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.

 

Extinction Rebellion: Rebel for Life

Extinction Rebellion: Rebel for Life

Extinction Rebellion: A Call for Direct Action

In response to the global climate crisis, Extinction Rebellion has emerged as a direct action movement. Originally a UK based initiative, Extinction Rebellion began on 31st October 2018 when a small group of individuals gathered together on Parliament Square in London to make a ‘Declaration of Rebellion’ against the UK Government. Anticipating only a couple of hundred people to attend, organizers were surprised by the 1500 that gathered to peacefully protest for the climate crisis.

Encouraged by the show of solidarity, the movement quickly gained momentum with protests springing up all throughout the UK. In the weeks that followed, a group of 6000 converged to block five major bridges across the Thames river whilst others superglued themselves to the gates of Buckingham Palace to read letters to the Queen. Naturally, these protests generated huge national and international publicity, with thousands of people around the world finding Extinction Rebellion’s message to be resonant. There are now groups forming in countries far and wide, with people of all nations banding together to take action while we still have a chance. At Synergetic Press, we want to encourage this movement. Here are links to key talks and networks to help you get involved.

Protestors at the Extinction Rebellion Protest in Blackfriars London November 2018 via Wikicommons

Extinction Rebellion’s occupation of Waterloo Bridge, London during the International Rebellion, April 2019

Extinction Rebellion stated their mission as follows:

“To spark and sustain a spirit of creative rebellion, which will enable much-needed changes in our political, economic and social landscape. We endeavor to mobilize and train organizers to skillfully open up space so that communities can develop the tools they need to address Britain’s deeply rooted problems. We work to transform our society into one that is compassionate, inclusive, sustainable, equitable and connected.”

Greta Thunberg & Youth Climate Action

Teenage climate campaigner, Greta Thunberg, gave a speech at the recent Extinction Rebellion protest at Marble Arch, London, April 21st, 2019, expressing her solidarity with protesters in their mission to combat the climate crisis. In her speech, Greta made an appeal to the ‘politicians and people in power’, imploring for urgent action to be taken:

“We are now facing an existential crisis, the climate crisis and ecological crisis which have never been treated as crises before. They have been ignored for decades and for way too long the politicians and the people in power have gotten away with not doing anything. We will make sure that politicians will not get away with it for any longer.”

Greta first came to attention in the media when she initiated the ‘School Strike 4 Climatemovement in November 2018 in which students gathered together outside of the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm to protest for their right to a better future. After her participation in the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24), she made her way into international media and now serves as a source of inspiration for all, championing a global movement to reduce carbon emissions. Earlier this year, March 15, 2019, an estimated 1.4 million students in over 100 countries around the globe joined Greta’s call to strike school and band together in the name of the climate.

Follow Greta on Twitter @GretaThunberg, or Facebook @GretaThunbergSweden.

This is an Emergency: The Urgency to Act Now

Over the last century, industrialized human civilization has irrevocably upset the natural balance of life, and as a consequence, our planet is facing the largest rate of extinction since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. We are now living the 6th largest mass extinction, with the rapid loss of species estimated to be between 1000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. It is thought that many current life forms could be wiped out by the end of this century, with multiple species disappearing before we even get the chance to learn about them.

No puns intended when we say that ‘this is only the tip of the iceberg.’ Human activity on the planet has caused global temperatures to rise. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C which unnervingly warns of a strong risk of global crisis as early as 2040. The report was written and edited by over 90 scientists from over 40 countries analyzing more than 6000 studies. Their report suggests that if we do not reform 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.

Curious to learn how much hotter your hometown is compared to when you were born? The New York Times has developed an interactive resource which demonstrates how much warmer your hometown has become throughout your lifespan.

There is an urgency to act whilst we still have the opportunity to. As a species, we can no longer ignore what the science keeps telling us. The solution to combating the devastating impacts of anthropogenic activity to life on Earth, lies in banding together and taking collective action to reduce our carbon emissions, improving our carbon absorption and finding methods of drawing and locking carbon back into the Earth once more.

Find out how you can do more to individually reduce your carbon emissions and care for the environment in our last blog post for Earth Day 2019.

