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Observing Earth Day 2020 During a Global Pandemic

Observing Earth Day 2020 During a Global Pandemic

The Oil Spill that Inspired Earth Day

On January 28, 1969, crude oil and gas erupted from a platform off the coast of Santa Barbara, spilling out into the Pacific waters. It blackened over 800 square miles of ocean, killing thousands of seabirds, marine mammals, and fish. At the time, it was the largest oil spill in history. Today, it is topped by only two other oil spills and remains the worst California’s waters have seen. 

1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill, Earth Day 2020 | Synergetic Press

The devastating event’s one silver lining was that it served as a catalyst for a widespread and enduring campaign promoting environmental awareness. After the spill, Gaylord Nelson, an environmentally-conscious Wisconsin senator, realized that public awareness around industrial technology’s impact on the planet needed a serious boost. Harnessing the anti-war protest energy of the 60s, he, along with a Republican congressman, a young Harvard graduate, and a team of 85 people, organized a national “teach-in” to take place on April 22, 1970. 

It was the first official Earth Day. Twenty million people took to the streets to protest humanity’s destructive behavior towards the environment. In the 50 years since its inception, Earth Day has served as a celebration of our planet and raises public awareness around pollution with events and activist initiatives coordinated worldwide. 

Our Collective Carbon Footprint

For Earth Day 2020, activists planned to celebrate the theme of “Climate Action” by organizing The Great Global Cleanup, a day dedicated to removing trash from green space and urban centers. But since the outbreak of COVID-19, and the ensuing government mandates to socially distance and stay indoors, Earth Day convergences are going digital (much like everything else). 

The pandemic is a tragedy. However, like the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, there is a silver lining to this devastating global crisis. While modern society stumbles over itself after coming to a screeching halt, the earth has a chance to breathe again. With non-essential establishments closing their doors, major airports “eerily silent,” and most people self-confining at home, our collective carbon footprint has significantly decreased. 

Clear waters in Venice canals. Photo by Marco Capovilla. Earth Day 2020 | Synergetic Press

The Guardian reports that “global carbon emission could fall by 2.5bn tonnes this year, a reduction of 5%, as the coronavirus pandemic triggers the biggest drop in demand for fossil fuels on record.” Satellites detect a drop in nitrogen-oxide emissions in China, and lower air pollution in Italy. And for the first time in recent history, the normally smog-battered skies of Los Angeles are clear and bright. An interactive map created by Earther provides a staggering visual of how much air pollution has dropped across the globe from December 2019 to March 2020. One YouTuber, PLANET NOW, posted a video showing before-and-after shots of Venice canals – once murky and green, now a limpid blue – suggesting we can maintain these conditions by reducing tourism and working from home more.

The Pandemic Slows Down Industrial Society

Things aren’t just cleaner – they’re quieter too. For those living in industrial society, slowed-down living may revitalize their relationship to the planet. Rebecca Franks, an American living in Wuhan, posted to Facebook about life in quarantine, saying: “Right now I hear birds outside my window. I used to think there weren’t really birds in Wuhan because you rarely saw them and never heard them. I now know they were just muted and crowded out by the traffic and people.” 

Michelle Fournet, a marine ecologist studying acoustic environments, tells The Atlantic that since the suspension of the cruise ship industry, “we’re experiencing an unprecedented pause in ocean noise that probably hasn’t been experienced in decades.” According to research, maritime activity (including military sonar, seismic surveys, oil drilling, dredging and ship engines) causes stress and physical damage to sea animals, altering their behavior and communication systems. 

Meanwhile, pictures and videos of wild animals traversing empty towns and cities are circulating widely on social media. Mountain goats blithely stroll the streets of Wales. A deer in Japan curiously peeks inside a restaurant window. A family of geese waltz down the center of Las Vegas Boulevard. Could the popularity of these kinds of posts speak to an underlying, collective yearning to witness mother nature  “reboot” herself, as two Twitter users put it? 

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The pandemic has stirred the whole world into unified action in the way that other very real threats to humanity have not – namely, climate change. Decades of activist efforts to influence human activity have not been able to match COVID-19’s galvanizing effect. Now that humanity’s impact on the planet is more tangible than ever, it may be the perfect time to emphasize environmental awareness. While the usual celebration is not in order for this year’s Earth Day, we can observe its theme of “Climate Action” by reflecting on how, and why, our planet feels a little brighter, and what we might do to sustain that going forward. 

Celebrating Earth Day 2020 Online 

Join the Earth Day Network this April 22nd for Earth Day Live (starting at 9:00 AM ET-8:00 PM ET). Earth Day Live will flood the digital landscape with global conversations, calls to action, performances, and video teach-ins with the goal of mobilizing a stop to the climate emergency.

