Biosphere Articles Part 1 
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 Biosphere Articles Part 1
Part One
Take This Terrarium and Shove It
by Marc Cooper
The Village Voice, April 2, 1991

ORACLE, Arizona-- Twenty miles north of Tucson, on a spectacular
desert site nestled in the Catalina mountains, a self-containcd
miniature Earth is about to be born. Just after passing the guard
gate on the 2500-acre SunSpace Ranch, an eye-popping glass
terrarium the size of three football fields glimmers under the
desert sun. The air-tight, waterproof structure of Biosphere 2--
built by the avant-garde Pearce Systems-- is stunning in its
scope and beauty: inside and around this saguaro-ringed Arizona
complex there's a mounting anticipation, expectation, almost a
fervor-- probably akin to the frisson that permeated Alamogordo
45 years ago-- that all involved are on the verge of something
Very Big. When the few remaining glass plates are sealed in the
coming months, Biosphere 2 will become home to an eight-person
crew and 4,000 plant and animal species which-- cut off from the
earth's atmosphere-- will attempt to sustain themselves for two
years. Eventually, they hope to do so for as much as a century.
     I tingle as I enter this near-completed replicate world, as
if I'd been transported onto the set of the cult classic Silent
Running. In the lush swaddle of the tropical rain forest "biome,"
a fertile humidity caresses my lungs and the gentle babble of the
human-made waterfall soothes and calms. Above me, a mechanical
cloud generator spews a white puff that gathers and lingers
underneath the sylvan canopy. From this, the highest vantage
point inside the human aquarium, I can see the four other
biomes-- a savanna, a desert, an ocean, a marsh-- stretched out
below, four complete ecosystems each simultaneously autonomous
and interdependent, each with a complex set of tasks in achieving
a bioiogical balance.
     From the rain forest, a trail through a bamboo grove winds
down past a lagoon, over a Caribbean c{*filter*}reef, and skirts the
"ocean," which is delicately stirred by a wave machine and
teeming with fish. A white sand beach against a grayish rock
cliff seems lifted from Acapulco.
     To the left and upward, African grasslands form a verdant
savanna (a primary source of oxygen), which eventually yields to
the Biosphere's low point-- a cactus-studded desert much like the
one on the other side of the glass. Beside the mosquelike
structure that will be living quarters for the human crew,
"intensive agriculture" plots will serve as the Biospherians'
breadbasket, Organic "soil bed reactors"-- composed of plants and
special microbes-- are to filter out and absorb CO2. At the
bottom end of the intensive ag area, tanks of tilapia fish will
not only provide protein for the humans but their waste will
fertilize the adjacent rice crops. Algae to feed the fish will be
fertilized by recycled human waste.
     Conceived as a fusion of earth sciences and high technology,
Biosphere 2's ba{*filter*}t-- the "Technosphere"-- is crammed with
tens of millions of dollars in electronic and mechanical systems.
As I descend a winding staircase, I enter what looks like the
innards of a battleship or, better yet, a submarine. Air movers
and filters hum, mulchers and recyclers crunch and clang, banks
of computers, sensors, and monitors blink and flash. On either
side of the Biosphere, two humongous "lungs"-- each the size of a
high school gymnasium, each with an eight-ton {*filter*} diaphragm--
expand and contract as the glass dome's interior temperature
rises and falls.
     After six years of planning and construction costing $100
million-- provided by Edward Bass, a member of America's fourth
richest family-- and after more than a year of postponements of
its "launch date," the facility is now scheduled for "final
enclosure" sometime this spring. Some are comparing Biosphere 2
to a modern-day Noah's Ark. Discover magazine calls it "the most
exciting scientific project to be undertaken in the U.S. since
President Kennedy launched us toward the moon." Established as a
for-profit venture capital enterprise, the Biosphere intends to
make scientific history while making money. Its stated research
goals-- in these ecologically minded times-- are to teach us more
about the intricate interaction of life systems of our own world,
how they can be protected and restored. And, further, how we
might extend life to other planets.
     "It will teach us more about our natural world than we have
learned in all the time we have worked as scientists on the
natural world till now," says Dr. Walter Adey, whose Marine
