With fear and trepidation, this reporter approached a phone interview with Dr. John Todd, Ph.D., author of “Healing Earth: An Ecologist’s Journey of Innovation and Environmental Stewardship” (North Atlantic Books, $24.95).
How does someone who never even took basic science in high school pretend to be knowledgeable about such topics as “The Birth of an Ecological Technology,” “Steps to a Theory of Ecological Design,” “The Early Evolution of Restorer Eco-Technologies” and “Re-Greening the Earth: The Challenge of the Sinai Desert,” which are among the 16 chapter titles in the 182-page book that Dr. Todd, a world-renowned scientist, will discuss when he comes to Santa Barbara to speak on Friday evening at Antioch University, where he will lead a workshop the next morning?
Then, there are his impressive awards, too numerous to list but include:
• In 2007, with his wife Nancy Jack Todd, he was named Visionary of the 20th Century, joining past luminaries such as Mahatma Gandhi, Rachel Carson and Buckminster Fuller.
• In 2004, he was featured in “The Genius Issue” of Esquire Magazine.
• In 2002, Dr. Todd was named one of the 20th Century’s top 35 inventors in the book, “Modern America: From the Microwave to the Mouse” (MIT Press)
My fears were quickly allayed soon after Dr. Todd answered my call from his home on Cape Cod on a recent morning. Chuckling about my confession about my dearth of knowledge about ecology and anything else scientific, the kindly grandfather made good on his promise to keep it simple.
“It’s the story of my experiences trying to heal damaged waters and damaged lands,” said Dr. Todd when asked what “Healing Earth” is about. “It has three main sub-themes — it’s a memoir of my projects all over the world, it’s a manual about how to take care of the earth and what I learned from a number of the projects, some of which were successful and others partially successful, and it’s a call to young people to commit some part of their lives or even all of their lives to healing the planet. I would be really excited if hundreds of thousands of those who read the book also take action.”
During his talk from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, he will detail his work during the past 40 years, and the following day, Oct. 19, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. he will lead a workshop to answer the questions: How can I help heal the planet? and What can I do in Santa Barbara?
Dr. Todd, who is based in Woods Hole, Mass., where he was an assistant scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, earned his doctorate in fisheries and oceanography from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He is an emeritus research professor and distinguished lecturer at the University of Vermont in Burlington and a fellow at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics.
The father of three and grandfather of six began his ecological design work in 1971 when he co-founded the New Alchemy Institute with the mission to “Restore the Lands, Protect the Seas and Inform the Earth Stewards.” He designed biomes and bioshelters, structures for the cultivation of foods and other biological projects, using sunlight and solar heating.
In 1980, he began working on an ecological hope ship designed to be powered by the sun and wind and capable of housing and propagating a wide diversity of agricultural materials for impoverished regions of the world.
“This work led to the creation of a series of sail-powered work vessels known as Ocean Pickups,” said Dr. Todd, who invented the Eco-Machine in 1986, which grows foods, generate fuels, treats wastes, including toxic materials, and restores impaired environments.
“I also designed a floating Eco-Machine to clean up polluted bodies of water. My son Jonathan, who lives in Westlake Village near Los Angeles, is having measurable success using it to clean up the waters in southern California. He is constantly removing toxic algae in the lakes and making them usable again. Jonathan and I are partners in Eco-Machines and have worked together a long time,” said Dr. Todd, adding that his grandson, Quinn, is a student at UCSB.
Currently, Dr. Todd is working on the design of living technologies to protect and restore the inshore oceans — harbors, bays, lagoons, lakes — with small solar and wind-powered ships called Ocean Restorers.
“They are a combination of working technology and a classroom. They are entirely powered by the sun and wind and have Eco-Machines on board to help clean up the water, and they have accommodations for students to learn about the process,” he said. “We hope to have two of them ready in six to nine months — one for the Atlantic Coast and one for the Pacific Coast.”
Rather than feeling bleak about the future, Dr. Todd is surprisingly optimistic.
“The more we weave together the knowledge that’s been accumulated in the last 100 years, the more we can do things that we never dreamed of. We don’t have to invent anything; we just have to pay attention to what’s been learned.”
If you go
Dr. John Todd will discuss and sign his book, “Healing Earth: An Ecologist’s Journey of Innovation and Environmental Stewardship” from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 18 in the community hall at Antioch University Santa Barbara, 602 Anacapa St. Admission is $10. Pay at the door or in advance on Eventbrite.
He will lead a workshop from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Oct. 19 in the same location. Admission is $30, and students are free. Attendees must preregister on Eventbrite.
Santa Barbara Permaculture Network is sponsoring the events. For more information, contact 805-962-2571, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sbpermaculture.org.