Launch of The Anthropocene at The Royal Institute of Arts in London, The Book Most Likely To Save the Planet (Hint: we published it!) and a Sneak Peek at our upcoming titles.
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May 6th, 2015 marks John ‘Dolphin’ Allen’s 86th solar orbit as a crew member aboard Spaceship Earth. On his birthday, we reflect on the exceptional life of our inspiring friend.
A poet, playwright, savant, and inventor and co-founder of Biosphere II, Allen emerged from modest beginnings in Oklahoma during the dust bowl to become one of the most productive and eccentric personalities of the 20th century. An expert in mining and metallurgy, as well as high finance, this restless graduate of Colorado School of Mines and Harvard Business School simply could not accept the state of civilization ‘as is’ and took to a life of adventure, exploring the cultures and biomes of our planet and returning to spearhead work groups that would develop the foundations for what he calls, “synergetic civilization.”
Building on the experiences and esoteric transmissions acquired through his world travels, Allen and his cohorts began in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco in 1967 with the ‘Theater of All Possibilities’ acting group and would go on to develop ‘eco-technic’ enterprises, referred to as ‘synergias’ all around the world. The short list includes:
Synergia Ranch (organic farm, orchard, adobe construction company and more) in Santa Fe, NM, the Research Vessel Heraclitus (a ferro-cement ship, based on the design of a Chinese Junk, that has seen 18 expeditions), the October Gallery in London, UK (home of the ‘transvangarde’ art movement), the Vajra Hotel in Katmandu, Birdwood Downs ranch in Australia, Las Casas de la Selva sustainable forestry project in Puerto Rico, the Institute of Ecotechnics (which has held annual conferences on pressing ecological concerns at the highest level since the early 1970s), and more; all culminating in the massive Biosphere II closed systems experiment in Oracle, AZ that took place in the early 90’s.
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John is currently based at Synergia Ranch in Santa Fe, NM. And though he spends the majority of his time writing, he still travels Spaceship Earth yearly to visit and inspire the synergias that he worked so hard to seed. Happy Birthday Johnny- we will always be grateful for your tireless work and living inspiration!
Vajra Hotel, Kathamandu, Nepal. A project of the Global Ecotechnics Coporation, using reinforced earthquake-resistant construction techniques.
On April 25th, 2015 Nepal was struck by the most powerful quake the country has experienced in 80 years, 7.8 magnitude. The epicenter was just 50 miles west of Kathmandu, and devastated much of the city with death tolls in the thousands and many still missing.
We send our hearts and prayers to the people of Kathmandu Valley, and our friends who run the Vajra Hotel and Project Tibet. Located on the slopes of the Swayambhu Temple in Kathmandu, The Vajra Hotel was one of the Institute of Ecotechnics’ early projects. The hotel, built in 1981 was designed by ecological/cultural entrepreneur, John Allen, working with Margaret Augustine, project design manager, and chief architect Phil Hawes, who synergized the traditions of Nepal’s great architects with modern earthquake resistant techniques.
Swayhambunath above Vajra Hotel, circa 1980.
We have learned that the Vajra Hotel is still standing. Although books flew off the shelves in the library, and art fell from the walls, the main structures of the buildings are in good shape, including the newer wing which was built circa 1990.
Many of the surrounding buildings have fallen or been badly damaged. There are 300 to 400 people who are reported to be taking shelter in the garden and are being provided with food and water as much as possible, and one pregnant woman has been given a room. There is a generator, making electricity available, but internet access is extremely limited.
As we pause to take in the full impact of what has shaken the roof of the world, we reflect on some of the words of the man with the original vision to build Vajra Hotel as a cultural hub in Kathmandu, John Allen, from his memoir, Me and the Biospheres:
Vajra Hotel’s opening in 1978 realized one of my fundamental objectives in life of bringing together in one place representatives of East and West, culturally, and North and South, politically. This synergy of the Vajra Hotel and the ongoing expeditions of the Heraclitus gave the Institute of Ecotechnics and its friends and associates remarkable portals into ethnosphere and biosphere. Explorers, anthropologists, ecologists, dancers, the World Wildlife Fund, and other creative individuals and development groups used Vajra Hotel’s premises for encounters, conversations, meetings and performances. Rinpoches, swamis, depth psychologists, top Asian art experts, Baul singers, European yogis and philosophical teachers reserved its great rooftop pagoda, with its ceiling paintings by Rinchen Norbu and his school of traditional Tibetan muralists. . .
The Ecotechnics Library at the Vajra Hotel, Kathamandu.
Connoisseurs of travel considered the Vajra Hotel an architectural gem and ‘in’ place. . . . The Vajra quickly became a sought after destination by travelers to Kathmandu. Many locals, artists, intelligentsia, and business people came for conversations in its dining hall, or climbed up to the rooftop where you could see into Durbar Square, the heart of medieval Kathmandu. Scholars from the West and East sought out our Institute of Ecotechnics library for which I handpicked over a thousand volumes. Its shelves contained the Tibetan canon, approved by the Dalai Lama, and the Hindu canon, approved by my friend, Swami Dharmjyoti, the head of the Nagarjung Order, who became our librarian. I selected an approximation to a Western canon, in literature, anthropology, history, management, and philosophy.