Systems Lab of the Smithsonian Institution has been contracted as
a consultant by the Biosphere's parent company, Space Biospheres
Venture (SBV).
     And the prestigious U.S. government-supported Smithsonian is
not the only institution to sign on as enthusiastic project
participants and boosters. The National Center for Atmospheric
Research-- financed by the National Science Foundation-- has
expert monitors working in a joint project with Biosphere
personnel. As does the Yale School of Forestry and Ecological
Science. The New York Botanical Gardens also has attached a team
of researchers. Dr. Ghillean Prance, director of the Royal
Botanic Gardens at Kew, England, has been contracted to build the
simulated rain forest. Specialists from the University of
Arizona's Environmental Research Laboratory (ERL) have been
employed to work on intensive agriculture and carbon recycling
systems. Experts from Hawaii's Bishop Museum and the U.S.
Geological Society regularly check in. Top researchers from NASA,
frequently seen on site, maintain "informal liaison," and
participate in joint conferences with Biosphere directors.
     And with final enclosure drawing near, the Biosphere site
has taken on much of the pulsing buzz of a NASA launch-- in part
because the SBV company has intentionally adopted a Space Age
panache. Hence, the terms "crew," "launch date," and the dubbing
of the computerized command center as "Mission Control." The
crew, led by two "co-captains," strut around in coral-red nylon
space suits and matching boots. Dozens of SBV technicians and
assistants pack state-of-the-art two-way radios day and night.
     The media coverage has become so intense that reporters are
scheduled and packaged into convenient-to-handle bunches.
Hosannas for the Biosphere have poured in from not only the
London Guardian and the German Geo, but also in long articles in
The New York Times and the Times Sunday magazine, the Los Angeles
Times, The Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and dozens of
second- and third-string newspapers; magazines such as Newsweek,
Time, Omni, and the National Geographic World; and also and also
broadcast pieces on ABC's World News Tonight and Prime Time Live.
Phil Donahue went a step further, holding an hour-long live show
from the experiment site, concluding the Biosphere to be "one of
the most ambitious man-made projects ever."
     On any given day, the hundreds of ticket holding
{*filter*}neckers who ooh and aah through the Biosphere site on five
daily tours have to s{*filter*}it out with intrusive still and video
photographers trying to get that perfect shot of the orange sun
melting behind the glistening outline of the steel and glazed-
glass structure manned by red-suited Biospherians.
     That the Biosphere basks in all these camera-friendly
theatrics is hardly an accident, Because in all of this gee-whiz
imagery of an ecologically balanced Earth-in-a-bottle, there's an
ugly crack.
     Indeed, the group that built, conceived, and directs the
biosphere project is not a group of high-tech researchers on the
cutting edge of science but a claque of recycled theater
performers that evolved out of an authoritarian-- and decidedly
nonscientific-- personality cult.
     Based on dozens of interviews with current and former
associates of both the Biosphere and the cult behind it, the
Voice has uncovered how the core group of the Arizona project has
little loyalty either to honest and open scientific inquiry or to
any ecological quest to save the Earth. Instead, its only
allegiance is pledged to one individual: John P. Allen, whose
eerie doomsday dogma makes him much more the Jim Jones than the
Johnny Appleseed of the ecology movement.
     The mountains of cash put at the disposal of the group by
Texas millionaire and Allen follower Edward P. Bass have served
to exorcise the organization's shadowy cult-like reputation,
allowing it to achieve truly dazzling levels of respectability.
While the media's initial uncritical response to Biosphere may be
acceptable behavior for an industry that thrives on
systematically destroying credibility, the same is not true for
the scientific community. The participation of highly respected
universities and scientific institutions (some of them taxpayer-
supported) and individual scientists in this project-- in
exchange for research funding from the Biosphere group-- does
raise serious and disturbing questions about the ethical
standards of the U.S scientific community. In short, the
Biospherians may be talking science, but what they are doing is
more akin to well-financed science fiction.

