Science: Out with the Old, In with the Snooze

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, February 1996

Science: Out with the Old, In with the Snooze

The new, improved Biosphere 2 might make for better science, but we sure miss Johnny Dolphin
By Stephanie Pearson

Remember Biosphere 2? A futuristic 1991 experIment, it placed eight people inside a supposedly self-contained Arizona terrarium for two years. Sadly, accidents and carbon-dioxide buildup fogged the effort, and by mission's end the airlock had been breached 29 times. Now Biosphere 2 is back. On January 1, Texas billionaire Ed Bass entrusted his $150 million baby to the straight-science skulls at Columbia University. Although Biosphere New will be researchily correct, the contrast between go-go then (when the guiding visionary was an alleged cult leader named John Polk Allen) and today's starchiness makes us wonder: Funwise, have we lost more than we've gained?

Key Players

  • John Allen, aka Johnny Dolphin, a self-nicknamed environmentalist, beat poet, and technobuff who decided to build a sustainable pod because he believed Earth was spiraling toward environmental apocalypse.
  • Ed Bass, moneybags and starry-eyed Johnny Dolphin follower. He reportedly suffered severe mental abuse while under the fin of Dolphin, who derided him as a "snotty Yale millionaire" during their pre-Biosphere 2 days in a Santa Fe, New Mexico, commune.
  • Bruno D. V. Marino, a Harvard-trained earth scientist and Biosphere 2's director of science and research. He's vowed to stop meaningless experiments involving humans and to start churning out "white papers" in areas like isotope biogeochemistry.
  • Ed Bass, moneybags and starry-eyed Columbia University follower. Says he's "delighted by the...beginning of this scientific consortium."
Women menstruated into disposable cups, roaches ran amok, various famished crew members stole food.

Will we be running another cult in there with green bunny suits?" says David Walker, the new director of education. "No."

Tourist Attractions
Winnebago-piloting retirees purchased Planet Earth juggling balls at the Biosphere 2 gift shop. Future plans included a golf course on the "demonstration arid grassland recreational area."

A refurbished visitor center will be similar to San Francisco's (yawn) Exploratorium.

Why We 'Sphere
Johnny Dolphin proclaimed that "the Earth is dead," adding that colonization of Mars was humankind's only hope.

We will observe the way plant physiology is affected by changes in the atmosphere," says John C. Mutter, a member of the Biosphere Research Group. "Basic good science."

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