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Leydy Pech: Protecting an Indigenous Way of Life

Leydy Pech: Protecting an Indigenous Way of Life

For the past decade, indigenous beekeeper Leydy Pech has been at the forefront of a battle protecting her homeland’s environment and way of life. She has been recognized in her efforts to protect the livelihoods, territories, and traditions of her community and standing up against the use of glyphosate and GMOs in the Mexican state of Campeche, located in the Yucatán peninsula. 

Xunan Kaab bees (Photo via: Goldman Environmental Prize)

Pech hails from the Maya community of Hopelchén, where the practice of traditional indigenous beekeeping has been preserved in its ancestral form, using the Melipona Beecheii species, a type of stingless bee native to the peninsula. The traditional practice, which Pech learned from her grandfather, consists of using hollow logs to keep hives and then harvesting honey, beeswax, and ‘royal jelly’ from them. 

Maya beekeeping is a tradition more than two thousand years old and is the only type of apiculture that originated in a tropical climate. Bees hold a sacred and privileged position in the cosmology and mythology of the regions’ Maya people who call the bees xuna’an kab or colel-kab (“royal lady”) and recognize their vital role in nature’s equilibrium. 

In addition to the honey’s use as a sweetener, the products harvested from the hives are used in many indigenous natural remedies as well as religious rituals and ceremonies. The products are also used to make balché, a mildly intoxicating drink used in ceremonies reverencing the bee’s role in the greater cycle of life. Such is the link between Maya culture and bees that the Maya language of that region has more than 150 terms related to the cultivating and keeping of hives.

Safeguarding the Commons

In 2012, genetically modified (GM) soybeans began to be planted in Campeche after the Mexican government allowed agrochemical giant Monsanto to move forward with large-scale operations in seven Mexican states. The practice of using GM crops for agricultural production resulted in damage to the region’s environmental health and spurred Pech and the Maya women’s collective she’s a part of. Concerned by the impact that these practices were having in her region, she led a coalition of beekeepers, NGO’s, and environmentalists in challenging Monsanto and the Mexican government, by placing a lawsuit to stop the planting of GMOs. The suit affirmed that since neither Monsanto nor the government had consulted the region’s indigenous communities, they had violated their rights protected by the Mexican constitution. 

Pech knew that local bee populations along with the region’s environment more broadly were affected due to the pesticides and herbicides such as glyphosate which are used to grow the crops. Glyphosate is the primary agent in Monsanto’s product Round-Up, which is sold as a complement to certain GMO seeds that are designed to resist glyphosate. To support their case, Pech requested the help of academic institutions who could assist in documenting the impact that the presence of GM crops and associated practices had in the ecological well-being of the region. Researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) found genetically modified crops’ pollen in the local honey supply as well as traces of glyphosate in Hopelchén’s water and in urine samples taken from local inhabitants.

Three years after the suit was filed, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the broad coalition and declared that that indigenous communities must be consulted before the planting of GM crops. The victory marked a significant upset for the transnational agroindustrial corporations and represented a twist in the Green Revolution’s story which has continued to unfold in Mexico and around the world.

Consequences of the Green Revolution

The Green Revolution is the name given to a series of techniques developed in the field of agriculture which, by the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides along with high yield seed varieties, changed the way much of the food in our world is produced. In the 1950’s Mexico served as a guinea pig for the techniques being developed since it’s where Norman Borlaug (the “Father of the Green Revolution”), worked as a part of a joint venture between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture. Ever since, Mexico has been on the front lines of its implementation as well as the resistance against its consequences.

Although the techniques developed in The Green Revolution serve to increase agricultural production, they are problematic in that their side effects are often devastating to the environment and to countless peoples’ way of life around the globe. Perhaps most importantly, the techniques of the Green Revolution require enormous amounts of water, calculated by some to be ten times the amount needed for traditional methods. Synthesized chemicals used as fertilizers are known to contribute to a host of environmental issues, including acidification of soil, contamination of surface and groundwater, and increasing the levels of nitrous oxide in our atmosphere, the third most prevalent greenhouse gas in our planet. Due to their high cost, the techniques are mainly used by large-scale operations that have the means to invest capital. Consequently, the immense majority of farmers around the world that work on a small scale are excluded from this model. When smaller farmers are able to purchase the equipment and the fertilizers/pesticides necessary for this kind of farming it is only by taking out enormous loans which saddle them with long-term debt. 

