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‘Spaceship Earth’ and Planetary Stewardship | Sundance 2020

‘Spaceship Earth’ and Planetary Stewardship | Sundance 2020

“Spaceship Earth” Documentary on Biosphere 2 Premieres at Sundance Film Festival

Last weekend, some of our authors, John Allen and Mark Nelson, along with publisher, Deborah Snyder, attended the premiere of this long awaited film at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Audiences gave standing ovations. The film is based in part on the memoir by John Allen, Me & the Biospheres, and includes extensive interviews with authors Mark Nelson and Sally Silverstone, both authors of our next book, Life Under Glass, a second edition of the account they wrote while living inside.

“Spaceship Earth” unravels the compelling tale behind Biosphere 2 — the largest laboratory for global ecology ever built, comprised of seven biomes within a three and a half-acre closed ecological unit. Each biome was a carefully created replica of one of the various ecosystems on Earth. The film spans a fifty-year history of the small group of individuals who embarked on this extraordinary venture. Directed by Matt Wolf, Produced by Stacy Reiss (The Eagle Huntress).

Spaceship Earth Crew at Sundance 2020

The Directors and producers with the Biosphere 2 team at the Sundance Film Festival 2020.

Costing $200 million to build, Biosphere 2 was complete with a tropical rainforest, a grassland, a coastal desert, and even a coral containing ocean. From 1991 to 1993 eight researchers across different scientific practices, called ‘Biospherians’, began a two-year-long experiment in which they lived fully enclosed within the structure with the aim of studying how the environments would evolve, and if they could sustain human life. But just how did this wild experiment come to be? 

Chronicling back to San Francisco in the early 1960s, “Spaceship Earth” traces the journey of artist-engineer John Allen and his group of like-minded, free-thinking friends who set about making the earth a more sustainable place through theater, art, and ecologically driven projects. Together, the group formed the avant-garde theater troupe, the Theater of All Possibilities, mixing together noetics, science, and ecology with experimental theater. 

The group went on to establish several other projects including Synergia Ranch, an intentional community in New Mexico focused on ecology, architecture, and art. With Synergia Ranch as their headquarters, the group started to scale into even more ambitious projects, founding the non-profit organization the Institute of Ecotechnics (IE). IE’s main goal has been the development and application of innovative approaches to harmonizing technology and the global biosphere.

The team embarked upon constructing their own hand-built sailing vessel from scratch, starting a sustainable forestry project in Puerto Rico, and even an art gallery in London. Their far-sighted scope ultimately led to their most inspirational project — Biosphere 2.

“Synergia’s members hungered for knowledge and were always looking to one-up themselves, under the philosophy that life could be playful and meaningful if you were open to all possibilities. So in the late 1980s, Allen and his band of visionaries embarked on their most ambitious project ever: the construction of a biosphere that would sustain the lives of eight crew members for two years without any outside interference.” — Matt Patches, “Spaceship Earth uncovers the goodness hidden in the debacle of Biosphere 2

“In the end, Spaceship Earth is an epic story told over the course of 50 years about epic people. That we could imagine everyday humans being as epic as the Synergists and Biospherians is the invitation of the film. What would it take for a small group of people to set their vision and imagination on a wild goal and get up every day to accomplish it? Does that have to be such a wild proposition? Have we become too cynical? Has our belief in possibility diminished? If you need a reminder about the awesome creative potential of humanity, see this film.” — Hariette Yahr , “A reminder about the power of Imagination”, Modern Times, the European Documentary Magazine

Biosphere 2 was built as an educational apparatus to study planetary workings by replicating key components of earth’s (Biosphere 1’s) fantastic diversity, and observing how it evolved in a closed system. Beyond this, the Biospherians took the threat of ecological collapse seriously, wanting to develop a harmonic balance between ecology and technology, potentially suitable to colonize space, and gaining insight into how humans can better our impacts on earth’s biosphere.

A Testament to the Power of Small Groups  

Ultimately, the story behind Biosphere 2, and the many initiatives driven forward by the Institute of Ecotechnics serve as a testament to the power of small groups. Wild dreams of envisioning a better world do not have to be cast-off as an idealistic pastime, but rather they can become an even more productive reality when put into an actionable plan. 