Join the Rebellion

Extinction RebellionExtinction Rebellion is an international direct action movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to achieve radical change in order to minimize the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse. They demand that governments should tell people the truth about the ecological crisis. Further, putting pressure on them to work towards zero emissions and a drawdown by 2025 as well as the establishment of participatory democracy.

Interested in getting involved? Find out about Extinction Rebellion events through

xrebellion.org, or @ExtinctionRebellion.

Earth Day 2019 and Protecting Our Biosphere

Earth Day 2019 and Protecting Our Biosphere

‘Spiral of Creation’ by Visionary Artist, Helena Arturaleza 

Earth Day 2019 & Protecting Our Biosphere

Earth Day began on April 22nd, 1970, as millions of people took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development. Earth Day offers an important opportunity for us to acknowledge the relationship between humanity and the earth.

Earth Day now serves as a day to reflect and cultivate awareness for the responsibility that we have towards our planet and the interconnected web of life that it sustains. It is similar to Mother’s Day in that it involves the cultivation of gratitude for the Source, Mother Nature, which gifted us with this precious life. However, it also encourages us to come together, get creative, and start enacting change.

The national theme of Earth Day this year is ‘Protect Our Species’. Human activity on the planet has irreversibly upset the balance of life and, as a consequence, the planet is facing the largest rate of extinction since the loss of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. Unlike the fate of the dinosaurs, the extinction of species today is a result of human activity rather than of a force of Nature.

The Anthropocene Era

In our industrialized, globalized paradigm we have become increasingly disconnected from the natural world at our own peril, with the problems being numerous and multifaceted. Ecologically speaking, we live in turbulent times with the Anthropocene era being one of rapid change. We currently inhabit a world where our oceans are filled with plastic, a world where the problems of deforestation and climate change are becoming a looming reality, a world undergoing a dramatic loss of biodiversity, with new problems arising every day.

From Micro-to-Macro; You Make a Difference

Getting stuck in sentiments of hopelessness and disempowerment, while feeling that our voices and actions do not matter, is all too easy. However, Earth Day offers the opportunity to reflect on our actions and implement changes that enable us to carve out a symbiotic paradigm between our species and the biosphere.

In line with the words of the great primatologist, Jane Goodall, we need to recognize that the choices we make have an impact and that what we do in our personal lives makes a difference on a global level:

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.”

To help you along the way, we have included two simple things that you can implement into your life on a daily basis as methods to combat this ecological crisis:

1. Boycott single-use plastics:

Plastic was invented in 1907 and popularized in the 1960s as a high-density polyethylene that was inexpensive to manufacture. Its inventors could have not predicted its catastrophic effect on our Biosphere and the biomes within it. Plastic is a major threat to our environment, with plastic pollution being particularly problematic to aquatic life.

The problem with plastic is that it does not biodegrade, instead breaking down into microplastics which are consumed by other organisms. In recent years, there have been numerous cases reported in which whales have washed up ashore dead due to the ingestion of plastic. Moreover, plastic ends up in the digestive systems of smaller organisms like fish which inevitably end up in our food chain.

Although it can be difficult to boycott plastic altogether, we can take small actions on a daily basis to minimize our consumption. For instance, remembering to bring a reusable bag or reusing one we already have, saying no to straws, sourcing environmentally friendly toothbrushes, owning a reusable water bottle, buying biodegradable bin liners, bringing a food container and buying plastic-free cosmetics all make a huge difference.

A report from the World Economic Forum calculated that if plastic production continues at its current rate that there will be more plastic in the ocean, pound for pound, than fish by the year 2050. Reducing our plastic consumption and making informed, sustainable choices is one of the most effective ways to protect our species.

2. Eating less & better quality meat:

A report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Administration in 2013 found that livestock and poultry make up roughly 14.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, estimated as 100-year CO2 equivalents. Methane has a global warming potential estimated to be 35 times that of an equivalent mass of carbon dioxide.

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.” The Amazonian rainforest is the world’s largest, 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. Moreover, the Amazon is one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. It is estimated to be home of 390 billion trees, among them 16,000 different species, and is the tribal home of 1 million indigenous people.

Cattle ranching alongside the production of soya as cattle feed is a major contributor to deforestation, the displacement of indigenous groups, and the destruction of entire ecosystems. Moreover, the production of factory-raised cattle is often associated with toxic fertilizers and pesticides, resulting in an even more damaging carbon footprint.