In Defense of Health, Habitat, and Culture

The problematic nature of these techniques is difficult to curb in part because they are highly lucrative for the extractivist companies that wish to implement them. The ruling in favor of Leydy Pech’s coalition has not stopped her from continuing to raise awareness for these issues and organizing her community to protect their territory and their traditional way of life. “Frankly, right now, all the programs destined for the countryside are not designed for the farmer or the indigenous Mayan, they are designed for the modernization of the fields, but this is for businessmen and their industrial agriculture.”

As 2020 came to a close Mexico’s government reaffirmed its stance against the use of glyphosate and made the decision to ban GMO corn in the country. These advances have been welcomed by environmentalist communities but advocates have also pointed out that the battle is far from over, with many agroindustrial farms continuing to use the GM soybeans and glyphosate in the region. Pech’s work serves as an inspiration for people around the world whose environment and way of life are in peril due to the destructive impact of unfettered, neoliberal agroindustry. For Pech, “Caring for our lands is caring for ourselves, and if we do not do so we will disappear.”

Photo of Leydy Pech via the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Vandana Shiva Fights Patents on Seeds

Vandana Shiva Fights Patents on Seeds

Vandana Shiva, the Indian scientist, and activist stands for social justice and uncompromising sustainability. The Alternative Nobel Prize winner gained worldwide attention through her fight against the agricultural giant Monsanto. But Vandana Shiva does not only want to fight patents on seeds and give the seeds back to the farmers who grow them. She is a well-known critic of globalization, speaks out publicly against the concentration of wealth, and fights for better coexistence on earth.

Vandana Shiva: From Physicist to Activist

A public lecture and press conference by Vandana Shiva and meeting with young farmers, NGOs and activists (2013)

Before Vandana Shiva became a world-renowned social activist, she studied physics in India and Canada. As early as the 1970s, she became involved in the first Indian environmental movement, the Chipko movement. It was mainly supported by Indian women who were fighting against commercial deforestation. In the 1980s, two major events finally led her to look into agriculture. Several tons of poisonous gas escaped into the atmosphere from a US pesticide factory in Bhopal, India. The worst chemical accident in history occurred, killing thousands of people. Also, riots broke out in Punjab, a predominantly agricultural area. Industrial fertilizer, pesticides, and new seeds from the USA promised higher yields for the local farmers, but at the same time led to dependence on large corporations and fatal environmental damage.

Fighting Patents on Seeds and Protecting Diversity

As a critic of globalization, Shiva was active against the monopoly position of transnational agricultural corporations like Monsanto, which were trying to exert increasing influence on Indian agriculture. In her home village of Dehadrun, she founded the institute “The Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology”, which observes the influence of the world market on Indian farmers. In 1991 Shiva founded the organization Navdanya, which stands for the protection of the biological diversity of seeds. Navdanya collects regional varieties and saves them from extinction. In addition, the organization promotes organic farming methods and protects farmers from dependence on patented seeds.

Seeds Belong to Those Who Grow Them

Shiva refers to what is happening in agriculture as “bio-imperialism“. Companies make seeds their property by making them easier to patent through the use of genetic engineering. Shiva’s life work has largely been devoted to fighting patents on seeds and she strongly criticizes this practice:

“Some Western companies remind me of a doctor who performs a c-section and claims he also made the child.”

The preservation of indigenous seeds in the hands of local communities and chemical-free agriculture with local markets are among Vandana Shiva’s most important goals. Her vision of ideal agriculture is based on fair trade and solidarity-based commerce, as well as on biodiversity and organic farming. For her commitment to environmental protection, women’s rights, and sustainability, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, considered the Alternative Nobel Prize.

Oneness vs the 1%

But Vandana Shiva’s activism is not only focused on agriculture: In 2019 she published her book “Oneness vs The 1%“. The 1%, is the symbol for the concentration of wealth according to the rules of neoliberal economies. She calls billionaires like Bill Gates bio-pirates, who act mainly in their own interests. Their engagement serves primarily to acquire resources and to collect and sell data. In an interview, she makes it clear:

“They cause all this destruction in the name of feeding the world, but has the world been fed? We need to take a step back to understand the true meaning of economy and ecology.”

