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Living in a Glass House: Earth as a Closed Ecosystem

Living in a Glass House: Earth as a Closed Ecosystem

Life Under Glass: A Message of Planetary Stewardship

We are excited to announce the soon approaching release of the second edition of Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship from Two Years in Biosphere 2 which tells the inside story of Biosphere 2, and what it was like for eight researchers to be sealed in a giant laboratory for twenty-four months. 

Despite the fact that the biospherians lived isolated within Biosphere 2, the insights from their vision have leaked far beyond the boundaries of the physical structure, forever changing the lives of the crew members and those that came into contact with it, encouraging them to pursue paths of planetary stewardship. 

What was Biosphere 2?

Biosphere 2

Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains north of Tucson, Arizona, the 3.15 acres Biosphere 2 facility is the world’s largest closed ecological system. Inside are tropical rainforest, savannah, desert, mangrove marsh, coral reef biomes, a half-acre farm, and human living area.

Biosphere 2 consisted of seven biomes within a three-and-a-half acre closed-ecological system built in Oracle, Arizona. Each of the seven biomes was a carefully created replica of one of the various ecosystems on earth, including a tropical rainforest, a savannah, a desert, a marshland , and even an ocean complete with a coral reef! Technologically, architecturally, and ecologically ambitious, it was constructed during 1987-1991, being the largest laboratory for global ecology ever built. 

From 1991 to 1993 eight researchers, called ‘biospherians’, undertook an experiment in which they lived fully enclosed within the airtight structure for a period of two years. During this time, the biospherians devoted themselves to caring for their small world, recycling their air, water, and wastes as well as growing their own food. 

In Life Under Glass, biospherian crew members, Abigail Alling, Mark Nelson, and Sally Silverstone, present the full account of their remarkable two years living within and caring for Biosphere 2. From the daily struggles of growing their own food, to learning to help sustain their life-giving atmosphere. They give us a sense of how 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.

Learn about steps you can take to protect our Biosphere.

The Earth as a Closed-System

Our home has been under threat for decades from the pressure our expanding technosphere has placed upon the biosphere. In one view, the economic and social structures that we now inhabit have been founded upon the premise of “techno-optimism.” Techno-optimism is predicated around the idea that technological progress and development will be used for the betterment of mankind. 

Although, there is truth in the fact that technology has a beneficial impact on many of our lives, its major lack is that technological advancement has not been harmonized with ecological and regenerative practices. To quote R. Buckminster Fuller, “Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for the wrong reasons.” 

By contrast, Biosphere 2 was carefully designed using non-polluting technologies to support ecology. Similar to our Earth, Biosphere 2 was a closed-systems ecological unit, and the biospherians deliberately factored out the use of any polluting components such as pesticides and chemical products. They did not take up the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude that is so widely adopted in our world today. Instead, the biospherians understood that any chemical that leaked into the air, water or earth could be dangerous to their health.

“We understood on a profound level that our health and that of Biosphere 2 were the same. We were intensely aware that every action, everything we did, had immediate consequences. Our bodies understood and rejoiced in our cooperation with and dependence on all life. We had our responsibilities to work cooperatively with our living systems so as to maximize their well-being.” — Abigail Alling, Mark Nelson, & Sally Silverstone, Life Under Glass

Living Aboard “Spaceship Earth”

Earlier this year, some of our authors, John Allen and Mark Nelson, attended the Sundance 2020 Film Festival to attend the premiere of the long-awaited documentary film detailing the long, incredible story behind the construction of Biosphere 2. The film, entitled “Spaceship Earth”, is based in part of the memoir of John Allen, Me & the Biospheres, and includes extensive interviews with Mark Nelson and Sally Silverstone.