At 2:00 PM ET Dr. Silvia Earle, marine biologist, explorer, and writer of the foreword to Life Under Glass:  will be speaking, followed by a virtual Q&A featuring biospherians Mark Nelson, Linda Leigh, and Spaceship Earth director Matt Wolfe. 

Tune into Earth Day Live

Earth Day 2020 preview of the new documentary film, Spaceship Earth

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.
Spaceship Earth will be released on May 8. Watch the trailer above.
The Life & Legacy of Richard Evans Schultes

The Life & Legacy of Richard Evans Schultes

Richard Evans Schultes; The Father of Contemporary Ethnobotany

Richard Evans Schultes is one of the most important plant explorers known to the 20th century. Initially a medical student at Harvard, he later went on to do a course in economic botany, finding himself completely enthralled by the subject, and changing his degree entirely.

In December 1941, Schultes embarked upon a quest in the Amazon rainforest to study how indigenous peoples utilized plants in medicinal, ritual and everyday contexts. He is often referred to as the ‘father of contemporary ethnobotany’ because of the well-known extensive field studies that he carried out in South America, particularly in the northwest Amazon. Schultes spent over a decade engaged in continual fieldwork, collecting over 24,000 species of plants, 300 of which were previously unknown to science.

Schultes was one of the first Westerners who lived amongst the isolated tribes of the northwest Amazon, and the first scientist to explore certain areas in that region which have not been researched since. The notes and photographs that he took during his research remain some of the only existing documentation on indigenous cultures in regions of the Amazon which are currently facing external threats to their existence.

Our Rainforests Under Threat

Richard Evan Schultes in the Amazon (1940) (via Harvard University Herbaria & Libraries/Wikimedia)

According to the World Wildlife Fund, in the Amazon “around 17% of the forest has been lost in the last 50 years, mostly due to forest conversion for cattle ranching.” Rainforests cover less than 3% of the Earth’s surface, with the Amazon rainforest being the world’s largest. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘lungs of the Earth’ because it is thought that more than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced there. Further, the Amazon is one of the most biodiverse regions of the world, and estimated to be home of 390 billion trees, among them 16,000 different species, and is the tribal home of 1 million indigenous people.

With the days of the rubber boom long gone, new trajectories of economic exploit now threaten the Amazon rainforest. Brazil’s president, the recently elected Jair Bolsonaro has vowed to develop Brazil’s powerful agribusiness sector, aiming to open up and allocate more rainforest to the production of beef and soya in order to meet sustained international demands. Further, Bolsonaro stated that he wanted to dissolve the Environmental Ministry, planning to merge it with the Agriculture industry, favoring the interests of those who have stakes in converting forest into farmland. During last year’s election campaign, Bolsonaro vowed to end demarcation of new indigenous lands in order to free up mining and commercial farming on indigenous reserves.

Recently, Bolsonaro made a tweet stating:

“More than 15% of the national territory is demarcated as indigenous land and Quilombolas. Fewer than 1 million people live in these isolated places of real Brazil, exploited and manipulated by NGOs. We will together integrate these citizens and value all Brazilians.”

The Preservation of Knowledge

Due to economic exploit, the ways of life of indigenous groups are on the verge of being lost, alongside many species, plants, and trees, having tragic implications for our planet as a whole. Thus, it is important in today’s quickly changing world to make efforts to preserve and deepen our knowledge about such biologically and culturally rich areas of our planet. More than preserving knowledge, we need to make collective efforts to protect the peoples that steward it.

In line with this goal, the non-profit Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) who are committed to working alongside indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin in order to help them protect their bio-cultural heritage launched an interactive educational map, the Amazonian Travels of Richard Evans Schultes. This fully interactive map enables you to dig deeper and retrace Schultes’ illuminating adventures into ritual, medicinal plants, and indigenous cultures.

The Amazonian Travels of Richard Evans Schultes

Former student of Schultes’ and founder and President of ACT, Mark Plotkin, and cartographer Brian Hettler gave a talk at the Harvard Museum of Natural History about their newly developed interactive map Amazonian Travels of Richard Evans Schultes. Through this fully immersive map journal, you can navigate Schultes’ extraordinary adventures, retracing the landscapes and cultures that Schultes explored in his first 14 years of research (1939-1953).

The Amazonian Travels of Richard Evans Schultes (screenshot by the author for Synergetic Press)

The launch of the map serves as a tribute to the life and work of Schultes, charting the magical history, cultures, and biodiversity that he uncovered on his travels in Latin America through the lens of his field notes, ethnobotanical research, and beautiful photography.

