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

By John Allen

An uplifting account of the ambitious environmental experiment, Biosphere 2, and the extraordinary life of its creator, John Allen.

Publication Date: March 19, 2012 ISBN: 978-090779137-9 Categories: , , Tags: , , ,

John Allen

John ‘Dolphin’ Allen, is author, poet, playwright who invented, conceived and co-founded the Biosphere 2 project – the world’s largest laboratory for global ecology. Biosphere 2 set a number of world records in closed life system work including, among others, degree of sealing tightness, 100% waste recycle and water recycle, and duration of human residence within a closed system (eight people for two years). Allen has also conceived and co-founded nine other projects around the world, pioneering in sustainable co-evolutionary development.

He is currently the Chairman of Global Ecotechnics Corporation. This is an international project development and management company with a Biospheric Design Division engaged in designing and preparing to build the second generation of advanced materially closed biospheric systems and ecologically enriched biomic systems (; and an EcoFrontiers Division which owns and operates innovative sustainable ecological projects of which he was the co-founder and chief designer in France, Australia (5000 acre savannah regeneration project), Puerto Rico (1000 acre sustainable rainforest project) and England (

Allen began the first manned Biosphere Test Module experiment in September 1988, residing in the almost fully recyclable closed ecological system environment for three days and setting a world record at that time, proving that closed ecological systems would work with humans inside. As the vice-president of Biospheric Development for the project, as well as Executive Chairman, Allen was responsible for the science and engineering that created the materially closed life system, as well as the development of spin-off technologies.


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. Table of Contents (PDF) Read the Preface (PDF) Read Chapter 1 (PDF) More Info: Me and the Biospheres Santa Fe Reporter Cover Story

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Me and The Biospheres is the autobiography of John Allen, inventor of the world’s largest laboratory of global ecology, Biosphere 2. I’m not surprised Allen’s book was voted best autobiography of 2010 by the Benjamin Franklin Awards for independent publishing. He is the most amazing man I know.I’ve learned even more about him and his associates from this book- and what associates: from Konrad Lorenz and Buckminster Fuller to William Burroughs, Sir Ghillean Prance and Richard Schultes. Allen started the Biosphere enterprise at the Synergia Ranch in Santa Fe having bought and renovated – by hand – a great stretch of Australian outback to prepare specimens. He did this while building a ship, RV Heraclitus, setting up the Vajra hotel in Kathmandu and the October Gallery in London. When it became clear Biosphere 2 would need a tropical rainforest, he
bought a patch of Puerto Rican land, planted hardwood trees and used it for the source of the rainforest biome– creating a conservation-focused, aswell as profit-making business. I can’t begin to detail his many other enterprises here – buy the book! The culmination of it all is Biosphere 2 in the Arizona desert. This was a completely closed system in which eight people lived for two years, with air, water and agriculture
all perfectly recycled, with four connected-but-independent biomes including a coral reef, desert and rainforest. This is a great book for biologists. Read it to see just how much can be done during an eclectic life.
Jack Cohen FSB, The Biologist, Volume 59, No 2

Me and the Biospheres is an excellent and highly inspiring book, showing in a fascinating way what single humans can accomplish with like minds, and how important and trend-setting far reaching holistic thinking and consciousness change is for human evolution and survival of our species within a livable environment, the gaian biosphere.
Dieter A. Hagenbach, Gaia Media Foundation

John Allen can daily create with his thoughts, spoken words and writing pen. His visionary, innovative and synergistic ideas help humankind understand its capabilities to advance towards a more enlightened world. This book gives us a deep look into John’s life, loves and achievements. Dig it.
Lisa Law, photographer, videographer, historian,author of Flashing on the Sixties and Interviews with Icon