Vandana Shiva: “The earth belongs to all of us, not to corporations like Monsanto”

On the occasion of Earth Day 2020, her organization Navdanya called for making peace with the earth. A global economy based on the myth of limitless growth and appetite for the earth’s resources, as corporations like Monsanto practice, is at the root of the current health crisis and future crises. It is important to learn to adequately protect the rights and ecological spaces of different species and peoples again. We must move from an economy of greed, competition, and violence to an economy of care: for the earth, for the people, and for all living species.

In an online interview with Right Livelihood College, Vandana Shiva talks about her visions for the future. In her opinion, one of the many reasons for the current crisis is our lack of respect for the environment. People should stop focusing on consumption in order to become true earth-citizens. When Vandana Shiva was asked about long-term changes for the time after the crisis, she says:

“We have to realize that we are not alone on this planet and that we have a responsibility towards others. We have a duty not to take more than our share, because when we are all connected, we all have a share.”

This article was republished from Scoop.me

Striving for Wholeness: The Courage of Buckminster Fuller

Striving for Wholeness: The Courage of Buckminster Fuller

Few thinkers have stood so valiantly outside of the prevalent system of thought as R. Buckminster Fuller. His phrase, “Dare to be naïve” placed at the beginning of one of his most enduring texts, startles the mind of those who suppose that once we have become functional component parts in the fabric of society we should renounce all instances of innocence, inexperience, and naïvety.  In our current age, when ruptures are tearing through the institutional framework of our society, his incisive criticism, as well as insightful perspective, proves abundantly relevant for us in our search for a better world. His insistence on understanding systems in terms of their wholeness reveals a courage that befits someone who through their convictions is willing to function with true freedom and who in turn may affect the entirety of the system they belong to; a ‘Trim Tab’, as he was frequently referred to.

Reappraising our Current Paradigm Through the Lens of Synergetics 

We are often caught in a state with a perspective whose limitations we do not know of. In the introduction to his work Synergetics, Fuller writes of how the vagueness of boundaries between the animate and inanimate leads to implications about our Universe that are not readily recognized by either scientists or the general public. Despite the increase of our examinational abilities, we are no longer as certain as we once were about what exactly divides life from matter; cells and DNA from atoms and molecules. In Fuller’s view science’s failure to find a physical property of life that is distinct not based on the same building blocksfrom the rest of the inanimate Universe shows that in essence, life goes beyond our materialistic outlook. He goes as far as to say, “We are now synergetically forced to conclude that all phenomena are metaphysical; wherefore, as many have long suspected -like it or not- life is but a dream.” 

Fuller’s description of our need to reappraise the paradigm under which we live is at the same time reminiscent of Claudio Naranjo’s call for a “revolution of awareness”; Fuller and Naranjo both believed the course we are collectively on to be one which leads to more destruction if not outright extinction. An imperative on the path toward a different world as well as a tenable future lies for him in the reorientation of our minds away from the over-specialized tendencies of our current era and toward an awareness of a synergetic whole. 

For Fuller, “humanity has been deprived of comprehensive understanding” because our society assumes the narrowing trend of specialization to be “logical, natural, and desirable”. “Specialization’s preoccupation with parts deliberately forfeits the opportunity to apprehend and comprehend what is provided exclusively by synergy.” We have come to believe that the only way to advance in our world is to continue specializing so that we may fit in with the hegemonic model that permeates our socio-cultural contexts. Because a highly specialized and divided society does not think comprehensively about our ills and challenges, individuals tend to leave “responsibility for thinking and social action to others.” 

Buckminster Fuller Synergetics

From the Black Mountain College Research Project Papers, Visual Materials, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC via Wikicommons.

The Boldness of Integrity

Understanding humanity as one part of a greater whole is a central tenet in the modern environmental movement, which has been significantly inspired by Fuller’s ideas. The conception of humanity as separate from the world around us is reflected in the unchecked industrialization that has devastated life systems world-over, vividly articulated in Vandana Shiva’s recent title Reclaiming the Commons: In Defense of Biodiversity, Traditional Knowledge, and the Rights of Mother Earth.

Missing from the models held up by our so-called leaders are critical questions such as: How do we understand wholeness? What is our role as individuals comprising a greater system? How do we resolve the conflict between the individual will and the expression of our collective whole? What are the boundaries of the system we belong to? 

As we increase our capacity to conceive of life as an integrated whole, we find we are reaching toward our own wholeness. There is a need for a holographization of ourselves, in other words, to reimagine ourselves as individual parts that represent and correspond to the entirety of our Universe at multiple scales. Part of our task, which relates to the metaphysical transformation that Fuller speaks of, is to engage our minds in an integrative action toward a holographically representative version of the Universe.

