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Spaceship Hype: Global Stakes Trapped in Story

Usually the truth is weirder than the hype, but in this case the truth is realer than the reality. Spaceship Earth a documentary on Biosphere 2.

Biosphere 2 - Kathelin Gray

William Burroughs, Steve Bannon, Arthur C. Clarke and a geodesic closet full of red jumpsuits are blasted into space and beam back an ecological message to wake the sheeple.  Do we have your attention yet?

We’re here to learn, we’re here to go, it’s the same thing. – William Burroughs, 1997 

To be released on 8 May 2020, Matt Wolf’s documentary Spaceship Earth rekindles the story of the Biosphere 2 project, a wide-ranging experiment that centred on the isolation of biospherians within an enclosed ecosystem for two years from 26 September 1991 . 

Publicly, the results appeared mixed. Mainstream media picked up on themes of malnutrition, factional anger, pseudoscience, eschatological mysticism, and lots and lots of angry ants. The venture was declared an oddity and then lost in the news cycle. 

And yet much was learnt. The impact of that groundbreaking project continues as founding thinker Kathelin Gray explains:

“The interactions between different species and kingdoms, even within our own biome, is central to revealing both knowledge and ignorance of the working of life systems. So little is known about the actual workings of the biosphere. 

“We had hoped to change the paradigm for ecological study and I think we did to some extent. To complement field science and simulations, we  wanted to add a laboratory approach, where we witness how complex systems interact in a controlled and monitored environment. Biosphere 2 was successful in that regard. We knew which molecules were inside that huge sealed vivarium.

“Another aspect of the project was to think about a closed system, in other words, isolation, quite topical now. Since Biosphere 2 was a manned experiment, one of the takeaways for the crew inside was to understand that all of us on the planet are Biospherians;  we cannot ever really escape who we are and how interdependent the world of life is. Eventually, we have to look at ourselves. The experimenter is part of the experiment.”

One outcome of the global pandemic is that people are directly affected (by lockdown and the deaths of relatives) and thus directly connected in a way that we haven’t experienced in several generations. Whether people take this collective sense of unity and apply it to other global issues remains to be seen. However as naturalist Jane Goodall remarked in 1993: 

 “I truly believe that this great experiment, the vision of these people, the courage of the biospherians and the people who saw it through in spite of criticism, this will lead to a tremendous increase in our understanding of environmental problems and that in turn will lead to new technologies to heal the world and make it a better place  for our children and their children tomorrow… I’m proud to take part in celebrating one of the magic moments of history.”

This documentary demonstrates why we cannot afford to fail, plus the idea of watching well meaning 90s era counter-cultural types get ant bit is unmissable! Suit up.

Movie showing in the US from May 8th 2020
See website for details: Spaceship Earth


Further reading

An article on William Burroughs and Ecology by Kathelin Gray
https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/william-s-burroughs-and-the-biosphere-1974-1997/

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