‘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

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.

A Miraculous Conversation: John Allen and Hans Ulrich Obrist

A Miraculous Conversation: John Allen and Hans Ulrich Obrist

Let’s begin with the beginning… that’s how this captivating conversation between two remarkable minds begins. As part of the Serpentine Gallery’s 2016 Miracle Marathon, Hans Ulrich Obrist speaks with John Allen and goes directly to the source of his life-changing epiphany about the biosphere.

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For a fifteen minute conversation, these two cover a lot of ground. From discussing Benoit Mandelbrot’s epiphany about fractals to Albert Hoffman’s discovery of LSD, John tells Hans about how he began understanding the biosphere through his discovery of humanity. When we understand that humanity is part of the biosphere, we understand that we are part of the overall unity of all the kingdoms of life.

According to Allen, the study of biospherics forms a separate line of planetary evolution. Biospherics studies the systems of the earth that support and include life. Buckminster Fuller influenced John to consider life from the perspective of total systems. Allen was inspired by Fuller to use synergy in bringing together technics, or advanced technology, with biospherics. The result was Biosphere 2, which made a model of the Earth’s biosphere (or Biosphere 1).

Sailing the Amazon River on RV Heraclitus, a ship that Allen helped to design and build

Sailing the Amazon River on RV Heraclitus, a ship that Allen helped to design and build. Photo from Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir from the Inventor of Biosphere 2.

John also discusses how he was influenced by Amazonian explorer and ethnobotanist, Richard Evans Schultes. Inspired by Schultes, Allen traveled the Amazon River by boat and drank ayahuasca with a traditional shaman. The experience changed his level of consciousness and communicated to him the objective truth of the biosphere.

One of the most poignant moments in the conversation is when Hans asks about miracles:

Hans Ulrich Obrist: What is a miracle to you?

John Allen: A unique, non-repeatable experience.

Our entire lives are made up of unique, non-repeatable experiences. Understanding our lives like this adds a miraculous quality to each moment. John goes on to say that all of modern life is based on miracles, but in modern life we have separated ourselves from the larger system of the biosphere. Instead of thinking about the environment, as something external that is around us, we can shift our thinking to a biospheric perspective, to seeing ourselves as part of the miraculous system of life.

In its eleventh year, the Serpentine Marathon series continued on its exploration of activism, art, anthropology, architecture, literature, music, philosophy, theology and science through a specific theme or topic of particular relevance in artists’ practice and in the wider contemporary context… the 2016 Miracle Marathon focused in on ritual, repetition and magical thinking to consider ways in which the imaginary can not only predict, but also play a part in affecting long-term futures.


You can hear more from John Allen in person at the Synergetic Symposium and Salon at the October Galley on 5 November. This Symposium and Salon on Understanding Ayahuasca brings together diverse perspectives on this sacred plant medicine from the Amazon. The event is celebrating the release of the new edition of Ayahuasca Reader: Encounters with the Amazon’s Sacred Vine, a collection of  shamanic stories, myths, research, songs, poems, and art that share the wisdom of ayahuasca.

You can get your tickets to the Symposium and Salon here, and you can get your copy of Ayahuasca Reader here.

  • John Allen, conceiver and co-founder of major projects bringing together ecology and technics around the planet
  • Jeremy Narby, an anthropologist who studies the worldwide revival of shamanic cultures
  • Martina Hoffmann, a visionary artist inspired by expanded states of consciousness
  • Françoise Barbira Freedman, a medical anthropologist promoting women’s health through shamanic plants
  • David Luke, a psychology professor focusing on transpersonal experiences and altered states of consciousness
  • Terry Wilson, who apprenticed under the accomplished shaman of the avant garde, Brion Gysin
  • Peter Moore, a mystical poet who brings together inner and outer worlds
  • with music by ELSTIR, blending Amazonian field recordings with ambient electronic sounds
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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.

Learning about the Biosphere: Inside of Biosphere 2

Learning about the Biosphere: Inside of Biosphere 2

We’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Biosphere 2’s first mission! Hear more about it in this interview with NBC News, as Biospherian Mark Nelson describes what life was like inside of Biosphere 2 and how those lessons have shaped our thinking about future space colonization.



Mark Nelson

Mark Nelson, photo © Peter Menzel

For a closer look at life inside of Biosphere 2, you can read more from Mark Nelson, who spent two years enclosed inside the biospheric bubble as part of the innovative experiment and discover how he developed a passion for natural solutions to wastewater recycling. As the manager of these essential systems he realized how essential the proper re-use of human waste is to the health of the planet. Join him in The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time on a global expedition of discovery, which he recounts with his characteristic humor and humility.

 

USA_SCI_BIOSPH_86_xs Biosphere 2 Project founder John Allen inside Biosphere 2 teat greenhouses and livestock areas. Biosphere 2 was a privately funded experiment, designed to investigate the way in which humans interact with a small self-sufficient ecological environment, and to look at possibilities for future planetary colonization. The $30 million Biosphere covers 2.5 acres near Tucson, Arizona, and was entirely self- contained. The eight ‘Biospherian’s’ shared their air- and water-tight world with 3,800 species of plant and animal life. The project had problems with oxygen levels and food supply, and has been criticized over its scientific validity. 1990

John Allen, photo © Peter Menzel

And for another perspective on the epic tale of Biosphere 2, turn to the legendary John Allen, who was the conceiver and inventor of Biosphere 2. Allen was first inspired when he began to learn of the sphere that supports all life on earth⸺the biosphere⸺ through study of Vernadsky at the Colorado School of Mines. Through his travels around the planet to study the many biomes that cooperate to keep earth in balance and his journeys inward through shamanic ceremonies to explore the nature of consciousness, Allen expresses the wisdom gained through a lifetime of adventure and inquiry in Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2.

 

 

Wastewater-Gardner-Cover

Silver Winner in the category of Home & Garden in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Award, 2014 Living Now Book Award—Gold Winner in the category of Gardening / Farming / Landscaping, Foreword Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award—Silver Winner in the category of Ecology & Environment, Finalist for the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the category of Science/Nature/Environment, and Winner of the 2015 Southwest Book Design and Production Award for Best Cover and Jacket Design

Me and the Biospheres

Winner of the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Biography/Memoir

 

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