Prelude: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

     By most press accounts, the Biosphere project sprung up,
sometime in the 1980s as part of the global work of what the Los
Angeles Times described as an "ecologically minded" think tank--
the Institute of Ecotechnics. In fact, the idea was hatched more
than 20 years ago-- back in 1971, on a ramshackle desert commune
on the outskirts of Santa Fe, New Mexico. As part of the research
for his book entitled The Communal Experience, University of
California counterculture expert Professor Laurence Veysey spent
five weeks that year living on the commune, known as Synergia
Ranch. In the collective dining room, Veysey saw two columns of
words boldly scrawled onto the wall. At the top of one list he
read: "BIOSPHERE." His experiences there came to fill one chapter
in the book that was subsequently published in 1973. Veysey's
account remains today the most authoritative glimpse into the
evolution and nature of John Allen's group and, consequently, of
the origins of the Biosphere.
     What Veysey found on Synergia Ranch was, as he describes it
from his retirement today in Hawaii, a "Jonestown-like" cult, one
that believed that life on Earth was dead and that humanity's
only hope was building a New Age civilization-- on Mars.
     Allen told Veysey "Western civilization isn't simply dying.
It's dead." Allen boasted that his group was "poking among the
ruins of the dying civilization in order to snatch whatever is
currently of service to the new." The goal of the new society
would be reached through a tough work ethic, a faith in
technology, exercises in self-awareness and consciousness-raising
that placed a sort of psychodrama theater at the heart of the
group's activities.
     Veysey's written record of his stay on the ranch describes
an "awesome and chilling" regime marked by the "total hold and
domination" of John Allen over the group. "The others all look to
him constantly for their cues, for the subtle signals which tell
them what to do and what not to do," Veysey recounted. "His
chanting rhythms they imitate with their own voices, his
instructions they seek to apply in the theater, his timetable
they follow for planetary outreach. . . [Allen's] domination over
the group is open and for the most part undisguised. . . This
entire social order is the tangibie enactment of his own vision."
     Visitors to the Synergia Ranch interviewed by the Voice
concur with Veysey's account that Allen's grim apocalyptic vision
would be drummed into group members' heads during bizarre,
rambling discourses over dinner. As part of its dining ritual,
group members would first don theater masks. Then, afer a round
of primal howling and chanting, a rule of absolute silence would
prevail during the meal. At least, until Allen would begin to
speak. Alen's monologues would pound home the dangers of the
"hydrogen bomb and the destruction of civilization," wrote
Veysey. At one point Geiger counters were purchased and passed
out to his follwers. Allen would reminisce about how, during the
Cuban Missile Crisis, his response had been to board a plane and
head for a neutral location. In 1971 Allen told his group before
Veysey, in words that could easily be applied to today's
Biosphere, "The Builders of the New Age must always carry on
somewhere in the world."
     And there was a darker side to life at Synergia Ranch than
nightly tales of nuclear holocaust. Basing his program on the
rigidly authoritarian manner of early 2Oth century Greek-born
cult mystic G. I. Gurdjieff, John Allen allowed no dissent, no
independent thought, and enforced a practice of systematic
psychological confrontation. Allen would precede his dinnertime
harangues with the simple, stomach-churning query, "Any
confessions?" If there were no volunteers for abuse, Allen would
select one.
     "Suddenly it might be anywhere," Veysey wrote. "[Allen] will
explode into wrath, usually directed at one person. Clearly in
control of himself one minute, in the next he will be shouting
the most hurtful words conceivable in a furious {*filter*} upon the
ego of some trapped individual. . . He will seize upon what
appear to be innocent failures to follow precise instructions and
transform them into calculated acts of sabotage. . . He
reiterates his accusations until no possible response is left.
Then, all at once, his tirade comes to an end and everyone
continues as if nothing had happened."
     The synergists had actually come together for the first time
in 1967 as a Northern New Mexico avant-garde theater company with
Johnny Dolphin-- Allen's preferred pseudonym-- as its director.
It then moved to Haight-Ashbury for a stint, then to New York,
and in 1969 to the Synergia Ranch, where Veysey found them two
years later. As the group evolved throughout the '70s and '80s,
the theater company remained at its core.
     Today's managerial and scientific elite of the Biosphere 2
project can all be traced directly back to John Allen's so-called
"Theatre of All Possibilities":

     John Allen himself, "Johnny Dolphin," is now "director of
Scientific Development" and "leader" of the Biosphere project.

     Margret Augustine, "CEO of Space Biospheres Ventures" and
"co-architect" of the entire project, was known as "Firefly" in
the theater group where she reportedly served as wardrobe

     Mark Nelson, "Chairman of the Institute of Ecotechnics,"
"Director of Space Applications" for the Biosphere and seeond
only to Allen in defining the group's philosophy, was known as
"Green" in the theater troupe.

     Kathelin Hoffman, "Director of the Institute of
Ecotechnics" and member of the Biosphere's "Scientific Review
Committee," was known on the ranch and inside the theater as

     Deborah Parrish-Snyder, "director of Synergetic Press" and
"Information Director" of the Institute for Ecotechnics, was
known as "Tango."