The title of the film alludes to the concept as used by the visionary architect R. Buckminster Fuller in the mid-1960s. One of Fuller’s primary concerns was the “vision for comprehensive planetary planning that resulted in new strategies intended to enable all of humanity to live with freedom, comfort and dignity, without negatively impacting the earth’s ecosystems or regenerative ability.” John Allen, Biosphere 2 inventor, was close friends with Buckminster Fuller and drew much inspiration from his ideas. 

“The notion was to create an enclosed space with every form of habitat — ocean, desert, jungle, and more — to act as an accelerated version of Earth, to show the rest of us how to fix our environmental problems and figure out how to colonize other planets… Wolf chronicles how the idea for Biosphere 2 developed into a real, functioning laboratory project…The copious footage — this was an experiment, and someone wanted it documented — shows how the crew had highs and lows, and dealt with challenges such as the build-up of carbon dioxide in the dome…Though it’s clear Wolf sides with the Biospherians, whom he sees as the first people to illustrate the dangers of climate change, the director is smart enough to present the facts and let viewers draw their own conclusion.” — Sundance review: ‘Spaceship Earth’ makes the case for Biosphere 2 as America’s first climate change experiment

Want to learn more about Spaceship Earth? Read: ‘Spaceship Earth’ and Planetary Stewardship

Inside Biosphere 2

In the rainforest, Linda Leigh reseeds planting pockets of the cloud forest mountain overlooking the lowland forest area. Fast-growing trees formed the initial canopy, protecting light-sensitive ones which will dominate the rainforest as it matures.

The Interdependence of Life on Earth

 

We live in an extraordinary and delicately balanced biosphere, wholly taking for granted the remarkable processes that supply us with clean water, air, and sustenance. In our modern-day world, it is easy to feel cut off from the interdependent relationships that characterize life on earth, and remaining unconscious of this interconnectivity has come at a high price to the only real home we have.

In these times of unprecedented uncertainty, the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) demonstrates how unnervingly delicate the balance of human life is on earth. Beyond the health issues associated with this virus, the effects that it is inevitably having on our social and economic system are of equal concern. The nature of ecosystem change is slow, and steady, compared with the immediate crisis of the pandemic we are now facing, making ecological crises seem like something distant, and far away, thus not spurring us into action.

Perhaps the strongest lesson millions of people will learn from the dramatic changes in our daily lives is a more profound appreciation for interconnectedness of all life. We are one species of billions that share one home on this planet.


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

Abigail Alling, Mark Nelson, and Sally Silverstone, Foreward by Sylvia A. Earle

Planet in a bottle. Eden revisited. Laboratory under glass. The largest self-sustaining closed ecological system ever made. Biosphere 2 is many things to many people. From its half-acre farm to its coral reef to its emerald rainforest—this unique research facility has proven itself a marvel of human engineering and a testament to the human imagination.

For two years, four men and four women lived and worked inside the structure, recycling their air, water, food, and wastes, and setting a world record for living in an isolated environment. But what has this giant glass-and-steel greenhouse been to those most intimately involved with it? What has it meant to the first crew who studied and cared for it? What was it really like to be sealed inside a giant laboratory for twenty-four months?

“Life Under Glass tells the inside story of an extraordinary scientific experiment, one in which a handful of idealistic citizen scientists, at considerable personal risk, volunteered to enter a closed system, Biosphere 2. The audacity of the effort, together with the courage that drove them to persevere, brings to mind that famous quote of Teddy Roosevelt in which he hails not the critics, but those in the arena who strive valiantly, who spend themselves in a worthy cause, and who, if they fail, do so while daring greatly, their faces marred by dust and sweat and blood.  — Professor Wade Davis, BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Available April 2, 2020. If you wish, you can purchase the book now, and you will be sent an email notification when the book arrives and is being shipped.

Purchase Life Under Glass

 

‘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

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.

Breaking Convention: 5th International Psychedelic Conference

Breaking Convention: 5th International Psychedelic Conference

Breaking Convention: More than a Conference

This August, Breaking Convention, one of the world’s largest conferences on psychoactive substances took place at the University of Greenwich, London. Over 1500 people attended, coming together to share and discuss psychoactive substances from a diverse range of perspectives and backgrounds. 