Metaphysical Implications of Synergetic Perspectives

Fuller often spoke of his life and achievements as reflective of what an average healthy human being can attain by focusing their energy toward the improvement of humanity. But as we look toward his spectacular output, what can we understand as the origin of his ‘health’? If his manifestations of curiosity, inquisitiveness, creativity, and comprehensive understanding were a result of his ‘health’, then what can we ascribe it to? What does it mean for a human being to be healthy, and how can a human who is ensnared in ‘unhealthy’ living, rehabilitate themselves? 

These wide-ranging questions remain for individuals to ponder on their own, for there are no pre-formulated answers which we can use without losing the inherent value of having arrived there ourselves. Fuller stated that his remarkable trajectory was the result of an individual making up his mind and letting it go along with the truth they glimpse; not trying to “solve things in the terms of what the going game of money and politics may be.” We must realize that, “It is essential to release humanity from the false fixations of yesterday, which seem now to bind it to a rationale of action leading only to extinction.”

Remembering Sally Silverstone – Biospherian, Author and Friend

Remembering Sally Silverstone – Biospherian, Author and Friend

It is with heavy hearts that we write this tribute to our long-time friend, Sally Silverstone, biospherian, author and educator. Sally died suddenly and unexpectedly at her home in Bali. The world has lost another treasure as her unique life and inquisitive spirit led her on innumerable adventures few have encountered, with perhaps one of the most well-known being her participation in the Biosphere 2 experiment, living sealed within the world’s largest laboratory for global ecology for two whole years.

We at Synergetic Press, alongside Sally’s friends and colleagues at the Biosphere Foundation, are all mourning her loss. We have been working together the past months promoting her new book, and she was preparing to start teaching Biosphere Stewardship programs at the Center they build in Bali starting in October.  As we absorb this shock, her close friend, fellow biospherian, and co-author with Sally and Abigail Alling of their newly published book, Life Under Glass: Lessons from Two Years Inside Biosphere 2, Dr. Mark Nelson shares these memories on her life and legacy.

Sally Silverstone: A Remarkable Life Well Lived 

by Mark Nelson

Sally Silverstone lived a full and rich life which defies a simple, linear account. It was, for a woman so deeply connected with the Earth and the earth (soil) in which she created gardens wherever she went, a magical mystery tour.

She was always open to adventure, especially if it fell into that wonderful category of a necessary adventure. That’s one which enhances the world, the people it touches and stretches her own potentialities.

How else to explain her “yes, I will!” reaction at the October Gallery in London which she was casually visiting when Chili Hawes, in need of more actors for a stage production, invited her to join that studio ensemble of the Theater of All Possibilities. Sally wound up playing Metal Woman in sublime gold make-up and joining whole-heartedly the far-flung endeavors of the Institute of Ecotechnics.

She played a key role in the early 1980s years establishing our sustainable tropical forestry project, Las Casas de la Selva, in Puerto Rico. Falling in love with the cutting-edge project and its mountain forest location, she gained the name we knew her by “Sierra”. A mountain range indeed for her vision and unflappable ability to manage even in the midst of stress, drama, and chaos!

When she heard about the ground-breaking Biosphere 2 project from John Allen, even in simple sketches on the back of a napkin, she immediately said: “yes, that’s for me!” At Biosphere 2 she helped manage the office with dozens of architects/draftsmen and engineers racing to produce blueprints ahead of the breakneck and mammoth construction of the world’s first human-built mini-world while also training as a biospherian candidate.

Of course, she wound up in Biosphere 2, as our captain (along with emergency co-captain, Mark Van Thillo) and manager of the Food Systems. Reflecting on the achievements of Biosphere 2, I think that Sierra was our super-glue. She joked that having run a mental hospital in India earlier in her life was perfect preparation for managing seven other biospherians!! And no matter what was happening – and all hell was often breaking loose, with the steep learning curve we were all on figuring out how to be biospherians and manage a mini-biosphere, the media frenzy and power struggles outside, and the historic role that Biosphere 2 was to play in bringing the idea of what a biosphere is to hundreds of millions worldwide.

Among her strongest passions were growing food and feeding people. Biosphere 2 was the perfect place then. She led the team turning a half-acre farm into one of the most productive agricultures ever – and without using chemical fertilizers or poisons. How could we have lived in Biosphere 2 without the special treats and food and drink for our feasts which Sierra took such pleasure in concocting: from banana wine to cheeses and sausages and a million ways to make our meals memorable and distinctive even while using the same ingredients.