     In addition, at least five of the eight members of the
Biosphere's crew-- people chosen ostensibly to carry out history-
making scientific research-- are either long-standing members of
Allen's disciplined inner circle or more recent recruits. Among
the crew there is only one scientist of renown, University of
California at Los Angeles's Dr. Roy Walford, who has for years
orbited around John Allen's projects.
     The theater group flourished at Synergia Ranch at least
until 1983, when it was closed in the wake of a bizarre, {*filter*}y
incident. That year Johann Hansler, a German circus clown who had
performed at a Fort Worth function for the theater group, was
invited back for a stay at the New Mexico ranch. One afternoon,
ranch dweller Bernd Zabel handed the clown his .357 magnum and
urged him to take some pot-shot target practice in one of the
commune's storage yards. One round punctured an old refrigerator-
- which just happened to be stuffed with dynamite. A storm of
shrapnel ripped through the yard, taking with it the clown's left
     Synergia Ranch had to be sold off as part of a $400,000
settlement levied against owner Marie "Flash" Allen-- today a
member of the Biosphere's "scientific review committee"-- and
others but there seems to have been relatively little fallout
from the accident within the group. Gun-owner Bernd Zabel is not
only listed as "general manager of construction" for the
Biosphere, but has also been chosen as one of the eight members
of the first human crew.

Hooking the Big Fish

     The cost of the court settlement posed no scrious problem
for Allen's group. A decade earlier, in 1973, he had recruited to
his ensemble a key player: Edward P. Bass. Bass as in Bass
Brothers, one of the richest families of Texas. Ed Bass is the
man who has put up the $100 million behind the Biosphere and who
sits as chairman of the holding company that manages it.
     Compared to his stalwart, rock-ribbed brothers Robert and
Sid, Ed Bass is known in the outside world as the reclusive,
quirky-- even flaky-- younger brother. Inside Johnny Allen's
theater group, he is known as "Sharkey" or "Boz." Ed Bass gives
no press interviews. But sources close to the synergists say that
Ed Bass was a disgruntled, dropout multimillionaire, who was
passing his time dawdling with the ecology and "throwing pots" in
New Mexico when Allen courted and then recruited him to the
     Allen's group probably would have faded into one more piece
of '60s memorabilia if Ed Bass had not pumped money into it as
quickly as his oil and real estate interests could generate it.
Over the last 17 years the Bass millions have been used to
establish an intricate network of enterprises and companies-- all
with Bass himself, Allen, and his associates at the center. These
include a multithousand-acre ranch in Australia, a hotel in
Katmandu, a "scientific conference" center in France, a theater
cultural center in Fort Worth known as "The Caravan of Dreams," a
bizarre concrete-hulled "research vessel," the Heraclitus (which
recently sunk), the London-based Institute of Ecotechnics, which
acts as "scientific consultant" to the other projects, and
finally, since 1985-- Biosphere 2 in the Arizona Desert.
     Unfailingly promoted as "ecological research" projects, and
for the most part accepted as such by reporters who stumble
across them, the sheer scope and authoritative packaging of the
Allen/Bass network reeks of respectability. The Washington Post
Magazine, for example, in a breathless cover story on the
Biosphere anointed the "Institute of Ecotechnics" as an "avant-
garde idea-hatchery in London that for years [has] been
developing and managing ecological projects around the world."
     But a 1985 series of investigative reports in Bass's
hometown Fort Worth Star-Telegram and in the Dallas Morning News-
- work work virtually ignored by today's Biosphere boosters in
the media-- revealed that while the synergists had now acquired a
new corporate/scientific veneer, it was exactly that; a thin coat
of cosmetic varnish over the same old cult.
     A piercing documentary aired by the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation in 1989 shows the London Institute of Ecotechnics
(IE)-- the supposed brain center of the Allen operation-- to be
nothing more than a London art gallery and caf. Its on-site
manager said that in its history, it has granted six "degrees"
for job-related work-- most of them going to officials of the
Biosphere. In fact, Biosphere CEO and "co-architect" Margaret
Augustine's only degree is from IE-- a fact she admitted on-
camera. A number of the official biographies of the eight
Biosphere crew members prominently list association with IE as
their principal scientific bona fides.
     The Texas investigative articles, the CBC documentary, and
intensive follow-up work by the Voice demonstrate that in spite
of its multimillion-dollar fronts, including the Biosphere, not
only does the core group of Allen's theater troupe run all of the
global projects-- through the paper instrument of IE-- but that
it also operates with much the same methodology and philosophy of
the original New Mexico commune.

New Sig File Under Construction-- Light and Compact for your Usenet Pleasure.
"The recent problem with the satellite retrieval managed to prove one thing;
DeVries graduates really _do_ work for NASA."

Wed, 09 Nov 1994 10:49:47 GMT
 [ 1 post ] 

 Relevant Pages 

1. Biosphere Articles Part 3

2. Biosphere Articles Part 2

3. Biosphere Articles Part 5

4. Biosphere Articles Part 4

5. Biosphere Articles Part 6

6. Biosphere Articles Part 7

7. Biosphere Articles Part 8

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