More than a conference, Breaking Convention’s program featured over 150 interdisciplinary presentations across the span of three days covering five simultaneous academic tracks – not to mention the various workshops, art installations, musical performances, and stalls (of which we were proud to be one). 

David Luke speaking at Breaking Convention

Dr. David Luke, co-director of Breaking Convention, talking about altered stated of consciousness.

Not limited strictly to the scientific, Breaking Convention presents a unique convergence of voices, weaving together a multi-layered narrative, skillfully incorporating the numerous perspectives involved in today’s dialogue on psychedelics, encapsulating insights from neuroscientists, psychologists, psychotherapists, anthropologists, spiritual practitioners and many more. 

We found ourselves truly overwhelmed with the tightly packed schedule of quality speakers, unable to choose between one talk and another. Lucky for us, the team at Breaking Convention records and broadcasts all of the talks online free of charge. Watch their video lectures here.

In the days leading up to the conference, there were also several related events hosted around Greenwich. One of our personal favorites was the comedy show hosted by UK Psychedelic Comedy featuring stand-up comedians Shane Mauss, and Adam Strauss. Needless to say, we laughed a lot and even learned a little in the process.

The Psychedelic Renaissance

Breaking Convention Group photo from 2016

Breaking Convention group photo from 2016

Well beyond the anti-drug backlash of 1960s counter-culture, times are changing. Many psychoactive substances are slowly on their way to being decriminalized, with the mental stigma and cultural baggage associated with psychedelics dissolving. 

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of research into the therapeutic potentials of these substances. The growing body of scientific research continues to demonstrate the psychological, medical, and spiritual value of many psychoactive substances leading to their reevaluation in mainstream consciousness.

The psychedelic renaissance is here, and the growing interest in these substances can be observed in the fact that Breaking Convention has seen a marked rise in interest surrounding the conference, with each iteration of the conference growing in size. Psychedelics are becoming more commonly accepted, no longer considered fringe or radical. 

Extinction Alert: In Response to the Ecological Crisis

This year, Breaking Convention placed a heavy focus on the current ecological crisis and the extinction threat that we face collectively as a species, acknowledging the copious evidence that supports that our planet is in a state of ecological crisis. 

Over the last century, industrialized human civilization has upset the natural balance of life and as a consequence we are in the 6th wave of mass extinction, facing a rapid loss of species estimated to be between 1000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. As organisms with psychedelic properties may constitute part of the medicine cabinet of our future, Breaking Convention as a cultural and educational organization declared a state of ecological emergency and it supports efforts to educate the public on this situation.

Dr. Gail Bradbrook co-founder of Extinction Rebellion gave a talk about the ecological crisis, stating: 

“I’m not actually here to really push this idea of nature connection even though I believe it’s foundational because I don’t think we have time to really write that in us. I think that it is going to be many centuries of work and I want it to happen. Because this issue is systemic we have to think about the system itself and how that sits in us.” 

Watch Dr. Gail Bradbrook’s talk below. 

Find out more about Extinction Rebellion.

Keep up-to-date with Breaking Convention

Breaking Convention LogoIn early 2015, Breaking Convention achieved registration as a UK charity. Its main objectives include organizing and hosting their biennial academic conference which brings together multiple disciplines associated with research into psychedelic substances. Further, they are concerned with promoting and supporting research in psychoactive substances and assisting in the dissemination of useful findings from such research, publishing an academic collection of essays submitted by the speakers of each conference. It is in their aims to purchase physical premises to act as a psychedelic charity shop and workspace within London. The Psychedelic Museum will sell books and wares, acting both as a networking space and a place to raise money for the organization. 

Interested in getting involved? Stay tuned with their latest developments and events through their website

BreakingConvention on FB or BreakingConvention_uk

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.

 

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