I was delighted when she started calling me her “Bio Buddy.” Our desks in the Command Room faced each other, and we often ended our nights there; Sierra writing reports and planning our work, while listening to the BBC, me writing in my journal, or preparing our weekly news updates.

After Biosphere 2, Sierra returned to the rainforest she loved, helping manage Las Casas de la Selva for over a decade, helping turn it into a very important project for the island and the world of tropical forestry. She was also a key member of Synergia Ranch in New Mexico during those years, alternating her time. Of course, there she restarted a dormant vegetable garden, producing food for our community kitchen.  I also was excited to work with her for years as a fellow director of the Institute of Ecotechnics and at our annual Ecotechnic conferences.

I helped Sierra with the forestry and ecological research program in Puerto Rico which brought teams of Earthwatch volunteers to the project for many years, measuring and remeasuring thousands of the 40,000 hardwoods that had been planted decades earlier. Sierra was inventive and unflappable. One example: she borrowed from the Institute of Tropical Forestry a heavy satellite phone so we could pick up GPS satellite coordinates as we laid out the random plots required for the research. Taking turns schlepping that beast of a device through rugged mountain terrain, we would sometimes stop and look at each other in dismay. The coordinates meant our plot plunged off the side of abrupt drop-offs, cliffs, and landslides. Sierra and I would stare at what lay ahead and laughing prepare to continue on all fours, carrying our precious equipment down implausible muddy slopes!

In these sad days following her unexpected death, I am struck that many have mentioned that they can’t recall Sierra saying or doing anything negative. She had a disposition ready to be a friend to all the world, like the laughing Buddha she loved. Sierra was a natural teacher and educator, always ready to work with young people and share her deep knowledge and curiosity.

She followed her heart and spent the last period of her life working with her biospherian friends, Gaie and Laser, and the Biosphere Foundation, in Bali, a place she loved, doing what she always loved: forestry, regenerative agriculture, and sharing with and teaching young people.

I’m thankful that Sierra wasn’t taken from us before completing with Gaie and I the new edition of Life Under Glass and our interview with the BBC World Service, which aired just a day before she passed. And that she was able to be part of the Spaceship Earth film, sharing the excitement and legacy of her work with Biosphere 2.

She was one-of-a-kind. She enriched the lives of everyone lucky enough to work with her. I’ll always treasure our friendship. We were part of making history.

Wherever her cosmic journey takes her, I know she’s still planting seeds, growing life, and producing feasts to share.


A Word from Matt Wolf, Director and Stacey Reiss, Producer of “Spaceship Earth”

“We were so fortunate to be able to interview Sally for Spaceship Earth when she was passing through Los Angeles on her way back to Bali. Both producer Stacey Reiss and I were immediately inspired by her contagious laughter and effervescence. She really helped us to understand the joy of being inside Biosphere 2, and the satisfaction of finding creative solutions with a group of like-minded collaborators. It’s inspiring that she brought that love for the biosphere to people around the world, especially youth, and we hope that her spirit moves others through her special presence in our film.”

Learn more about Spaceship Earth

Ecofeminism: Women’s Rights are Nature’s Rights

Ecofeminism: Women’s Rights are Nature’s Rights

What is Ecofeminism? 

Ecofeminism is a branch of feminism that recognizes the relationship between the destruction of the environment, and the marginalization of women. According to ecofeminists, the exploitation of nature and the oppression of women are inextricably connected, symptoms of the same foundational energy: masculine dominion and exertion of power.  

One of the strongest cases for this assertion can be found in the very words of the “Father of Modern Science” himself, Francis Bacon. Bacon, a major figure of the scientific revolution, is credited with developing the scientific method. 

Around the end of the 16th century, Bacon wrote at great length about human dominion over nature in a manner that squarely identifies nature as feminine and the pursuit of knowledge as masculine. In an excerpt from Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence, author David Fideler examines the “shocking” imagery Bacon uses to illustrate how humans would subjugate nature.

Of his proposed scientific method of inquiry, Bacon said it wouldn’t “merely exert a gentle guidance over nature’s course,” but would “have the power to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations.” As a result, nature would be rendered the “slave of mankind,” ushering in a “truly masculine birth of time,” will be ushered in.