“In an era of climate change and rapid acculturation, it is urgently important that we improve how we communicate science and research, in order to engage new audiences and inspire people to pursue careers in these fields.” ㄧBrian Hettler, Senior Manager of ACT

Explore the travels of Schultes


Amazon Conservation Team

Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) is a non-profit founded by Dr. Mark J. Plotkin and Liliana Madrigal in the mid-1990s. From its beginning, ACT veered from the well-worn paths of the conservation community, enlisting the support of indigenous communities that live in the forests in order to achieve conservation results that were as impressive as they were sustainable. Today ACT partners with 55 indigenous tribes and other local communities to map-manage, protect, and bio-culturally conserve of 80 million acres of ancestral land.

 

Keep up to date with the ACT’s latest developments in conservation @AmazonTeamOrg and find out how you can help support their efforts through amazonteam.org


Books by Richard Evans Schultes 

Vine of The Soul: Medicine Men, Their Plants, and Rituals in the Colombian Amazonia

Vine of the Soul is an exceptional photographic essay accompanied by detailed descriptions of the Amazon Indians’ use of medicinal and other sacred plant substances. Over 160 documentary photos, some of the most significant ever taken on the subject, bring the reader along a journey in which healing with plants is the norm, and ritual and magic play an essential role in everyday life. Richard Evans Schultes, former Director of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University, led an extraordinary life that bridged the worlds of academia and tribal cultures.

 

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

A defining scholarly publication on the past and current state of research with psychotropic plant substances for medicinal, therapeutic, and spiritual uses. 

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs features a prominent essay by Mark Plotkin, Brian Hettler & Wade Davis named, “Viva Schultes – A Retrospective”, highlighting the important work that Schultes’ pursued throughout his life and illuminating the legacy he left behind.

 

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs with Dennis McKenna

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs with Dennis McKenna

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs eBook Newly Available

For those who like to save paper, keep things minimal, or merely have their research library on easy tabs, we are excited to announce that the Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs (ESDP50) Volume 2: Proceedings of the 2017 conference held in Tyringham Hall, UK, is now available in eBook format!

 

McKenna’s Milestone Publication

The milestone publication, ESPD50, emerged as the brainchild of Dennis McKenna. McKenna, having attained a copy of the original publication from the 1967 conference, found himself inspired to shape his career in light of the book, delving into a lifelong investigation of the pharmacology of traditional medicinal plants.

“The realization that real science was being pursued in this field was a revelation to me, partly because it opened the possibility that one day I, too, might be able to achieve a place in this exclusive fellowship. At first, I thought I would be able to prove to my parents that I was serious about psychedelics and not just a confused hippie in search of cheap thrills, but they were not very reassured. However, over the years, they came to recognize the merits of my chosen career.”Dennis McKenna, The Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: Reflections on a Book that Changed My Life.’

The first international gathering of researchers held on this subject was in 1967. It was an interdisciplinary group of specialists gathered in one place to share their findings on a topic that was gaining widespread interest: The use of psychoactive plants in indigenous societies. It was intended that follow-up conferences should be held about every 10 years. However, the War on Drugs soon limited any advances in this field of research, putting a prohibitive ban on psychoactive drugs, denying their medicinal value altogether.

 

The Future of Medicine

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of research into the medicinal and therapeutic properties of psychoactive substances. In spite of their prohibitive ban, researchers persevered. With their substantial discoveries and findings helping to reverse public opinion and reestablish the medical legitimacy of certain substances.

In June 2017, a group of interdisciplinary researchers from around the world convened to review their research and findings together in what was known as the second Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs Symposium. The papers given at the 2017 Symposium, organized by Dr. Dennis McKenna, have been collected and curated into what is now known as the ESPD50, representing the most significant body of knowledge in this field available.

 

McKenna Speaks at ESPD50 Conference

 

 

Interested in ESPD50, but find the science hard to digest? Make your reading interactive by watching the video lectures of individual authors presenting their research papers at the 2017 Symposium here

Check out Dennis McKenna’s recent interview on the Future Fossils Podcast with Michael Garfield, where they discuss the applications of psychoactive substances as tools for scientific investigation.

What Reviewers Had to Say:

For decades, the keepers of the psychedelic therapy and ethnobotany flames have guarded and passed along rare copies of the published proceedings of this January 28–30, 1967 conference at UC San Francisco, which were released later that year as “Public Health Service Publication No. 1645” and briefly sold for $4 by the U.S. Government Printing Office.

This month, the historic research papers from that mostly forgotten conference, along with the proceedings of a symposium held in England last year to mark the 50th anniversary of the San Francisco gathering, have been published by Synergetic Press in a beautifully boxed, two-volume hardcover edition. 

Don Lattin, award-winning journalist & author of Changing Our Minds: Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy

Much of their discussion centers around the indigenous peoples of the world who have utilized these miraculous psychedelic fungi and plants (even the skin secretions of frogs and toads) in their cultures and religions. Of course, what’s most exciting is the potential for additional therapeutic discoveries, once the substances are better understood. 

Matt Sutherland, Foreword Reviews

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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