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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

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!

 

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, biospherian 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.

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The Reality of Climate Change Here & Now

The Reality of Climate Change Here & Now

Leaders, Educators and Activists take Climate Change Seriously in Puerto Rico

No Escape: The Reality of Climate Change Here & NowOn October 30, nearly 300 people gathered together to take part in the one-day symposium No Escape: The Reality of Climate Change Here & Now at the Fundación Luis Muñoz Marín in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The event was jointly organized by Thrity J. Vakil, FLS, director of the Institute of Ecotechnics and Tropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry & Rainforest Enrichment Project (Eye On The Rainforest), with Christian Torres Santana, Director of the Parque Doña Inés, and Cristina Cabrera, an environmental consultant and project manager.

The idea for a meeting in Puerto Rico on the reality of climate change emerged at the World Ayahuasca Conference in May where Synergetic Press exhibited and a number of our authors presented. Deborah Parrish Snyder, publisher, and her Institute of Ecotechnic colleague, Thrity Vakil, and Synergetic author Sir Ghillean Prance, saw at that gathering a powerful display of what a community of like-minded individuals can accomplish across different cultures and languages. Deborah “left the conference with the unmistakable sense that many movements are gathering, stepping up to the front-lines of action.”

Thrity is one of on those people operating on the front-line, and with Ghillean’s agreement to come to Puerto Rico and speak, she went immediately to work bringing together in four months thought-leaders, scientists, researchers, and ecological defenders from across the Island and many disciplines. They met to understand what is known, and develop better ways to support healthy agricultural production, sustainable forestry management, adapt and minimize the environmental and socio-economic impacts from the dramatic changes in climate we are seeing around the planet.

 Sir Ghillean Prance, a world expert on the botany and economic uses of neotropical rainforests, has conducted extensive work in the Amazon as Director of the Institute of Economic Botany and VP for Science at the New York Botanical Garden. He is the Director (Emeritus) of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the UK. 

Sir Ghillean Prance Sir Ghillean Prance presenting “The Biological Evidence for Climate Change. Ghillean began collaborating with the Press and Institute of Ecotechnics in the 80s as the Rainforest Biome Designer at the Biosphere 2 project and is editor of White Gold: the Diary of a Rubber Cutter in Brazil (Synergetic Press). “[/caption]

His talk, entitled “The Biological Evidence for Climate Change,” focused on examples of biological climate-change indicators such as those occurring in the phenology of plant-flowering times, bird migrations, and rainfall cycles, the movement of flora toward the poles and to higher elevations in mountain biomes, and the bleaching of coral reefs. His talk opened and closed with the concept of value, first through what is called quantitative ethnobiology, in which the value of various species to local or indigenous cultures is assessed, and the impact of climate change on that value, and in his closing remarks by the imperative to link environmental impact to specific nations or regions of the world: what is the value of a person or society in relation to the consumption of resources by that person or society on a global scale (that of a U.S. citizen versus that of a Bangladeshi citizen, for example)? Dr. Eben Wood’s Report on the symposium

No Escape: The Reality of Climate Change Here and Now

Symposium organizers, Christian Torres Santana, Cristina Cabrera, & Thrity Vakil with Sir Ghillean Prance

View Panel Discussion Online

“It is too late to stop climate change, there is a lag time. We should try and stop it, but you can recognise that when driving a speeding car on a wet road you can apply the breaks, but you’re not gonna stop immediately. We also have to deal with the effects of climate change […] agriculturally, in terms of vegetation, it will effect the trees we plant, and the trees and trees that we plant as the answers to what we do. But the ice in Antartica and Greenland will continue to melt for centuries. And the fact that is going to happen means we really need to start to think ahead. We should get a pass because while we triggered this and we have 7.6 billion people, humans have never experienced this before. Sea level has not been higher than present for 120,000 years. But just to set the stage when I say we need to think about in terms of program and practice how top be resilient and adapt which are two different things to me.

Resilient is to prepare for recovery from an event or operate through an event by better design. Adaptation is what you do to the changing baselines of temperature, sea level, and changing rainfall.”  —John Englander, panel moderator, oceanographer & Founder and President of the Rising Seas Institute

Interested in learning more? Check out the FACEBOOK LIVESTREAM Links: 

  1. “No Escape: The Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Intros by Christian Torres Santana, Cristina Cabrera, & Thrity Vakil.
    Speakers 8.40am to 10.40am : Mr. Ernesto Luis Diaz, Dr. Grizelle Gonzalez, Minuette Rodriguez Harrison, Hon. John Clendenin, Ms. Nancy Woodfield Pascoe, Dr. Frank Wadsworth
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/794825720965381/
  2. “No Escape: the Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Speakers 11am to 12.30pm: Dr. Chris Nytch, Dr. William Gould, Sir Ghillean Prance.
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/532064507617292/
  3. “No Escape: The Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Panel Discussion 1.30 to 2.30pm: Sir Ghillean Prance, Mr. Ernesto Diaz,
    Hon. Larry Seilhamer,  Dr. Elvira Cuevas, Fernando Lloveras.
    Speakers 2.30 to 5.30pm: Dr Ariel Lugo, Dr. Katia Avilés-Vázquez, Dr. Pablo Méndez Lázaro, Agro. Christian Torres Santana, Brenda Torres, Dr. Jess K. Zimmerman, Katherine González, Edgardo González, Dr. Fernando Abruña.
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/779423005825855/
  4. “No Escape: the Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Speaker 5.30 to 6.00pm: John Englander.
    6.00pm Wrap-ups and Thanks.
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/1134579966751986/