From the Vajra Hotel, you can walk straight up to Swayambhunath (the Self-Realized) Hindu-Buddhist temple complex, rising on a twenty-thousand-year-old artificial platform topping a small mountain. It had been a center of the Naga cosmogony and religion that still exists in Nepal. You’re supposed to count the steps as you go up and down, and you have to do it all over again if you lost count. Exoterically, vajra (dorje in Tibetan) means lightning bolt, but esoterically it means an ‘indestructible diamond point’ of attention where a human can realize dharmakaya (the reality or cosmic decision body). I used to go up to Swayambhu every week while the Vajra Hotel was under construction and sit in silence with Sechu Rinpoche, while, telepathically united, we gazed at the Vajra and Durbar Square.
Tibetan monks from the Sakya lineage lead a puja in the Pagoda at Vajra Hotel (circa 1981).
While we are happy that the structural integrity of Vajra has allowed this cultural center to continue into the future, many of the surrounding buildings and their inhabitants were far less fortunate. In keeping with the notion of the ‘diamond point,’ which is an unbreakable foundation that becomes the opportunity for metamorphoses and transcendence, let’s get help to where it is needed the most. Aid can be given through various agencies. One in the immediate area is The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which is prepping resources from its hubs in New Delhi, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. The federation is releasing funds from its Disaster Response Emergency Fund to support vital services including food, shelter, water and sanitation.
You can aid their efforts by donating here:
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On behalf of all of us, godspeed to all at the Vajra Hotel and the Kathmandu Valley as they rebuild their lives on the roof of the world.
John Allen, Chairman, Global Ecotechnics
Marie Harding, President, Global Ecotechnics
Mark Nelson, PhD
Chairman, Institute of Ecotechnics
Deborah Parrish Snyder
Publisher, Synergetic Press
On April 19th, 1943 Albert Hofmann accidentally took the first LSD trip in history. After ingesting a dose of 250 micrograms at his lab, he went for the strangest bicycle ride of his life.
Here’s an excerpt from Mystic Chemist: The Life of Albert Hofmann and His Discovery of LSD on the history of how Hofmann’s psychedelic cycling changed the world:
His spectacular bicycle ride from the Sandoz factory through the outskirts of Basel and on beyond the city limits to his house became the stuff of legends. Since 1984, April 19th has been celebrated as “Bicycle Day” among pop-culture LSD fans. It was initiated by Thomas B. Roberts, emeritus professor of educational psychology. Americans in particular found the idea of a bike ride on LSD amusing and admirable. Back then, hardly anybody in that land of boundless possibilities used bicycles and certainly not in the condition Hofmann was in on his original trip.
Looking back, Hofmann thought about the circumstances and significance of his discovery: “From a personal perspective, without the intervention of chance, I think the psychedelic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide would not have been discovered. It would have joined the tens of thousands of other substances that are produced and tested in pharmaceutical research every year and are relegated to obscurity for lack of effect and there would be no LSD story.”
You can commemorate this momentous event in the history of psychedelics with live painting by Alex and Allyson Grey and other visionary artists in San Francisco, CA. Tickets are available here: http://www.axs.com/events/268841/bicycle-day-tickets.
Even if you can’t make it to San Francisco for Bicycle Day 2015, you can still celebrate at home with Mystic Chemist: The Life of Albert Hofmann and His Discovery of LSD and get ready to read more psychedelic stories and see more visionary art by Alex Grey, Allyson Grey and others by pre-ordering Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics.
Wherever you are on that day and whatever state you may find yourself in—go ride a bike!
A small farm in the New York borough of Queens (Alamy)
Ever since Gilgamesh cleared the forest to improve the city, civilization has persisted with dominating nature in the name of progress. But in recent decades, humanity is confronted with a new enemy, a monstrous behemoth born through millennia of unconscious disregard for that great mother who once held us so dearly.
The reality of climate change is such that civilization, the city, and even the idea of what it means to be human is itself undergoing an essential transformation. And with this metamorphosis a new myth is being created, one that transcends the old notion of progress and domination by surrounding the exhausted narrative with a life-affirming dedication to conscious global participation in the future of the biosphere.
The anthropocene, a scientific idea that redefines humanity as a geological force, is also the story of the end of civilization and the beginning of a planetary epoch in which new symbiotic relationships are being discovered between culture and nature.
A recent article in the Independent, a popular British publication, features the ideas of German biologist, journalist, and Synergetic Press author ChristianSchwägerl , as he summarizes the vision presented in his book, The Anthropocene: A New Planet Shaped By Humans:
In the Anthropocene, there is no longer an “inside” and an “outside”, no alien, antagonistic nature with which humans are faced. The environment becomes the “invironment,” something with which humans are existentially interwoven. This is why it is far from sufficient to create “nature reserves” on a small percentage of the Earth’s land surface. Instead, we have to consider whether civilization itself can act and perform within nature, with technologies that don’t act as parasites and destroy, but enrich the living world.
In such a world we can no longer speak of “nature” and “culture” as two separate spheres. Rainforests will no longer exist just because they have always existed, but because people want them to exist.
