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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.

 

Polymath John Allen Interview in Mousse Magazine

Polymath John Allen Interview in Mousse Magazine

“The Search for a Unique, Non-repeatable Experience”

Interview with John P. Allen, Kathelin Gray & Hans-Ulrich Obrist featured in Mousse

John P. Allen, author, poet, and visionary inventor of the Biosphere 2 project talks with director, writer and curator, Hans-Ulrich Obrist in an interview featured in the Italian contemporary art magazine Mousse. The full interview can be read in Mousse 57, February-March 2017.

Within the interview, Obrist sets out to unravel the foundational epiphanies that served as the springboard for the conceptualisation of Biosphere 2. Further discussing the major ideas, philosophies and great thinkers that filled Allen with the inspiration that fed into this milestone project. The primary epiphany being Allen’s realisation “that humanity is part of the biosphere and the biosphere is the dominant overall unity that comprises everything.”

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

In 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.

For those wishing to learn more about John Allen, his singular life, and the field of Biospherics, we recommend checking his definitive autobiography and memoir: Me and the Biospheres; A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2. Me and the Biospheres is a fervent call to reawaken to the blessing of our beautiful home, Biosphere 1, the Earth.

More About John P. Allen (nom de plume Johnny Dolphin)

John ‘Dolphin’ Allen is an Oklahoma-born author, poet, playwright, engineer and metallurgist who invented, envisioned, and co-founded the Biosphere 2 project. Biosphere 2 was the world’s largest laboratory for global ecology, comprising of a series of airtight chambers making up a closed life systems ecological unit where eight people took up an experimental residence for 2 years in order to better understand how to live sustainably within a closed system.

Allen also conceived and co-founded nine other projects around the world, pioneering in sustainable co-evolutionary development. He is currently Chairman of the Institute of Ecotechnics (IE) Corporation. IE is an International Non-Governmental Organisation which owns and operates innovative sustainable ecological projects in different biomes worldwide such as the R.V. Heraclitus, or Las Casas de la Selva, among many others.

What’s Really Happening To Our Planet?

What’s Really Happening To Our Planet?

Tony Juniper, well-known British environmentalist and adviser to Prince Charles, understands what’s happening on our planet. While he’s been fighting for a more sustainable society, Tony has also been sharing information about the dramatic changes that have been happening on earth. In the following video, you can hear some of the numbers that can help you understand the changes that are going on today.

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10 Quick Facts About Climate Change from Tony Juniper

  1. Since 1950, the world’s population has tripled
  2. The number of cities with a population of over 10 million people was: one in 1950, ten in 1990, and is twenty-eight today
  3. Global energy demand is expected to double by 2030 compared to 1990 (with most new capacity coming from renewable sources)
  4. Only about 1/4 of the planet’s agricultural land is being used to grow crops, the rest is being used to raise animals
  5. About 97.5% of the planet’s total water resources is salt water, about 0.3% is liquid water at the surface, the rest is locked in groundwater and ice caps
  6. Since 1900, the consumption of construction materials, metals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass has increased tenfold
  7. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the planet’s atmosphere are higher now than at any point in at least the last 800,000 years
  8. Ten thousand years ago, 99.9% of vertebrate biomass was composed of wild animals; today, 96% of vertebrate biomass is made up of people and their domesticated animals
  9. The rate of animal and plant extinction taking place on the planet today is approaching a rate not seen on earth for 65 million years
  10. Since 1962, the area of protected habitat on the planet, in the form of national parks and nature reserves, has increased fourteen fold, to reach more than 33 million square kilometers

Understanding What the Planet Does for Us

Tony Juniper | What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?

As we try to understand what’s happening to the planet, we can also learn what the planet does for us. Take a more in depth look at the services that nature freely provides to humanity, many of which we don’t even realize.

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. For example, in 2005 Hurricane Katrina cost the US $81 billion and the damage still remains. If the land around the levees hadn’t been redeveloped for shipping and aquaculture, at an estimated value of $100,000 to $450,000 per square mile of natural mangroves, then it is believed, much of the damage caused to the city would not have occurred.

During recent years, environmental debate worldwide has been dominated by climate change, carbon emissions and the greenhouse effect. But a number of academic, technical, political, business and NGO initiatives indicate the emergence of a new wave of environmental attention focused on “natural capital,” “ecosystem services” and “biodiversity,” things nature does for us.

What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? 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.