A Beacon of Planetary Stewardship 

Today Biosphere 2 continues to serve as a beacon of hope with a message grounded in harmonizing human actions with nature. One of the most crucial insights that we can draw from 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. In the words of Buckminster Fuller:

“I’ve often heard people say: ‘I wonder what it would feel like to be onboard a spaceship,’ and the answer is very simple. What does it feel like? That’s all we have ever experienced. We are all astronauts on a little spaceship called Earth.” 


What Reviewers Said About Spaceship Earth 

“The film’s larger frame is something more spiritual, an innate quest for knowledge and adventure whose principal crime was naiveté. Operating outside the usual government and academic realms for such projects, the Biosphere 2 personnel weren’t prepared for the extent to which they’d be scrutinized and dismissed for that independence. Drawing on a wealth of archival materials as well as interviews with all surviving participants, “Spaceship” is an involving, oddly poignant tale that should have broad appeal to those on the lookout for distinctive documentary features.” — Dennis Harvey, “‘Spaceship Earth’: Film Review for Variety


Books on Biosphere 2

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

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

The 2009 Winner of the Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Biography/Memoir, Me and the Biospheres is the definitive autobiography of John P. Allen, inventor of the largest laboratory for global ecology ever built and one of the most luminous minds of our time. Contained within a magnificently designed air-tight glass and steel frame structure, Biosphere 2 covered three acres of Arizona desert and included models of seven biomes: an ocean with coral reef, a marsh, a rainforest, a savannah, a desert, farming areas and a micro-city. Eight people lived inside this structure for two years (1991-1993) and set world records in human life support, monitoring their impact on the environment, while providing crucial data for future manned missions into outer space. Anyone concerned with the current world trajectory will identify with Allen’s uplifting account of the most ambitious environmental experiment ever undertaken. Humorous and Whitmanesque, Me and the Biospheres is a tribute to the ingenuity and dauntlessness of the human mind and a passionate call to reawaken to the beauty of our peerless home, Biosphere 1, the Earth.
 

APRIL 2020

Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship Learned from Two Years in Biosphere 2

What has it meant to the first crew who studied and cared for Biosphere 2? What was it really like to be sealed inside a giant laboratory for twenty-four months?

In Life Under Glass, crew members, Abigail Alling and Mark Nelson with co-captain Sally Silverstone present the full account of those two remarkable years. From the struggles of growing their own food, to learning how to help sustain their life-giving atmosphere, the general reader is offered a rare glimpse into how a group of dedicated researchers managed to surprise the world and fulfill their dream. In this updated edition, a new chapter reflects on the legacy of Biosphere 2 and the state of related scientific progress. Other crews will come and go, but no one else will face the risks, the uncertainties, and the challenges that this new breed of explorers did on Biosphere 2’s maiden voyage. Here is the fascinating story of how it all unfolded—the dramatic tales of learning to live in a separate world under glass.

Browse books on Sustainability & Ecology

Peyote Road Reflections

Peyote Road Reflections

Above: Peyote Meeting at Mirando City, Texas, from Reflections on the Peyote Road, by Jerry Patchen, ESPD50 (photo courtesy of Robert Black)

What is Peyote?

Peyote, scientifically known as Lophophora williamsii, is a small, spineless cactus native to North America, populating the vast desert thorn scrub that runs from the southwestern United States into north-central Mexico. It is commonly known for its psychoactive properties. Among its many alkaloids, peyote contains the naturally occurring chemical compound mescaline which has the ability to induce brilliantly colored geometrical visions. Classed as a controlled, Schedule I substance in the United States, Native Americans have had to fight hard for the sustained use of their sacred plant.

The sacramental use of peyote is the oldest known religious practice on the North American continent. By way of example, there are three archeological specimens of peyote that were discovered in the Shumla Cave in Pecos, Texas which have been radiocarbon dated between 3660 and 3780 BCE. Petroglyphs in the area adorned with peyote motifs have also been dated to the same period. Thus, the cactus has been used by indigenous groups in Northern Americas for millennia, being an integral part of the cosmology of Huichol peoples of Northern Mexico as well as the Native American Church. 

