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Meandthe Biospheres

John Allen
Synergetic Press, £40.00

 This is the autobiography of the visionary behind the Biosphere 2 project, a huge closed-system research facility built in Arizona and sealed in 1991 with eight ‘biospherians’ living inside it. To dream up such a vast and forward-looking project it took an unusual and enterprising person. John Allen – poet, author, mystic, existentialist, engineer and scientist – used all his skills and those of many others to fulfil his dream.

The many activities and projects of Allen’s Institute of Ecotechnics prepared the way for the ambitious Biosphere 2, and include the Synergia Ranch in Santa Fe, a hotel in Nepal, a ranch in Australia and the Heraclitus, a Chinese junk ship with a concrete hull. Training in all these varied circumstances prepared the eight people who would spend two years inside Biosphere 2.

The projects of the institute also contributed much to finding ways of sustainable living. Allen was obviously a leader, a team builder and a motivator in spite of his unusual qualifications for the task he set himself. Biosphere 2 had its problems but it paved the way for further research on closed ecosystems, was a useful experiment in community living and has had more significance for the study of climate change than the originators ever imagined.

Built with a 100-year lifespan, Biosphere 2 has continued to be an important facility for further research long after the original founding group left the site. This book is fascinating reading on how to achieve the almost impossible through vision, teamwork and persistence against all opposition.

Ghillean Prance CBiol FRSB

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