Biosphere 2 is the most important human/environmental experiment of the 20th century. It brought to public attention for the first time that we live in a closed environment and that the fragility of our environment is affected by such factors as CO2 accumulation and interplay of human ecology of environmental scientist and corporate America whose motivation was and is the accumulation of knowledge for profit. What a pleasure to savor this history as a piece of art and culture from the genius mind of John Allen, the dreamer/creator of Biosphere 2. Follow the raga of John’s exploration as he fugues from the wisdom of Walt Whitman through the jazz refrains of Ornette Coleman. From the coffee shops of the Haight Ashbury to the Promethean construction of the legendary research vessel Heraclitus, to the exploration of the Amazon searching for shamans and their plant allies with Dr. Richard Schultes, to dada theater, in Zurich, to the amazing human, ecological and geological experiment that was Biosphere 2, Me and the Biospheres is a book not to be missed by the intelligentsia of the 21st century. John Allen is the proof of Robert A. Heinlein’s dictum, “Specialization is for Insects.”
Ramon Carr, Environmentalist, Co-Director, Sage Center for Alternative Healing

Now the inside story of Biosphere 2 is told by the man who created it. A fascinating and insightful read into the origins of one of America’s most ambitious ecological experiments and the journey it took to get there, much of it starting right here in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Richard Polese, Publisher, Ocean Tree Books,Executive Director, New Mexico Book Association

Me and the Biospheres is the autobiographical memoir of a visionary who has embodied “The Meeting of East and West” (F.S.C. Northrop), has vigorously participated in “The Two Cultures” (C.P. Snow) and has been a leader in the engineering reification of “The Biosphere” (V.I. Vernadsky). Now, that is a book worth reading.
Harold Morowitz, Ph.D., Robinson Professor, George Mason University

John Allen belongs to the great and noble tradition of Transcendentalism, the tradition of Ralph Waldo Emerson, of R. Buckminster Fuller and Frank Lloyd Wright. His whole existence, his studies, work, and interests are moved by a few fundamental principles. In John Allen, these principles share an organic, total ecologic structure that intimately combines land, nature, air and art with philosophy, theater and spiritual aspirations. The particularity of his work and life is that this combination has brought amazing results on the highest levels of achievement in science and engineering such as Biosphere 2. He has also realized small but extremely vital projects such the October Gallery in London, the Synergia Ranch in Santa Fe and the vessel Heraclitus that has been sailing the world since 1975. John Allen’s stature is that of a Nobel prizewinner. For the reader of this book, there unfolds an unforgettable, stimulating and fascinating account of freedom and the possibility of human creation when it is nourished by profound reason.
Antonino Saggio, Editor of The IT Revolution in Architecture book series,Professor of Architecture, University of Rome

The Biosphere 2 project was surely one of the great scientific and technological enterprises of our time. Building a working model of the Earth’s biosphere is essential preparation for the coming era of space travel and manned exploration of other worlds.

In this memoir by the multifarious genius inventor/explorer John Allen, we learn how he used his knowledge and experience in engineering, metallurgy, design, ecology, large-scale organizational finance, agriculture (and other fields), to draw together and inspire an extraordinary team of highly skilled and knowledgeable collaborators from a wide range of scientific and technical disciplines.

He relates amazing stories from his years of travel in all parts of the world, doing ecosystem restoration projects, building a research ship that (still!) sails the seven seas and co-creating a travelling theatre in which he and his friends explored the mythic and moral dimensions of the multifaceted adventure of life in the biospheres. An astonishing book! Inspiration guaranteed!
Ralph Metzner, Ph.D., Author of The Unfolding Self and Green Psychology

Mark Twain once famously said that reasonable men bend themselves to the ways of the world therefore it stands to reason that only unreasonable men can change it … John Allen is an unreasonable man, a visionary, a poet and a true polymath which makes him a square peg in a very round hole and this gets up the noses of people who want business as usual even if what they are doing quite plainly doesn’t work.