Western Culture’s Misunderstanding of the Plant Medicine

Despite being given such reverence by indigenous peoples and the NAC, peyote has been extremely misunderstood by outsiders for centuries. Since their arrival in the New World in the early 1600s, Spanish colonists set about replacing native religions with Catholicism. Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan friar, and missionary priest wrote about peyote: 

“Those who eat or drink it see visions either frightful or laughable… it stimulates them and gives them sufficient spirit to fight and have neither fear, thirst, nor hunger… It causes those devouring it to foresee and predict; such, for instance, as whether the weather will continue; or to discern who has stolen from them…”

Upon coming into contact with peyote in Mexico, the Spanish colonialists considered it to be an anti-christian, “diabolical root” in direct opposition to the integrity of the Catholic faith. The Inquisitor General ordered Christianization at the point of the sword, and plants used in native rituals were condemned. In 1620, an official order was issued by the Inquisitors declaring that “no person of whatever rank of social condition can or may make use of the said herb, Peyote” as it was considered to be an “intervention of the Devil.”           

Spanish Imperialists brought death and disease to Northern Mexico and with this its inhabitants fled, scattering south and west. One group, the Tarahumara Indians, made their home in the remote hills of the Sierra Madre Occidental. It is believed that their successors gave rise to the Huichol or Wixarika, who are the only remaining indigenous group in Mexico that continues to use peyote as a ritual sacrament.

The Native American Use of Peyote

Peyote Drummer

‘Peyote Drummer’ Via Museum of Photographic Arts Collections

Meanwhile, north of the border the European colonization of America had begun. Over the span of a couple of centuries, the Native Americans saw their buffalo food supply deliberately wiped out, with each tribe experiencing its own genocide, land seizure, displacement, and removal to reservations.

Acclaimed ethnobotanist, Richard Evans Schultes, was among the first few Westerners to study peyote. In 1936, Schultes made his way to Oklahoma to study the ritual use of peyote among the Kiowa Indians. 

It is thought that the Kiowa first came into contact with peyote in the mid-1800s through the Comanches. According to the seminal text Peyote Religion by Omer Stewart, the Carrizo Mexican Indians passed peyote use and rituals to the Lipan Apache, with the Apache going on to pass it to the Comanches, and finally it was passed from the Comanches to the Kiowa.

Anthropologist Wade Davis writes of the Native American’s connection to peyote in his book One River explaining that “peyote offered the Kiowa and the Comanche an astonishing affirmation of their fundamental religious ideas” in a time when their ways of life were disintegrating.

Legal Battles and the Native American Chruch

Jerry Patchen, a Texas attorney, and contributing author to our publication Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs has represented the Native American Church and US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) licensed peyote dealers (peyoteros) harvesting and selling peyote to the NAC for over forty years. 

During his career as a lawyer, he fought on the frontlines of the peyote wars, providing pro bono representation to Indians that were being charged with the serious offense of possessing a controlled substance. In his paper, “Reflections of the Peyote Road with the Native American Church – Visions & Cosmology” he expands upon his journey, helping to protect and secure the legal status of Peyote for use by Native Americans in NAC prayer services. 

To learn more about the legal trials and tribulations faced by the Native American Church watch the video below, in which Jerry Patchen reflects on his career and shares his personal experiences.

In 1912, the Bureau of Indian Affairs tried to lobby for a federal law prohibiting peyote. This law was passed by the House of Representatives but rejected by the Senate. An Oklahoman senator was swayed by his Indian constituency, persuading his colleagues to vote against the bill. Following this, the Native American Church rallied the support of several anthropologists, ethnologists, and ethnobotanists in their fight to save their sacred medicine. Among them, Richard Evans Schultes had presented a vast bibliography as well as the insights from field research with the Kiowa. Finally, the U.S. Senate Committee accepted their conclusion that peyote was not a “habit-forming drug” and is used as a “religious sacrament”. 

The efforts to prohibit the use of peyote ceased for three decades until the beginning of the 1960s countercultural movement in the 1960s where baby boomers discovered psychedelic substances and wanted to “turn on, tune in, drop out” en masse. Alarmed by the potential dangers of psychoactive substances, the U.S. government enacted The Controlled Substances Act of 1970, in which peyote was included in the drugs classified as Schedule I substances. Read more about psychedelics and the 1960s counterculture.