Schwägerl’s insight is simple and profound. Rather than leading to more anthropocentric destruction, the act of identifying humans as the geological force that we evidently are awakens our sense of responsibility as stewards of the biosphere. Either/or dichotomies such as nature and technology or self and world become a kind of habit that cripple humanity in the act of rediscovering our home in and through the world.
In practice, what this means is the re-imagination of the city itself, a new kind of urban planning that incorporates nature within the city walls. It’s worth noting that these walls of the city go back to the neolithic revolution and the ancient Sumerian epics; they are the same walls that bred ecological destruction and the phenomenon of war by creating the dichotomy of city and nature, citizen and enemy. These walls are rapidly crumbling. But what is taking their place? As Schwagerl explains in the Independent article:
Such Anthropocene cities will draw energy and materials from local and renewable sources. Fossil-fuel driven cars are replaced by public transport, bicycle highways and rental systems for electric cars. Architects design high-rise buildings where facades, balconies and roofs double up as farms, air conditioners and habitats. Green bridges can link city quarters, helping to create a living roof-landscape. Biological life-support systems such as bogs, mangroves and riparian forests become integral to cities in order to hold back floods, absorb carbon dioxide and store water. Cities that adopt these kinds of strategies will experience positive social changes.
The good news is that this evolution is already underway. Consider the following examples of cities that lead the way forward:
The birthplace of Banksy and this year’s European Green Capital, Bristol employs around 9000 people in its low carbon economy initiative. Additionally, 34% of the city is made up of green and blue open spaces and homes have become 25% more efficient over the last decade.
The Norweigan capital has the world’s most electric cars per capita, reducing emissions by 50% since 1991. With the aim to make public transport fossil fuel-free by 2020, the city’s authority is making sure residents are as eco-friendly as possible.
Located on the River Waal, this lesser-known Dutch city fuels its buses with biogas and citizen participation is encouraged through multiple green initiatives. Around 14,000 homes are heated using a network of waste heat, and the city aims to be energy neutral by 2040.
55% of residents in the Danish capital cycle to work or school, and over 30% of public transport uses renewable fuel. The city is also aiming to be carbon-neutral by 2025.
To see the remaining 5 cities that lead the way forward, visit the original source of this list at the Independent.co.uk
All of the images in this article, as well as the captions and lead image, were sourced from the Independent article linked above.
Scientists are busy looking for high-tech geoengineering solutions to our most pressing ecological problems, namely, climate change. A few of the ideas that have been considered thus far include: placing giant mirrors in outer space to deflect the sun’s rays,1 dumping billions of tons of quicklime into the oceans to capture carbon,2 and shooting sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere to mimic the cooling effects of a volcano.3
A constellation of billions of mirrors free-floating at the Earth-Sun Lagrange point blocks solar radiation and cools earthly global warming. Credit: Dan Roam
A scheme to dump quicklime into the oceans to sequester more carbon in their depths is being revived with backing from Shell.
While it might seem that the best way to solve our growing and technologically-created problems would be to use the most advanced means available, the Committee on Climate Geoengineering at the National Research Council concluded that these interventions haven’t yet been studied enough to be put into action. According to the committee, “There is no substitute for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change.”4
Injecting aerosols into the stratosphere mimics the cooling effects of volcanoes
A recent report from Oxford University seeks practical solutions that promise the best long-term hope. To achieve this, researchers consider approaches that have the potential to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere without leading us to unforeseen consequences.
One of the most promising techniques explored is called afforestation, which means establishing a forest where one formerly did not stand. And though this solution seems obvious, it’s putting a measure like this into action on a large scale that proves an obstacle to enjoying all of the services that trees provide naturally.
Author Tony Juniper describes these benefits in economic terms in his book What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does Grow on Trees:
The economic value of the photosynthesis going on in the forests is thus vast. Even taking the low cost of carbon dioxide credits that companies must now buy via the European Emissions Trading scheme, the work being done by the forests in moderating the impact of our emissions is truly massive, worth literally trillions of euros. Our 2008 review on the value of forests estimated that halving the deforestation rate by 2030 would provide carbon capture services worth around $3.7 trillion, and that enormous figure takes no account of the many other economic benefits provided by forests, such as regulation of water supplies and sustaining species diversity… Beyond such fundamental ecological functions, plants are also the source of building materials, drugs, landscape and inspiration. They cool cities and sustain the soil that plays such vital roles in water cycles and atmospheric regulation.5
To effectively receive the benefits of trees, forest preservation and afforestation will need global support. Forests must be managed, cared for, and protected through active resistance to deforestation efforts around the world while the priorities of corporations and states will have to change in order to develop an infrastructure to grow new forests.
It’s important to note that economics and ecology are not the only things that benefit from trees. Our photosynthetic friends also remind us of the natural beauty of the Earth, especially as we find ourselves spending more and more time in man-made spaces.
By planting a tree (or several!), you can enjoy the benefits of trees for yourself and help to reduce carbon globally.
Find information about how to choose a tree for your region and plant it successfully here.
- What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does Grow on Trees, Tony Juniper
Feature image source