Twenty-five years of Science and Imagination at Biosphere 2

Twenty-five years of Science and Imagination at Biosphere 2

Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Biosphere 2

This year the revolutionary laboratory on earth sciences, Biosphere 2, is celebrating its 25th Anniversary. The initial experiment began in September of 1991 when eight pioneering individuals were enclosed inside of its glass walls for two years. The existence of Biosphere 2 and the research conducted there continue to gain attention, as it fuels understanding of planetary systems and calls attention to the realities of our circumstances on the original Biosphere, the Earth.

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In 1993, in the first moments when the human experiment was coming to a close, the biospherians re-entered the outside world after two years of stewardship in their enclosed home. Mark Nelson, who managed the wetland sewage treatment system inside of Biosphere 2, shared a few words on the experience:

Mark Nelson in the wastewater treatment marsh of Biosphere 2

Mark Nelson in the wastewater treatment marsh of Biosphere 2. Photo from biospherics.org

“We’ve come out of another world. Through that thin airlock there is another world living… What’s been surprising and profoundly wonderful is that operating Biosphere 2 has changed the way I operate my organism. To live in a small world and be conscious of its controls, its beauty, its fragility, its bounty and its limits changes who you are.”

Mark Nelson, PhD, one of the original Biospherians and author of The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time

Several recent articles have revisited the story of Biosphere 2, while highlighting the role that the facility continues to play in inspiring a new generation to be ecologically minded.

“Many older generations know of us thanks to the experiments conducted in the early 1990s,” explains John Adams, deputy director of Biosphere 2. “But we really want to engage with the younger generations.”

The experiments Adams refers to are two missions which saw a team of scientists seal themselves inside the laboratory. The first mission garnered the most column inches; four men and four women entered Biosphere 2 in 1991, vowing to stay inside the lab for two years, without any physical contact in the outside world. The team hoped to demonstrate the viability of closed ecosystems in maintaining human life, and also explore how such a closed biosphere could be used in space colonisation.

Huffington Post UK

Flowing Through Changes Over Time

Whenever there’s an experiment at Biosphere 2, it’s a big experiment. This summer, Biosphere 2 will be home to the largest study ever conducted on how water moves through a landscape.

Photo credit: Gil Kenny

Water is clearly vital to life, but so are the minerals and nutrients it picks up as it flows through rocks and soil. This process, called weathering, underlies everything else in an ecosystem, including microbes, plants, animals, agriculture and how the landscape changes over time. . . .

“Chemical weathering is the first thing you need in order to form a habitable planet,” says Dixon. But the process is still not well understood.

That’s where Biosphere 2 comes in.

New Scientist

Although weathering has been studied in laboratories, there is no other laboratory that can compare in providing such large-scale conditions with the benefit of being a controlled atmosphere.

. . . the University of Arizona is transforming part of the site into a “Land Evolution Observatory”—a 10-year, $5 million project to study how vegetation, topography and other factors affect the movement of rainwater through watershed to drinking water.

Newsweek

The substantial site provides a unique opportunity to see how water moving over the land causes changes over time on a real-world scale.  

Living in Harmony at the Heart of Biosphere 2

Aside from serving as fertile ground for conducting scientific research on how water and soils operate, Biosphere 2 provides an experimental mirror for the way humanity relates to the Earth. John Allen, the inventor, conceiver and co-founder of the Biosphere 2 project provided an unparalleled opportunity to reflect on our own lifestyles. He spoke at the re-entry ceremony, when the eight people who had dedicated two years of their lives to the ambitious project emerged back into the larger atmosphere of the biosphere that we all share.

Project founder John Allen inside Biosphere 2

John Allen inside the Biosphere 2 test greenhouse. Photo Copyright: © Peter Menzel www.menzelphoto.com

“The biospherians have shown in practice for the past two years the do-ability of a comprehensive code of ethical behavior in a new area in which we can no longer depend on the aesthetic interests of the few or the economic interests of the many to maintain proper behavior in humanity’s relationship to the very basis of our life, to the biosphere. The eight biospherians ate, slept, worked, dreamed, enjoyed and suffered, in short existed in harmony with their biosphere. Their biosphere flourished with their way of life, they recycled their food, their wastes, their water, their air. They protected biodiversity and enhanced the beauty of their landscapes. Their own bodies purified and their biosphere sparkles undimmed without a ghost-like fog of smog. They lived with high tech instrumentation and communications but in a non-destructive, ecotechnic way… Sophistication and love of wilderness blended and fulfilled their dreams. I appreciate the biospherians’ skill in operations, their integrity in research, their zest for exploration but I honor them for their ethical achievement, achieved at no small cost to their immediate gratifications, for having done what they perceived they ought to do.”

