Whose apocalypse? Biosphere 2 and the spectacle of settler science in the desert

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7 Scopus citations


Deserts have a special prominence in apocalyptic visions of the future. As a trope, the desert frequently indexes apocalyptic visions of the warming planet and future challenges of securing food, energy, and water in a changing environment. This article considers how diffuse visions of “environmental apocalypse” are spun through narratives constructions of the desert as sites of utopia and dystopia – places where humanity is simultaneously portrayed as meeting its most dire possibilities of collapse, but also places where hopeful futures might be tested out and extremes overcome in an era of climate catastrophe. This article offers a genealogy of techno-scientific schemes in the Arizona desert and the “visioneers” behind them, focusing on the most iconic example of Biosphere 2. Initiated in the mid-1980s, Biosphere 2's history illustrates how such projects are underpinned by multiple forms of spectacle, which draw on the ideals of science, technology, and environmental salvation to build settler colonial structures of exclusion and Indigenous dispossession. By centering the question of whose apocalypse we are being sold in such techno-centric “solutions” to ecological dilemmas, this article expands recent discussions of environmental injustice and settler colonial violence to show how ostensibly “progressive” ideals and initiatives are also violent and routinely overwrite histories and presents of colonial dispossession.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-45
Number of pages10
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Apocalypse
  • Arizona
  • Biosphere 2
  • Deserts
  • Science and technology studies
  • Settler colonialism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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