Patchen helped create and draft a plan of petitioning the U.S. Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and to amend the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFA) to expressly include peyote. This strategy was presented to Senator Daniel Inouye, Chairman of the Senate Committee of Indian Affairs at a public hearing in Oklahoma. The strategy succeeded with both Acts eventually being passed. Thus, the listing of peyote as a controlled substance does no longer applies to the sacramental use of peyote in bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church. Later, this legislation played a key role in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to permit the religious use of ayahuasca. Patchen reflects that:

“Without the tenacious commitment of the NAC, there would be no legal use of Peyote or ayahuasca in the U.S. today”

What does the Future Hold for Peyote?

Donna Torres Lophophora Williamsii

Lophophora williamsii by the botanical illustrator Donna Torres

In recent years, the greatest threat to peyote is its paucity and decreasing numbers. A convergence of factors such as illegal poaching, overharvesting, and conversion of its natural environment into agricultural land has led to a severe decrease in wild populations, making it a vulnerable species. 

As early as 1995, American botanist Edward Anderson noted the change in peyote populations in his paper entitled “The “Peyote Gardens” of South Texas: a conservation crisis?”. Anderson theorized that the greatest threat to peyote was not the peyoteros who are registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and legally permitted to collect peyote to supply the Native American Church. In general, peyoteros are considered to be good conservationists, harvesting sustainably with the knowledge that their livelihood depends on stable populations of the plant. 

Rather, Anderson identified the two most serious threats to peyote as “root-plowing [for agricultural purposes] and the locking up of ranches to the peyoteros” with most land being privately owned. Thus, a tension exists between land-owners and peyoteros who have to take out costly leases to harvest the peyote enclosed in private land. What’s more, is that it has become more and more difficult for distributors to gain the legal approval they need to collect peyote to sell to the Native American Church. A 2018 article by Daniel Oberhaus, stated that there are currently “only four peyoteros who are registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and legally able to collect peyote.”

Beyond this, the number of people consuming peyote globally exceeds the plants’ ability to regenerate. Since the 1960s, New Age psychedelic tourists have been drawn to the plains of Northern Mexico seeking visionary experience. This trend has also been amplified by the fanfare surrounding today’s psychedelic renaissance, with a renewed interest in the therapeutic potentials of visionary plants. This psychedelic tourism has inevitably has impacted the availability of peyote for the Huichol.

Peyote is a fragile species liable to become endangered. The plant itself is extremely slow-growing, taking many years to reach maturity, and people are harvesting it in a very negligent way. When harvesting is done sustainably, the top of the root hardens but the plant does not die and is able to produce more peyote in the future. If poor harvesting techniques are used, the entire plant dies. 

To learn more about how to harvest peyote sustainably, check out this video uploaded by anthropologist, Bia Labate, interviewing Dr. Martin Terry from the Cactus Conservation Institute


More about Jerry Patchen

Jerry Patchen contributing author to the Ethnopharmacologic Search of Psychoactive Drugs -- PeyoteJerry D. Patchen, contributing author to Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs, is a Texas Attorney with four decades of experience litigating civil and criminal cases. Patchen’s work includes forty years of pro bono representation of the Native American Church (NAC) on behalf of American Indians to secure and protect their rights to religious freedom. Serving as an Officer in the NAC, he represented individuals charged in various states with possession of Peyote, winning every case. He also represented the Peyote dealers in Texas, who are licensed by the Texas DPS and DEA to dispense Peyote to Indians. Throughout his representation of the NAC Jerry, his wife, Linda, and their three children participated in Peyote meetings with Native American elders for decades.


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

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs Box SetCertain plants have long been known to contain healing properties and used to treat everything from depression and addiction, to aiding in on one’s own spiritual well-being for hundreds of years. Can Western medicine find new cures for human ailments by tapping into indigenous plant wisdom? And why the particular interest in the plants with psychoactive properties? These two conference volume proceedings provide an abundance of answers.

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

Buy Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs

The Reality of Climate Change Here & Now

The Reality of Climate Change Here & Now

Leaders, Educators and Activists take Climate Change Seriously in Puerto Rico

No Escape: The Reality of Climate Change Here & NowOn October 30, nearly 300 people gathered together to take part in the one-day symposium No Escape: The Reality of Climate Change Here & Now at the Fundación Luis Muñoz Marín in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The event was jointly organized by Thrity J. Vakil, FLS, director of the Institute of Ecotechnics and Tropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry & Rainforest Enrichment Project (Eye On The Rainforest), with Christian Torres Santana, Director of the Parque Doña Inés, and Cristina Cabrera, an environmental consultant and project manager.