As Fideler points out, Bacon seems guided by the notion that the “only reason for experimentation in the first place is to gain power over the world.” 

Colonial Rejection of Nature As a Goddess

Bacon was not the only scientist of his time to view nature as a conquest. 

In the Yes Magazine article “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Forest,” ecofeminist and environmental advocate Vandana Shiva uses Robert Boyle, a 17th-century chemist and governor of the Corporation for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the New England Indians, as an example of how indigenous perspectives on nature were suppressed by colonizers. She writes: 

He attacked their perception of nature “as a kind of goddess” and argued that “the veneration, wherewith men are imbued for what they call nature, has been a discouraging impediment to the empire of man over the inferior creatures of God.”

For Shiva, this worldview transforms the earth from a vibrant, living being, to “dead matter” that justifies the exploitation and manipulation of nature. “After all,” she writes, “if the Earth is merely dead matter, then nothing is being killed.” 

This notion of separateness between man and nature turned earth into “empty land, ready for occupation,” paving the way for the Industrial and Green Revolutions. 

The Masculinization of Agriculture 

Agriculture and the rise of sedentary villages and towns were feminine creations. But civilization and warfare were not; they spelled the end for the Great Mother.  William Erwin Thompson, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality and the Origins of Culture

In rural farming communities, women are the primary custodians of crop varieties. In her essay “Monoculture, Monopolies, Myths and the Masculinization of Agriculture,” Shiva writes that “women farmers have been the seed keepers and seed breeders for over millennia,” and play a central role as “knowers, producers, and providers of food.” 

Today, agricultural globalization has allowed for multinational corporations to gain control of land, knowledge, and innovation belonging to indigenous communities, and the women at the forefront, in developing countries. Biotechnology corporations such as Monsanto destroy biodiversity in these communities through monocropping, the practice of growing large amounts of a single crop in a field, which has been shown to have detrimental effects on the land. They have replaced renewable, diverse seed varieties with GMOs and hybrid seeds. 

Through Intellectual Property Right systems, which favor Western notions of private property, corporations patent and monopolize seeds and traditional knowledge systems that those communities have relied on for decades, destroying the livelihoods of farmers in the process. 

From the ecofeminist perspective, this maltreatment of the earth and its stewards is a feminist concern. Genetic engineering and Intellectual Property Right regimes will rob Third World women of their “creativity, innovation and decision-making power in agriculture” says Shiva. In their book Ecofeminism, Shiva and Maria Mies say that it is the “same masculinist mentality which would deny us our right to our own bodies and our own sexuality, and which depends on multiple systems of dominance and state power to have its way.” 

Shiva characterizes agricultural globalization as masculine due to the “war mentality underlying military-industrial agriculture.” The destruction of biodiversity and farmers’ rights to exchange and share seeds is intrinsically violent, she argues, against “nature’s biodiversity and women’s expertise.” 

The Western worldview equates femininity with passivity, and therefore something to be dominated, says Shiva in her book Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. But in the Third World, women and nature are “associated not in passivity but in creativity and the maintenance of life,” she writes. 

Western women, who lack the harmonious communion with nature their Third World sisters experience, may find it difficult to “perceive commonality between their own liberation and the liberation of nature,” write Shiva and Mies. The Western women’s movement still operates within a capitalist, patriarchal paradigm, fastening its “hopes on the progress of science and technology.” 

Reclaiming the Commons

Dr. Vandana Shiva has dedicated her life to protecting biodiversity, farmers, and small communities. Since the mid-90s, she has promoted traditional knowledge and livelihoods, sustainable agriculture, and biodiversity conservation. She is the founder of Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers that provide training in sustainable agriculture. 

Reclaiming the Commons is the latest in over 20 books authored by Shiva on biopiracy and environmental justice. It presents details on the specific attempts made by corporations to secure patents on nature, and the legal action taken against them. It is the first detailed legal history of the international and national laws related to biodiversity and international property rights.

Learn more

Sources

https://womenjusticeecology.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/dr-vandana-shiva-and-feminist-theory/

http://www.compilerpress.ca/ElementalEconomics/Articles/Shiva%20Monocultures,%20Monopolies,%20Myths%20and%20the%20Masculinization%20of%20Agriculture%201999.pdf

http://www.thesouloftheworld.com/the-new-experiment-putting-nature-on-the-rack/

https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/nature/2019/05/03/vandana-shiva-seed-saving-forest-biodiversity/

Image credit: Bernard Gagnon

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

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