Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

The Fate Of The Earth 2

The Earth is "Biosphere 1" - and will go on.

But Columbia University may defund Biosphere 2, the 250 acre set of "domes" (they actually look more like greenhouses, but "dome" sounds so much more futuristic and exciting) built in the Arizona desert by billionaire Edward P. Bass to simulate Earth's ecology under glass. Who is doing this? Who made that decision?

Well, it seems as though Biosphere 2 may be defunded solely in the passive voice, apparently with no human holding a position at Columbia itself actually involved in the decision. The New York Times reports:

Two reviews in the fall, one by a university panel and one by independent reviewers, found that the research did not justify further investment, university officials said.

And we're also told that: Columbia University plans to curtail sharply its financial support for Biosphere 2 ...

But who at Columbia is responsible for this decision? What responsible Columbia official is telling the University not to renew funding? It doesn't seem to be Lee C. Bollinger or Jeffrey Sachs, since the Times only reports that:

[T]he university has gone through enormous changes since [1999], with new president, Lee C. Bollinger, and a new director for the Earth Institute, Jeffrey Sachs, an economist whose focus is less on basic biological research and more on meshing commerce with environmental conservation.

Surely if either President Bollinger or Professor Sachs had urged the University to terminate funding the Times would have reported that. So it can't be either of them - although it does seem odd that neither of them had any input worth reporting in this decision. And those two committees don't have funding power, they only make recommendations to Columbia officials.

Dear me. Can this uncertainty have something to do with the fact that after spending $200 million of his own money to build Biosphere 2 Mr. Bass is not exactly happy with it being defunded? Can it be that no University official wants to go on record as having ticked off a billionaire on a very high profile project - even though they've all always thought Biosphere 2 was a stupid idea which they've only tolerated to this point in the hopes that Mr. Bass would give a lot of money to the University if they catered to this huge ridiculous folly of his?

Can it be that the Times is going along with this sham by not even directly asking President Bollinger or Professor Sachs whether either of them recommeded that Biosphere 2 be defunded? And surely the Times would have mentioned - or at least asked about - any connection between Biosphere 2 being defunded and Columbia spending $8 million on a town house for Professor Sachs. So that can't be it.

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