Biosphere 2: Nothing which ultimately teaches is a failure.

Biosphere 2: Nothing which ultimately teaches is a failure.

Oddly enough, being the postal address of prominent anarchist and environmentalist Edward Abbey is not the primary point of interest for Oracle, Arizona. A few klicks outside the settlement, northeast of the Crystals and Mineral Water Research Camp known as Tucson, a strange assemblage of glass and steel bubbles rise up from the sculpted granite. Biosphere 2 is the largest closed ecological system ever created. It’s difficult to conceive of what that means or the significance without peering into the curiosities and intentions of Biosphere 2’s founders, known as The Biospherians.

Views of the former agriculture site with the Santa Catalina mountains in background (left). The Rainforest biome from the exterior of Biosphere 2 (right).

A billionaire philanthropist and disciple of Buckminster Fuller walk into a countercultural compound… The two of them along with the necessary money people and pragmatists finished development and construction of Biosphere 2 in Orcale, Arizona in Earth year 1991. The three acre site comprises simulated Earth biomes for ecological research, an agricultural center, and human habitat.  

The goals? Biospheres may serve as refuge from nuclear fallout (a constant specter in late 1980s USA), and deepen our understandings of the interrelated systems of Biosphere 1, commonly known to humanity as the planet Earth.

Views from the Technosphere into the Ocean Biome (Left), original panel controls for the various Biomes at Biosphere 2 (Right).

A team of eight Biospherians then sealed themselves inside this closed system for two years, in what is still the most significant test and observation of the interdependent human <---> Nature relationship. The Biospherians ate, drank, and breathed according to the systems inside Biosphere 2. The thousands of plants provided the oxygen they needed to breathe. Their agricultural system developed the most efficient farm on Earth, providing for an overwhelming majority of the Biospherians’ nutritional needs. No group of humans thus far had ever needed to maintain such strict, acute awareness of their capacity to affect their environment.

Original uniforms of the Biospherian crew and their state-of-the-art kitchen, which still looks incredible today.

What results from such an experiment? Who can determine the value? Certainly, scientists, philosophers, and traditional practitioners of ancient forms of land-relationship have known and understood the rules of interrelation that underpin the systems of Biosphere 1. Biosphere 2 was at one point dubbed by Time Magazine “A $150 million stunt”. We at Earth\Studies view this differently. Indeed, the initial experiments at Biosphere 2 yielded considerable insight and intrigue regarding ecology and anthropology, if those insights still feel difficult to quantify. What is the value in simply asking a question? Does it depend on the quality of the answer?

What if the most significant results of Biosphere 2 are not the “success” or “failure” of its original intentions? Nothing which ultimately teaches is a failure.

Today, Biosphere 2 stands on that granite northeast of Tucson not as a closed system with Biospherians sealed inside - But as an active research site, teeming with scientists, visitors, and yes, on two February days - Earth\Studies Cold Environments Project. Within its biomes, visitors can marvel at the incredible act of humanist curiosity, the unique architecture, and the stunning specimens of plant life that persist in Biosphere 2 today. In the former agricultural site, the world’s largest soil research project is underway, titled LEO (Landscape Evolution Observatory). Elsewhere at the site, the Space Analog for the Moon and Mars or SAM will allow for testing off-Earth habitats.

 Ongoing research at the LEO site (left) and Rain Forest system (right).

Who gets to determine the success of an experiment with such heady aspirations and lofty questions? What if the most significant results of Biosphere 2 are not the “success” or “failure” of its original intentions but in the ecological awareness it has made possible to this day? 

Our obsession with linear, measurable progress can be the greatest obstacle to being present for our process. Nothing which ultimately teaches is a failure.

Exterior of the Marsh Biome February 16th 2022.


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