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‘Biosphere 2: Lessons & Relevance to Global Ecological Challenges’ with Dr. Mark Nelson & Sir Ghillean Prance

‘Biosphere 2: Lessons & Relevance to Global Ecological Challenges’ with Dr. Mark Nelson & Sir Ghillean Prance

September 11th, 12:30 pm, Seminar Talk @ The Linnean Society of London

Biosphere 2 was the world’s first experimental laboratory for global ecology. Sir Ghillean Prance, working with NY Botanic Gardens and Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in London, was allocated to design Biosphere 2’s unique rainforest biome, testing strategies important for preserving rainforest biodiversity. Dr. Mark Nelson was a member of the original 8 person biospherian crew for the daring 1991-1993 closure experiment. Biosphere 2 demonstrated important lessons relevant for improving our relationship with Earth’s biosphere (Biosphere 1): the technosphere can be designed to support life without harming it; new roles for humans as atmospheric stewards; innovative bio-technologies to recycle wastewater and purify air; high-yield regenerative agriculture without use of chemicals set world records; humans as keystone predators, intervening to protect biodiversity; shared dependence on the biosphere overrides group tensions and subgroups.

UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

A recent landmark report from the United Nations unnervingly warns of a strong risk of global crisis as early as 2040. The report was issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and was written and edited by 91 scientists from over 40 countries analyzing more than 6000 studies. Their findings suggest that if we do not change our global economic system drastically in the next few years, and we keep continuing to let off large carbon emissions into the atmosphere as well as using coal as an energy source, we will begin to see the worsening of food-shortages, wildfires, the mass die-off of coral reefs as well as the beginnings of coastal flooding.

The Need for a New Direction

With the current paradigm of ecological catastrophe in mind, we find ourselves losing hope and it becomes increasingly more difficult to imagine a future in which we coexist symbiotically with our biosphere. Although the biospherians were sealed in the closed ecological framework of Biosphere 2, lessons learned from the experiment and teachings gained have escaped far beyond its physical structure, leaking out into the lives of its inhabitants and many that came into contact with it, encouraging them to live out a path aligned with planetary needs. The experiment’s surprises underscored how much is still unknown about biospheres at large. 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.

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More About Dr. Mark Nelson

Dr. Mark Nelson is a founding member and Chairman of the Institute of Ecotechnics (UK/USA) which consults to innovative field projects in challenging biomes around the world. Such projects include the world city project, the October Gallery or the ocean biome project, the R.V Heraclitus. Nelson’s research includes closed ecological systems, ecological engineering, restoration of damaged ecosystems and wastewater recycling. He was Direction of Space and Environmental Applications for Biosphere 2, and a member of the eight-person ‘Biospherian’ crew for the first two-year closure of the experiment, 1991-1993. His latest book, Pushing our Limits: Insights from Biosphere 2, tells of his experiences and lessons learned during his experimental enclosure. He is also the author of The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving our Planet One Flush at a Time, and Life Under Glass: The Inside Story of Biosphere 2 (with Abigail Alling & Sally Silverstone).

More About Sir Ghillean Prance

Sir Ghillean Prance FRS PPLS has conducted 39 expeditions to study the Amazon flora. He is a former Director of  Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, author of 24 books and monographs and extensive papers on the taxonomy of tropical plants, ethnobotany, and conservation. He was involved with the development of rainforest biomes at Biosphere 2 and at the Eden Project. Most recently, he worked at co-editor of the landmark academic volume, Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research.

 

Biospherian Mark Nelson on Tour in England Sharing Insights from Biosphere 2

Biospherian Mark Nelson on Tour in England Sharing Insights from Biosphere 2

In Times of Uncertainty

Mark with collects animal fodder inside Biosphere 2. Photo by Abigail Alling

We live in uncertain times with a wavering hook looming over the future of our species. This year we have seen the Arctic’s strongest sea ice breaking up for the first time on record, alongside the droughts and floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions around the planet. Have we underestimated the importance of ecology (‘the house’) to the survival of our organism, advancing only science and technics? But we don’t want to be dour – Mark Nelson hasn’t lost hope in these times of great uncertainty.This is where the Biosphere 2 project comes in!

