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And then Steve Bannon showed up: Carl Zimmer on Biosphere 2

Credit: Jessica Lehrman for The New York Times

I remember being entranced and inspired by Biosphere as a kid. Zimmer’s piece is an interesting, entertaining, and thoughtful look at the promise and perils of the project.

Many scientists looked back at the original Biosphere 2 as a colossal failure. “In short, the Biosphere 2 experiment failed to generate sufficient breathable air, drinkable water and adequate food for just eight humans, despite an expenditure of $200 million,” the ecologist Rebecca Stewart and her colleagues declared.

The scientists Joel Cohen and David Tilman wrote, “No one yet knows how to engineer systems that provide humans with the life-supporting services that natural ecosystems produce for free.”

But it would be a mistake to dismiss Biosphere 2 out of hand. For two years, eight people grew papayas, beets, bananas, rice and a host of other crops in there. Except for a sliced finger, their health remained good. The water they drank didn’t poison them. Some species went extinct, but the ecosystems endured. Biosphere 2 did not turn to slime.