These crucial forests are not only incredibly biodiverse but also serve to absorb carbon dioxide and have a cooling effect on the earth. In order to protect them, it is important for us to be aware of the source of our meat. Grass-fed cows have a symbiotic relationship with the land that they graze, clearing pastures to encourage new plant growth and helping build productive soil with nutrient-rich compostable manure. Fertile soil helps to keep carbon monoxide at bay, decreasing methane emissions.

Producing one calorie of meat requires nearly twenty times the amount of energy as one plant calorie. Thus, by cutting down on meat consumption and sourcing locally raised, grass-fed meat we can reduce the carbon footprint of the planet drastically.

 

To help you deepen your understanding of our beloved planet, we are offering 25% on all books in the field of ecology & sustainability. Browse titles here.

Save 25% from now until April 30th with the coupon code: Earth2019

 

Get Involved!

Local Events this Earth Day 

Earth Day Celebration in Santa Fe’s Railyard Park, April 27th @ 12:00-4:00 PM

Join the Railyard Park Conservancy in for a free day of learning, games, workshops and family-friendly fun!

Enjoy an illuminating day in the sun at Santa Fe’s award-winning green space, The Railyard Park, to celebrate the Earth and local biodiversity in honor of 2019’s national Earth Day theme: Protect our Species.

We will be joining together to learn about the unique biodiversity of New Mexico and its treasure trove of plants, animals, and geology with a number of interactive activities. Workshops include: making seed balls with the SFPS Sustainability Program, learning how to plant a native garden with the SF Botanical Garden, and learning about local dairy production with Camino de Paz School, just to name a few.

Keep up to date with the Railyard Park’s cool and interesting events through their Facebook @railyardpark or webpage.

Earth Day Cleanups

The Earth Day Network is coordinating volunteer cleanups across the US for Earth Day 2019. They are working with grassroots organizations and community members to clean up green spaces, urban landscapes, and waterways. With cleanup locations in cities across the U.S., the Earth Day 2019 Cleanup will build an army of volunteers and make a tangible impact on waste in our environments.

Find a cleanup near you! Learn more about Earth Day Network events @EarthDayNetwork.

In Memoriam, Dr. Ralph Metzner (1936-2019)

In Memoriam, Dr. Ralph Metzner (1936-2019)

Ralph in 1963, photographer unknown

In Loving Memory of the Visionary Ralph Metzner

Psychologist, writer, pioneer in the field of psychedelic and consciousness research, Dr. Ralph Metzner passed away peacefully in his sleep earlier this week, March 14, 2019. He was truly an asset to this planet and will be greatly missed by us all.

Ralph was always far beyond his time and will be remembered for histories to come. He traversed the boundaries of traditional psychology through the integration of shamanic techniques that alter consciousness, and enable us a deepened awareness of the human psyche. As a graduate student in the early 1960s, Ralph worked closely with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (later Ram Dass) on the Harvard research into psilocybin. Beyond research, in the 1970s Ralph’s focus shifted to the intensive study and practice of yoga, incorporating a meditative system of life-energy into his work. Furthermore, he was a brilliant author, and some of his books include: Searching for the Philosophers’ Stone; Encounters with Mystics, Scientists, and Healers, Ecology of Consciousness; The Alchemy of Personal, Collective, and Planetary Transformation, Birth of a Psychedelic Culture and many more.

A planetary steward, Ralph was the founder and president of the Green Earth Foundation which strove to harmonize human understanding with the planet that we live in. In 2014, Ralph was interviewed by Michael Gosney at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Conference in Oakland, California regarding his views on ecology for the Eco Evolution Podcast. This podcast examines the ecological crisis that we are living through, illuminating the fact that our relationship to the divine has been severed.

“The idea that the spiritual and the natural are opposed or that spirituality must always transcend nature is a culturally relative concept not shared by non-monotheistic religions or traditional societies. In indigenous cultures around the world the natural world is regarded as the realm of spirit and the sacred; the natural is the spiritual. From this follows an attitude of respect, a desire to maintain a balanced relationship…-in short, sustainability.” Ralph Metzner, “The Psychopathology of the Human-Nature Relationship,” 1995

Listen to the podcast in full here.