The idea for a meeting in Puerto Rico on the reality of climate change emerged at the World Ayahuasca Conference in May where Synergetic Press exhibited and a number of our authors presented. Deborah Parrish Snyder, publisher, and her Institute of Ecotechnic colleague, Thrity Vakil, and Synergetic author Sir Ghillean Prance, saw at that gathering a powerful display of what a community of like-minded individuals can accomplish across different cultures and languages. Deborah “left the conference with the unmistakable sense that many movements are gathering, stepping up to the front-lines of action.”

Thrity is one of on those people operating on the front-line, and with Ghillean’s agreement to come to Puerto Rico and speak, she went immediately to work bringing together in four months thought-leaders, scientists, researchers, and ecological defenders from across the Island and many disciplines. They met to understand what is known, and develop better ways to support healthy agricultural production, sustainable forestry management, adapt and minimize the environmental and socio-economic impacts from the dramatic changes in climate we are seeing around the planet.

 Sir Ghillean Prance, a world expert on the botany and economic uses of neotropical rainforests, has conducted extensive work in the Amazon as Director of the Institute of Economic Botany and VP for Science at the New York Botanical Garden. He is the Director (Emeritus) of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the UK. 

Sir Ghillean Prance Sir Ghillean Prance presenting “The Biological Evidence for Climate Change. Ghillean began collaborating with the Press and Institute of Ecotechnics in the 80s as the Rainforest Biome Designer at the Biosphere 2 project and is editor of White Gold: the Diary of a Rubber Cutter in Brazil (Synergetic Press). “[/caption]

His talk, entitled “The Biological Evidence for Climate Change,” focused on examples of biological climate-change indicators such as those occurring in the phenology of plant-flowering times, bird migrations, and rainfall cycles, the movement of flora toward the poles and to higher elevations in mountain biomes, and the bleaching of coral reefs. His talk opened and closed with the concept of value, first through what is called quantitative ethnobiology, in which the value of various species to local or indigenous cultures is assessed, and the impact of climate change on that value, and in his closing remarks by the imperative to link environmental impact to specific nations or regions of the world: what is the value of a person or society in relation to the consumption of resources by that person or society on a global scale (that of a U.S. citizen versus that of a Bangladeshi citizen, for example)? Dr. Eben Wood’s Report on the symposium

No Escape: The Reality of Climate Change Here and Now

Symposium organizers, Christian Torres Santana, Cristina Cabrera, & Thrity Vakil with Sir Ghillean Prance

View Panel Discussion Online

“It is too late to stop climate change, there is a lag time. We should try and stop it, but you can recognise that when driving a speeding car on a wet road you can apply the breaks, but you’re not gonna stop immediately. We also have to deal with the effects of climate change […] agriculturally, in terms of vegetation, it will effect the trees we plant, and the trees and trees that we plant as the answers to what we do. But the ice in Antartica and Greenland will continue to melt for centuries. And the fact that is going to happen means we really need to start to think ahead. We should get a pass because while we triggered this and we have 7.6 billion people, humans have never experienced this before. Sea level has not been higher than present for 120,000 years. But just to set the stage when I say we need to think about in terms of program and practice how top be resilient and adapt which are two different things to me.

Resilient is to prepare for recovery from an event or operate through an event by better design. Adaptation is what you do to the changing baselines of temperature, sea level, and changing rainfall.”  —John Englander, panel moderator, oceanographer & Founder and President of the Rising Seas Institute

Interested in learning more? Check out the FACEBOOK LIVESTREAM Links: 

