 1936, Schultes made his way to Oklahoma to study the ritual use of peyote among the Kiowa Indians. 

It is thought that the Kiowa first came into contact with peyote in the mid-1800s through the Comanches. According to the seminal text Peyote Religion by Omer Stewart, the Carrizo Mexican Indians passed peyote use and rituals to the Lipan Apache, with the Apache going on to pass it to the Comanches, and finally it was passed from the Comanches to the Kiowa.

Anthropologist Wade Davis writes of the Native American’s connection to peyote in his book One River explaining that “peyote offered the Kiowa and the Comanche an astonishing affirmation of their fundamental religious ideas” in a time when their ways of life were disintegrating.

Legal Battles and the Native American Chruch

Jerry Patchen, a Texas attorney, and contributing author to our publication Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs has represented the Native American Church and US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) licensed peyote dealers (peyoteros) harvesting and selling peyote to the NAC for over forty years. 

During his career as a lawyer, he fought on the frontlines of the peyote wars, providing pro bono representation to Indians that were being charged with the serious offense of possessing a controlled substance. In his paper, “Reflections of the Peyote Road with the Native American Church – Visions & Cosmology” he expands upon his journey, helping to protect and secure the legal status of Peyote for use by Native Americans in NAC prayer services. 

To learn more about the legal trials and tribulations faced by the Native American Church watch the video below, in which Jerry Patchen reflects on his career and shares his personal experiences.

In 1912, the Bureau of Indian Affairs tried to lobby for a federal law prohibiting peyote. This law was passed by the House of Representatives but rejected by the Senate. An Oklahoman senator was swayed by his Indian constituency, persuading his colleagues to vote against the bill. Following this, the Native American Church rallied the support of several anthropologists, ethnologists, and ethnobotanists in their fight to save their sacred medicine. Among them, Richard Evans Schultes had presented a vast bibliography as well as the insights from field research with the Kiowa. Finally, the U.S. Senate Committee accepted their conclusion that peyote was not a “habit-forming drug” and is used as a “religious sacrament”. 

The efforts to prohibit the use of peyote ceased for three decades until the beginning of the 1960s countercultural movement in the 1960s where baby boomers discovered psychedelic substances and wanted to “turn on, tune in, drop out” en masse. Alarmed by the potential dangers of psychoactive substances, the U.S. government enacted The Controlled Substances Act of 1970, in which peyote was included in the drugs classified as Schedule I substances. Read more about psychedelics and the 1960s counterculture.

Patchen helped create and draft a plan of petitioning the U.S. Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and to amend the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFA) to expressly include peyote. This strategy was presented to Senator Daniel Inouye, Chairman of the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs at a public hearing in Oklahoma. The strategy succeeded with both Acts eventually being passed. Thus, the listing of peyote as a controlled substance does no longer applies to the sacramental use of peyote in bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church. Later, this legislation played a key role in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to permit the religious use of ayahuasca. Patchen reflects that:

“Without the tenacious commitment of the NAC, there would be no legal use of Peyote or ayahuasca in the U.S. today”

What does the Future Hold for Peyote?

Donna Torres Lophophora Williamsii

Lophophora williamsii by the botanical illustrator Donna Torres

In recent years, the greatest threat to peyote is its paucity and decreasing numbers. A convergence of factors such as illegal poaching, overharvesting, and conversion of its natural environment into agricultural land has led to a severe decrease in wild populations, making it a vulnerable species. 

As early as 1995, American botanist Edward Anderson noted the change in peyote populations in his paper entitled “The “Peyote Gardens” of South Texas: a conservation crisis?”. Anderson theorized that the greatest threat to peyote was not the peyoteros who are registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and legally permitted to collect peyote to supply the Native American Church. In general, peyoteros are considered to be good conservationists, harvesting sustainably with the knowledge that their livelihood depends on stable populations of the plant. 

Rather, Anderson identified the two most serious threats to peyote as “root-plowing [for agricultural purposes] and the locking up of ranches to the peyoteros” with most land being privately owned. Thus, a tension exists between land-owners and peyoteros who have to take out costly leases to harvest the peyote enclosed in private land. What’s more, is that it has become more and more difficult for distributors to gain the legal approval they need to collect peyote to sell to the Native American Church. A 2018 article by Daniel Oberhaus, stated that there are currently “only four peyoteros who are registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and legally able to collect peyote.”

Beyond this, the number of people consuming peyote globally exceeds the plants’ ability to regenerate. Since the 1960s, New Age psychedelic tourists have been drawn to the plains of Northern Mexico seeking visionary experience. This trend has also been amplified by the fanfare surrounding today’s psychedelic renaissance, with a renewed interest in the therapeutic potentials of visionary plants. This psychedelic tourism has inevitably has impacted the availability of peyote for the Huichol.

Peyote is a fragile species liable to become endangered. The plant itself is extremely slow-growing, taking many years to reach maturity, and people are harvesting it in a very negligent way. When harvesting is done sustainably, the top of the root hardens but the plant does not die and is able to produce more peyote in the future. If poor harvesting techniques are used, the entire plant dies. 

To learn more about how to harvest peyote sustainably, check out this video uploaded by anthropologist, Bia Labate, interviewing Dr. Martin Terry from the Cactus Conservation Institute


More about Jerry Patchen

Jerry Patchen contributing author to the Ethnopharmacologic Search of Psychoactive Drugs -- PeyoteJerry D. Patchen, contributing author to Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, is a Texas Attorney with four decades of experience litigating civil and criminal cases. Patchen’s work includes forty years of pro bono representation of the Native American Church (NAC) on behalf of American Indians to secure and protect their rights to religious freedom. Serving as an Officer in the NAC, he represented individuals charged in various states with possession of Peyote, winning every case. He also represented the Peyote dealers in Texas, who are licensed by the Texas DPS and DEA to dispense Peyote to Indians. Throughout his representation of the NAC Jerry, his wife, Linda, and their three children participated in Peyote meetings with Native American elders for decades.


Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research (1967-2017)

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs Box SetCertain plants have long been known to contain healing properties and used to treat everything from depression and addiction, to aiding in on one’s own spiritual well-being for hundreds of years. Can Western medicine find new cures for human ailments by tapping into indigenous plant wisdom? And why the particular interest in the plants with psychoactive properties? These two conference volume proceedings provide an abundance of answers.

The milestone publication, Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, emerged as the brainchild of Dennis McKenna. McKenna, having attained a copy of the original publication from the 1967 conference, found himself inspired to shape his career in light of the book, delving into a lifelong investigation of the pharmacology of traditional medicinal plants.

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