John Allen, Inventor, Conceiver and Co-Founder of Biosphere 2, author of Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2 

 To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Biosphere 2, we’re offering a 25% discount on The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a TimeMe and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2, Life Under Glass: The Inside Story of Biosphere 2  as well as our other significant biospheric titles such as Geochemistry and the Biosphere: Essays by Vladimir VernadskyThe Anthropocene: The Human Era and How it Shapes Our Lives, What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does Grow on Trees 

Use coupon code Bio25 at checkout from our Synergetic Bookstore for 25% off of these important ecological books!

Wastewater Gardner CoverMe and the BiospheresThe Inside Story of Biosphere 2geochemistry and the biosphere

anthropocene

What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Architectural Overview of Biosphere 2

And to read more on history of biospherics, the creation of Biosphere 2, and its continuing legacy from an architectural point of view, check out this paper written by Antonino Di Raimo, Architect PhD, Dean of Architecture at POLIS University from Tirana Architecture Week.

Allowing the Unknowable: The experience of Biosphere 2

What Can a Taxi Driver from New York Do for the Planet?

What Can a Taxi Driver from New York Do for the Planet?

Forty Years of Ecology, Adventure and Radical Cultural Innovation

Mark Nelson examining a small-scale closed ecological system. COPYRIGHT:© Peter Menzel 1990

Mark Nelson examining a small-scale closed ecological system. COPYRIGHT:© Peter Menzel 1990

Mark Nelson’s forty years as a pioneer in ecological systems and space life support science, along with his natural skills as raconteur—promise an evening of memorable tales and hard-won understanding. You can join Mark for this event Monday, June 13 at 6.00 pm at the October Gallery in London.

Whether appearing in a satellite broadcast to one billion people worldwide when exiting the storied Biosphere 2 mini-world’s 2-year experiment, doggedly pick-axing invasive species from 5,000 acres in the Kimberley, or designing an ecological waste treatment system in war-torn Iraq—this evening of Nelson’s unique history as Chairman of Institute of Ecotechnics (www.ecotechnics.edu) will be a very special event.

Author Mark Nelson in the recovering southern Iraqi marshes in 2011Nelson was a member of the first team of “biospherians” 1991-93 inside Biosphere 2, in Arizona. He is associate editor of Life Sciences in Space Research and organises sessions at COSPAR and other space science conferences. In 1987, he was an organiser of the first international conference on closed systems, held at the Royal Society. His books include: Space Biospheres (with John Allen), Life Under Glass: the Inside Story of Biosphere 2, and The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time.

Nelson is also head of the Biospheric Design division of Global Ecotechnics Corporation (www.globalecotechnics.com) and founder of Wastewater Gardens International (www.wastewatergardens.com), which has brought ecological approaches to projects in more than fourteen countries worldwide. He works on reversing desertification in the Kimberley, Australia, and in New Mexico. He received his MSc at the University of Arizona’s School of Renewable Natural Resources, and his Ph.D. with the legendary co-founder of systems ecology and ecological engineering, H.T. Odum, at the University of Florida.

In 1993, Nelson was awarded the Yuri Gagarin Jubilee Medal for outstanding service to international cooperation in space and the environment by the Russian Cosmonautics Federation. He is a Fellow of the Explorers Club and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He is also an international speaker and has appeared in numerous documentaries about ecological issues and biospherics. His scientific papers may be found here:  https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mark_Nelson9/publications.

Institute of Ecotechnics is a UK charity based in the October Gallery premises.

Join Dr. Mark Nelson for this Special Evening at the October Gallery

Get Tickets Here!

The October GalleryMONDAY 13th of June, 6 PM, October Gallery

Please arrive at 6.00 pm for a 6.30 pm start.

Refreshments available and Advance ticket holders entitled to 1 free glass of wine or 1 free soft drink at the bar.

Please note that this event takes place on the 2nd floor of the gallery, accessible by stairs only. 

Monday, 13 June 2016 from 18:00 to 21:00 (BST)

October Gallery – 24 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AL, United Kingdom – View Map

 

And if you aren’t able to attend this event with Mark, you can still read about his ecological adventures in Life Under Glass: the Inside Story of Biosphere 2 and The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time.

Life Under Glass: The Inside Story of Biosphere 2 | Abigail Alling and Mark NelsonWastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet one Flush at a Time!

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