Lessons from Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2 consisted of seven biomes within a three and a half acre closed-ecological system in Oracle, Arizona. Designed and constructed from 1987-1991, it was the largest experiment in global ecology ever built. From 1991 to 1993 eight researchers, called ‘Biospherians’, undertook an experiment in which they lived fully enclosed within the structure for two years. Twenty-five years since the crew of eight completed that ground-breaking human experiment and Biosphere 2 continues to operate as an educational apparatus to study planetary workings and serves as a beacon of hope with a message grounded in harmonizing human actions with nature .

Dr. Mark Nelson, ecological engineer, closed-systems ecological researcher and member of the eight-person Biospherian crew, recounts his experiences as a participant and steward of this ‘mini-world’, in his new book Pushing Our Limits: Insights from Biosphere 2.


Future Primitive Interview with Mark Nelson

Deepening the discussion, Dr. Nelson was recently interviewed on the Future Primitive Podcast by Joanna Harcourt-Smith and Jacob Aman, providing illuminated understandings and flowering wisdom on how to cultivate a new attitude toward our planet.

In this podcast, Dr. Nelson, nudges us gently back toward the sentiment of global stewardship, reminding us that how we live our lives affects the planet, although we are not able to see those effects in their immediacy. Living within Biosphere 2, Biospherians were closely attuned to their fragile environment in a visceral way, with each and every decision having a tangible impact on the functioning of the whole system.

Listen to the Podcast Here

One of the most crucial insights that we can draw from Nelson, and 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.


Upcoming Author Events 

September 10th, 1:00 pm, Talk @ Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, London

‘Biosphere 2’s Bold Experiment in Global Ecology’ with Dr. Mark Nelson & Sir Ghillean Prance. If you would like to attend please contact KewScience@kew.org. Please note that places are limited.

September 11th, 12:30 pm, Seminar Talk @ The Linnean Society of London

‘Biosphere 2: Lessons & Relevance to Global Ecological Challenges’ with Dr. Mark Nelson & Sir Ghillean Prance. You may register for the event for free via this link.

September 13th, 5:00 pm, Talk @ Eden Project Botanic Gardens, Cornwall

‘Insights from Biosphere 2’, tickets are available online via the Eden Project website and event Facebook group.

September 18th, 6:30 pm,  Talk @ the October Gallery, London

‘Ecotechnics, Biospherics and Biosphere 2: Insights for the Anthropocene.’ Click here to register and get tickets.

September 27th, 7:00 pm,  Talk & Book Signing @ Mostly Books Bookstore, Tucson

For more information about this event, please visit Mostly Books’ Website.

November 10th, 10:00 am, Biospherics Workshop @ Santa Fe Botanical Gardens, NM

‘Ecotechnics & Biospherics Workshop’, register in advance through this link.


More About Mark Nelson

Dr. Mark Nelson is a founding member and Chairman of the Institute of Ecotechnics (UK/USA) which consults to innovative field projects in challenging biomes around the world. Such projects include the world city project, the October Gallery or the ocean biome project, the R.V Heraclitus. Nelson’s research includes closed ecological systems, ecological engineering, restoration of damaged ecosystems and wastewater recycling. He was Direction of Space and Environmental Applications for Biosphere 2, and a member of the eight-person ‘Biospherian’ crew for the first two-year closure of the experiment, 1991-1993. His latest book, Pushing our Limits: Insights from Biosphere 2, tells of his experiences and lessons learned during his experimental enclosure. He is also the author of The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving our Planet One Flush at a Time, and Life Under Glass: The Inside Story of Biosphere 2 (with Abigail Alling & Sally Silverstone).

Praise for Pushing Our Limits

“A fascinating account of the largest, longest, and most important experiment in closed ecosystems ever conducted.”—Chris McKay, Senior Scientist, NASA

“In the early 1990s, eight people sealed themselves into a self-contained eco­system in the Arizona desert. Two decades later, Mark Nelson reflects on his experience inside Biosphere 2 as a microcosm of our global challenges with water, food, and energy. Only with a deep understanding of the biosphere’s workings, Nelson argues, can humanity craft an ethical relationship with the planet Earth.”—Melissa L. Sevigny, author of Under Desert Skies: How Tucson Mapped the Way to the Moon and Planets

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