John Allen is an author, philosopher, co-founder of Biosphere 2, and director of the Institute of Eco-Technics.
1) Can you tell us about the trajectory of your career: how did you come to create Biosphere 2?
I’ve been a world traveler for 69 years. By the time I boarded a freighter for Tangiers in 1963, I had attended five universities, graduated from two, awarded scholarships and honors. I held instructive jobs – picking fruit in apple and apricot orchards, lumberjacking, in assembly line mass production, union organizing in Chicago, as a machinist in the Army, running a farm, setting up corporations, and doing ambitious technological-political projects. I got back in the U.S. just in time for 1968 in Haight-Ashbury. This inspired me to create a new world closer to my heart’s desires. I bought Synergia Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and founded the Institute of Ecotechnics (Ecology of Technics and Technics of Ecology) in 1972.
Please describe the Biosphere 2 project: What was the basic idea behind it and what were the results? Why did it end prematurely?
Biosphere 2 was the largest laboratory for global ecology ever built. From 1991 – 1993 eight men and women live inside and grew all their food, recycled their wastes and managed the most sophisticated ecologically engineered research facility. A model of the Earth’s biosphere, Biosphere 2 contained 7 biomes: 5 natural biomes – rainforest, savannah, desert, marsh, and a one million gallon artificial ocean with coral reef; and two anthropogenic (man-made) biomes – habitat (city) and agriculture. The project set world records for human life support and closed system recycling. We need two biospheres for comparative study. The one we humans live in, Biosphere l, and its model, Biosphere 2. Then we can work out theory and build and operate new Biospheres on Earth or Moon or Mars.
Can you explain the concept of “ecotechnics” and describe the initiatives your organization currently undertakes?
The Institute of Ecotechnics was started the in early 70s to develop a discipline of study with the goal of interrelating ecosystems, including man, his cultures, and his technosphere with the evolving biospheric totality on the planet earth. Information about all of our ongoing projects can be found at www.globalecotechnics.com . We currently have research stations in Australia, and a ship, Heraclitus, that travels around the world conducting research. In London, we founded the October Gallery in 1977, a base for the study of artists from around the world with viewpoint I call ‘Transvangardia’.
Can you explain your concepts of the “technosphere,” the “cybersphere,” and the “enthosphere”?
The “technosphere” is the sphere of human-made artifacts, including molecules, throughout the biosphere, spreading since the Agricultural Revolution. Today the technosphere, like the biosphere, penetrates throughout the upper spheres of the geosphere and affects the composition of all life forms. The “cybersphere” is the rapidly emerging penetration of fact and value-based feedbacks about what is happening on planet Earth and inner space throughout the ethnosphere. The “ethnosphere” is the planetary system of intercommunication between human cultures that the technosphere rendered not only possible, but also necessary. The ethnosphere or human value system and patterns of new behaviour penetrates throughout the previous planetary spheres.
You propose that the power of “techne” can be used to liberate humanity from its current domination by a military industrial “megamachine.” How could this bring about a transformation of society in the years ahead?
About six millennia ago techne invented the megamachine (the armed state) and a mode of economic expansion by conquest, ideology and trade control. By l900 the militarized technosphere had devastated whole biomes and their cultures. When the Berlin Wall fell, the technosphere unleashed ever more chaotic and unsustainable expansionism. However, a rising ethnosphere now self-organizes the remaining battered cultures. A union of specific cultural roots with scientific spin-offs from techne, biospherics and geospherics, give their cultures the means to reorganize locally and communicate biospherically. The ethnosphere needs to create a cybersphere that gives immediate feedback on new impacts from the technosphere. A noosphere can then emerge in which intelligence will end the war on the biosphere and allow cultures to flourish once again, this time armed with hard-earned wisdom and biospheric understanding