A Tribute to Our Beloved Friend

Dr. Ralph Metzner and publisher, Deborah Parrish Snyder, when she visited him in his home late November 2018.

“Our beloved Ralph Metzner, pioneer in consciousness research, left the planet early this morning. His friends agree, there is no person better prepared for death than Ralph. As he makes the ultimate transition, I say so long, friend, as you transcend, know how much wisdom you have left behind, and how we treasure you.” Deborah Parrish Snyder, Synergetic Press Publisher

Global treasure Ralph Metzner, one of those on whose shoulders our evolving consciousness stands, passed over today. A quickening in the force as his human wisdom and inspiring journey informs the broader Gaiamind.

As the relatively obscure member of the “Harvard Psychedelic Club” trio, unlike Leary and Alpert he kept pushing the envelope in the field of psychology all the way until his final days, studying, researching, teaching, evolving. He held the first major conference on Ayahuasca in San Francisco in 2002 (we produced the private after party at the Anon Salon space), and was the guide of the guides one might say, in fostering the neo-shamanic movement of psychedelic Work, a culture just now making its way out of the underground as psychedelic-assisted therapy emerges as a new legal paradigm of caregiving and life enrichment, and a new respect for the spiritual and healing powers of ayahuasca, fungi and other plant teacher/healers dawns. He was a thoughtful, very kind man, and from early on saw the need for awareness and care of our planetary body while we are taking our human journey, as expressed through his Green Earth Foundation and contributions to the Eco-Psychology movement. His newest book, just released, is a wonderful biographical account “Searching for the Philosophers’ Stone: Encounters with Mystics, Scientists, and Healers”. He explored and taught us about the passage of death, making his own transition all the more poignant. As is often the case with our visionaries, his work and life’s legacy will now be more widely recognized, and we hope received, by the mainstream.

May your path bring more light, love, and life to you dear friend. Thank you from all of us.” —Michael Gosney, Synergetic Press Associate Publisher

An Exploration into Other Worlds

In 2013, Ralph collaborated with us to commemorate the publication of The Mystic Chemist, in the Collected Works Bookstore, Santa Fe, NM. In this talk, Ralph recounts personal stories of his extraordinary experiences into Other Worlds, whilst reflecting on the life of the late Albert Hoffman. 

Meditations on Mortality

After Ralph’s departure, it is comforting to have video footage from an interview taken for the revolutionary documentary, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, exposing his thoughts on the nature of death. Being avidly involved with research into psychoactive substances, Ralph discusses the ability of these mind-manifesting substances to transform our conception of death, helping us to evaporate fear in the realization that we are not our bodies, and that there is ultimately “nothing to be afraid of.”

Ralph, you were truly an inspiration and a guide to all that met you, the world has yet to digest the lessons that you spent your life teaching. 

R.I.P. Ralph Metzner (1936-2019)

 

White Gold: the Diary of a Rubber Cutter in the Amazon 1896-1906

White Gold: the Diary of a Rubber Cutter in the Amazon 1896-1906

White Gold

White Gold is the diary of an American named John C. Yungjohann, recounting his journey through the Brazilian Amazon and the toilsome ten years of his life spent working as a rubber cutter there. The book is of major relevance today due to the economic and ecological developmental paths that we have begun to take on a societal level.

Within his diary, Yungjohann writes in detail about the flora and fauna particular to the Amazon at that time as well as his encounters with the various groups tribal Indians in that region. In particular, Jungjohann became increasingly close with the Yanomami Indians of which he relates their customs and traditions.

The Amazon Under Threat

With the days of the rubber boom long gone, new trajectories of economic exploit now threaten the Amazon. Brazil’s new 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, instead favoring the interests of those who have stakes in converting forest into farmland.

The Amazonian rainforest is the world’s largest rainforest, 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. Moreover, the Amazon is one of the world’s most biodiverse regions and is estimated to be home of 390 billion trees, among them 16,000 different species, let alone being the tribal home of 1 million indigenous Indians.

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 implications for the 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, culturally and economically rich areas of our planet. More than preserving knowledge, we need to make collective efforts to preserve its very existence.

About the Editor, Sir Ghillean T. Prance


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

‘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.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

 

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