Gathering Together for a Better Future

In October 2018, the United Nations released an unnerving report warning of the potential impacts of a rise in global temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius or more. The special report was issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and was written and edited by 91 scientists from more than 40 countries, analyzing over 6000 studies. 

Findings suggested that if we do not change our global economic systems drastically, continuing to let off large carbon emissions into the atmosphere, we will potentially see food-shortages, wildfires, the mass die-off of coral reefs as well as the beginnings of coastal flooding as soon as 2030. Further, it warned that the areas of the globe most vulnerable to climate change are (1) islands; (2) tropical areas; and (3) densely populated areas. 

The symposium aimed to heighten the level of discussion surrounding the traumas of the climate crisis, bringing together synergistic perspectives necessary for attaining an expansive overview of the social, political and economic impacts of climate change in Puerto Rico. 

It is through this collective discussion on the causes and effects of climate change that we are able to harness the ability to confront challenges head-on and elucidate our future choices, working together in attempts to cultivate a better future. Find out more about what you can do to protect our biosphere and fight climate change. 

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More About Institute of Ecotechnics

Institute of Ecotechnics is an International Non-Governmental Organisation that owns and operates innovative sustainable ecological projects in different biomes worldwide such as the R.V. Heraclitus, or Eye on the Rainforest, among many others. Since 1973, the Institute of Ecotechnics has developed and applied innovative approaches to harmonizing technology and the global biosphere. The field of ‘Ecotechnics’ integrates two complementary fields of study: the ‘ecology of technics’ and the ‘technics of ecology’. The Institute of Ecotechnics convenes international conferences and workshops that bring together leading thinkers, scientists, explorers, artists, and managers.

Synergetic Press’ publisher, Deborah Parrish Snyder is a Director of the Institute of Ecotechnics (www.ecotechnics.edu), helping to manage a number of the international conferences it has hosted over the years on global trends and in the field of closed ecological systems.


More About Eye on the Rainforest

Eye on the Rainforest LogoEye on the Rainforest, otherwise known as Las Casas de la Selva is the home of Tropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry & Rainforest Enrichment Project and is located in Puerto Rico. Its mission is to research and demonstrate the economic use of rainforest land using methods that do not destroy the rainforest ecology. The Institute of Ecotechnics initiated this unique project in Patillas, Puerto Rico, pioneering experiments in sustainable rainforest ecology, through line-planting of valuable timber trees. Nearly 300 acres of the 1000-acre property have been planted with over 40,000 native and exotic hardwood trees with extremely promising results. 700 acres remain as a wilderness preserve for watershed protection, research, and educational ecotourism.

Stay tuned @eyeontherainforest or eyeontherainforest.org 


Recommended Books on Sustainability & Ecology from Synergetic Press

The Anthropocene Book Cover

The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet by Christian Schwägerl

 

 

What does it mean to live in the Anthropocene? In his passionate, first-person global travelogue, Schwägerl investigates this question by visiting some of the last pristine places on Earth, exploring rising megacities and witnessing the devastation of forests and coral reefs. Melding rigorous scientific training with his experience as a journalist, he has covered high-profile political and environmental conferences and interviewed key figures influencing the course of our future. The result is this thoroughly researched, comprehensive overview of our planetary situation and outlook. Schwägerl presents tangible solutions to our global crises and shares his vision of a world that balances ecological sustainability, economic prosperity, political justice, and cultural vibrancy.

What has nature ever done for us

What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does Grow on Trees by Tony Juniper 

In What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? British environmentalist Tony Juniper points out that we think everything nature does for us—providing water, pollinating plants, generating oxygen, recycling miracles in the soil and much more—is free, but it isn’t. Its economic value can, and has been, measured. And upon realizing what that value truly is we would stop treating our natural systems in a destructive manner. The book contains impactful stories imparting warnings about unfortunate occurrences such as a rabies epidemic that followed the disappearance of India’s vultures (drugs administered to cattle killed the birds, leaving uneaten carcasses that led to an explosion of wild dogs), as well as promising and enlightening tales of how birds protect fruit harvests, coral reefs shield coasts from storms, and rainforests absorb billions of tons of carbon released from automobiles and power stations. As a result of its immediacy, Tony Juniper’s book will entirely change the way you think about life, the planet, and the economy.

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