This book should be read by all those who believe as I do, that for great things to work you need to harness all the talents, you need to leave no stone unturned in your quest for knowledge and enlightenment. It is one of the tragedies of our age that those who champion science and the arts are so often blinkered by their need to conform. This brilliant book tells a story that is both a warning and a call to action. There is nothing more dangerous and uplifting than a visionary who does stuff rather than talk about it.

These are the “movers and shakers” of our world and as we face possibly the greatest threat to mankind in the form of climate change, peak oil, food and energy security and the need to create resilient communities, John Allen’s brilliant book opens up a world of opportunity and the joy of seeing challenge as we face our greatest test – are we worthy of the name we gave ourselves, Homo sapiens sapiens – the wise hominid, or are we evolution’s greatest example of self delusion. The court is still out, but John Allen’s book gives us reason to hope.
Tim Smit, Founder and Chief Executive, Eden Project, Cornwall, England

Me and the Biospheres is the autobiographical memoir of a visionary who has embodied “The Meeting of East and West” (F.S.C. Northrop), has vigorously participated in “The Two Cultures” (C.P. Snow) and has been a leader in the engineering reification of “The Biosphere” (V.I. Vernadsky). Now, that is a book worth reading.
Antonino Saggio, Editor of The IT Revolution in Architecture book series, Professor of Architecture, University of Rome

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

  1. Library Journal

    I’ve been fascinated by Biosphere 2 (B2) for years, and I recently stumbled onto not one but two books on the subject. B2 was, basically, a huge vivarium: three acres of geodesic domes and enclosures built in the Arizona desert as an experiment to see wtf would happen if eight people lived in and cared for five distinct biomes (e.g., a rainforest, mangrove wetlands) for two years. Life Under Glass, written by three participants, marks September 26, 1991 as the “day of closure.” For the biospherians it was the first of 730 days when their environment would be “…a separate entity from Earth. No free flow of atmosphere, people, plants or animals, food or supplies would pass between the Earth and the inside of the biosphere again.”

    The authors provide gloriously nerdy laymen explanations covering, for example, the rising amounts of trace gases from “the glue used to seal PVC pipes.” Though they ate a lot of vegetables—which were a lot of work to farm—they had African pygmy goats for milk, chickens for eggs, and Ossabaw hogs for, eventually, roasts, and Bushbabies for I don’t know what. The main thing normal dudes wonder about (sex) doesn’t crop up; apparently these were pretty dull people and it wasn’t the MTV Real World drama it would have been if astronaut Lisa Nowak was involved. John Allen’s hella fun MatB:AMbtIoB2 is a larger, coffee-table friendly tome with beaucoup pictures.

    It’s hard to believe that the serious, scienc-ey Biosphere 2 (B2) was created by such a wild-ass dude, who’s kind of an Augie March-esque cross between Albert Einstein and William Burroughs. Allen was a Harvard Business School MBA who quit his suit-and-tie job to ship on a freighter to Tangiers. His lifelong life-long quest for excellence in three completely disparate areas—“enterprise, theater, and biospheric geology” came to fruition with B2. Allen’s brilliant, wanderlusting mind spouts some interesting reading. His diary epitomizes all massively successful American dudes in that he’s an unapologetic megalomaniac, though few of those types are as charming and genteel as Allen, who seems genuinely interested in everything.

    Allen’s enthusiasm for his subjects results in a big, fat, beautiful mess, which nonetheless manages to warmly meld the worlds of an artsy scientist, capitalistic bioethicist, and megalomaniac dreamer. Life Under Glass, though listed as being from Biosphere Press, is available from Synergetic, and its other titles look pretty cool to me, too, like Terry Wilson’s Perilous Passage and Birth of a Psychedelic Culture by Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner.

    VERDICT While Allen’s irrepressible curiosity and drive can sometimes come off a bit flaky, it certainly is interesting to read the musings of such a brainy, enthused dude. Life Under Glass feels a bit sanitized—perhaps even hermetically sealed—but it certainly is a clear picture of the inside scoop, what life was like, and what the six scientists did all day.

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