Biosphere 2 – remaining friends helps sustainability

Remember those odd news stories in early 1990s, about four men and four women who sealed themselves into a 3.15 acres greenhouse in Arizona desert for two years? Their mission – to see if it was possible to build a self sufficient habitat to make living on Mars  possible. And also to learn about the complex system of life. Twenty years on – the greenhouse is still there, bursting with life. A one hour guided tour takes you through the once sealed rainforest, savanna and even coral reef (a bit too slimy for coral I thought). You even see the living quarters for the eight (it’s a long time since I’ve seen a vhs video recorder). The centre still does science but somewhat punching below its weight. The eight brave biospherians did their two years, but they went hungry, they needed fresh oxygen injected into their greenhouses and most revealing, the relationship between the eight became, well let’s say tense. The press therefore declared the project a failure and since then it’s been on the defensive. Shame and not fair.

Twenty years on we should revisit their journey. With my mind full of the sustainability language of today like “ecosystem services”, “sustainable consumption”,  “natural capital”, “wellbeing” blah, blah, blah, I see those two years as an important contribution to today’s challenge – not sustaining human life on Mars for a small crew eight, but sustaining life on earth for the crew of seven billion humans.

Two fundamental truths punctuated the Biosphere 2 experiment. Nature is too complex to replicate. Let’s face it. some clever design, a $250 million greenhouse with a mini ocean and mini rainforest cannot replicate how nature works.  Second – human nature is complex. Eight people united by a single experiment struggled to get on. That’s why we live in bigger social circles but more fundamental is the need to understand human nature as much as we can understand Mother Nature for us to deliver sustainability. In 2050 there will be nine billion on Biosphere 1 so getting on will matter more than ever.

Read up on Biosphere 2 – there’s a book called the “the human experiment” written by Jane Poynter, one of the eight. Or just Google “Biosphere 2”.