  1. “No Escape: The Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Intros by Christian Torres Santana, Cristina Cabrera, & Thrity Vakil.
    Speakers 8.40am to 10.40am : Mr. Ernesto Luis Diaz, Dr. Grizelle Gonzalez, Minuette Rodriguez Harrison, Hon. John Clendenin, Ms. Nancy Woodfield Pascoe, Dr. Frank Wadsworth
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/794825720965381/
  2. “No Escape: the Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Speakers 11am to 12.30pm: Dr. Chris Nytch, Dr. William Gould, Sir Ghillean Prance.
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/532064507617292/
  3. “No Escape: The Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Panel Discussion 1.30 to 2.30pm: Sir Ghillean Prance, Mr. Ernesto Diaz,
    Hon. Larry Seilhamer,  Dr. Elvira Cuevas, Fernando Lloveras.
    Speakers 2.30 to 5.30pm: Dr Ariel Lugo, Dr. Katia Avilés-Vázquez, Dr. Pablo Méndez Lázaro, Agro. Christian Torres Santana, Brenda Torres, Dr. Jess K. Zimmerman, Katherine González, Edgardo González, Dr. Fernando Abruña.
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/779423005825855/
  4. “No Escape: the Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Speaker 5.30 to 6.00pm: John Englander.
    6.00pm Wrap-ups and Thanks.
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/1134579966751986/

Gathering Together for a Better Future

In October 2018, the United Nations released an unnerving report warning of the potential impacts of a rise in global temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius or more. The special report was issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and was written and edited by 91 scientists from more than 40 countries, analyzing over 6000 studies. 

Findings suggested that if we do not change our global economic systems drastically, continuing to let off large carbon emissions into the atmosphere, we will potentially see food-shortages, wildfires, the mass die-off of coral reefs as well as the beginnings of coastal flooding as soon as 2030. Further, it warned that the areas of the globe most vulnerable to climate change are (1) islands; (2) tropical areas; and (3) densely populated areas. 

The symposium aimed to heighten the level of discussion surrounding the traumas of the climate crisis, bringing together synergistic perspectives necessary for attaining an expansive overview of the social, political and economic impacts of climate change in Puerto Rico. 

It is through this collective discussion on the causes and effects of climate change that we are able to harness the ability to confront challenges head-on and elucidate our future choices, working together in attempts to cultivate a better future. Find out more about what you can do to protect our biosphere and fight climate change. 

Institute of Ecotechnics Logo

 

 

 

More About Institute of Ecotechnics

Institute of Ecotechnics is an International Non-Governmental Organisation that owns and operates innovative sustainable ecological projects in different biomes worldwide such as the R.V. Heraclitus, or Eye on the Rainforest, among many others. Since 1973, the Institute of Ecotechnics has developed and applied innovative approaches to harmonizing technology and the global biosphere. The field of ‘Ecotechnics’ integrates two complementary fields of study: the ‘ecology of technics’ and the ‘technics of ecology’. The Institute of Ecotechnics convenes international conferences and workshops that bring together leading thinkers, scientists, explorers, artists, and managers.

Synergetic Press’ publisher, Deborah Parrish Snyder is a Director of the Institute of Ecotechnics (www.ecotechnics.edu), helping to manage a number of the international conferences it has hosted over the years on global trends and in the field of closed ecological systems.


More About Eye on the Rainforest

Eye on the Rainforest LogoEye on the Rainforest, otherwise known as Las Casas de la Selva is the home of Tropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry & Rainforest Enrichment Project and is located in Puerto Rico. Its mission is to research and demonstrate the economic use of rainforest land using methods that do not destroy the rainforest ecology. The Institute of Ecotechnics initiated this unique project in Patillas, Puerto Rico, pioneering experiments in sustainable rainforest ecology, through line-planting of valuable timber trees. Nearly 300 acres of the 1000-acre property have been planted with over 40,000 native and exotic hardwood trees with extremely promising results. 700 acres remain as a wilderness preserve for watershed protection, research, and educational ecotourism.

Stay tuned @eyeontherainforest or eyeontherainforest.org 


Recommended Books on Sustainability & Ecology from Synergetic Press

The Anthropocene Book Cover

The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How It Shapes Our Planet by Christian Schwägerl

 

 

What does it mean to live in the Anthropocene? In his passionate, first-person global travelogue, Schwägerl investigates this question by visiting some of the last pristine places on Earth, exploring rising megacities and witnessing the devastation of forests and coral reefs. Melding rigorous scientific training with his experience as a journalist, he has covered high-profile political and environmental conferences and interviewed key figures influencing the course of our future. The result is this thoroughly researched, comprehensive overview of our planetary situation and outlook. Schwägerl presents tangible solutions to our global crises and shares his vision of a world that balances ecological sustainability, economic prosperity, political justice, and cultural vibrancy.

What has nature ever done for us

What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? How Money Really Does Grow on Trees by Tony Juniper 

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. The book 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.

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

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.

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