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About Rafe

 I am a marine ecologist at the Biosphere 2 and Institute of the Environment at University of Arizona.  I have an exciting new project at Biosphere 2 trying to turn our ocean tank into a living model of the Gulf of California.

We’ve just launched the DESERT SEA project on Rocket Hub – Please Join Us!

My other main line of work is  helping people and organizations learn to be adaptable by looking at how nature is adaptable.  When I need to get out into the field, I do research on the impacts of people on coastal animal populations in the Gulf of California–and I explore the Gulf’s ecological history, and the fascinating people past and present who have lived, worked, researched and journeyed there.  I’ve taken a few forays into ecological philosophy, especially focused on the work of Ed “Doc” Ricketts, whose lab was a center of early bohemian intellectual thoughts in the early mid 20th century central California.   I have also been getting fired up recently about the idea of reviving the Public Trust Doctrine  as a central organizing theme for conservation.


Thanks CC Chapman for this shot from Idea Festival 2013!

I have recently published two books with the assistance of a Guggenheim Fellowship.  The first, Learning from the Octopus is about what we can learn from 3.5 billion years of evolution to become more adaptable to the uncertain risks in our lives (Basic Books, 2012).  Here is a short video preview.   I have also applied these ideas to developing better ways of teaching. The other, with Anibal Pauchard, called Observation and Ecology: Broadening the Scope of Science to Understand a Complex World (Island Press, 2012) is on how big environmental changes are changing the way we study life sciences; forcing ecologists back into practicing good old fashioned natural history, albeit at huge scales of space and time using all kinds of new technologies like remote sensing, genetics and critter cams, and opening the doors of academia to all kinds of observers of change in the natural world.

When I’m not writing books that will actually get published I’m working on screenplays that likely will never see the big screen (unless, you, dear reader, are interested in producing a movie about a Mexican immigrant girl who becomes a pro bull rider, or a California coast love story with a Volkswagen Thing as the central metaphor), and doing little works of art under the LINOZOIC name (for sale in refurbished cigarette machines by Art-o-mat), not to mention raising two daughters, two dogs, and roughly 7 chickens.

Check out my Prezi page for some new presentations of my work, and my YouTube channel for some short videos on how to be adaptable.

I do dynamic speaking engagements, from lectures to full day workshops, for large groups such as the American Red Cross, business organizations such as the Marketing Science Institute, federal and state agencies, non-profits and academic organizations. For speaking engagements, please contact me at: rafe at

Rafe running a workshop of first responders at the Naval Postgraduate School.             Photo art by Angela English

Rafe running a workshop of first responders at the Naval Postgraduate School. Photo art by Angela English

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Deborah J. Knight permalink
    August 7, 2012 7:06 pm

    I can’t wait to read your book, Learning from the Octopus. I am sure you are aquainted with Jeanine Benyus’s work on Biomimicry, which I also am very excited about. I am an environmental specialist with the NYS DEC advancing green chemistry at NY’s high schools. I just happen to stumble across an article about your work. Fascinating! Deborah Knight

    • sagarin permalink*
      August 8, 2012 3:27 am

      Deborah – Thank you for your interest. I have also enjoyed Janine’s work and finally got to get in touch with her – hopefully we’ll work on some things together in the future. As an educator, I think you’ll appreciate some of the ways I’ve brought adaptable ideas into the classroom, which I describe in the book.

      • Deborah J. Knight permalink
        August 8, 2012 6:50 pm

        Rafe, I look forward to reading about your ideas for the classroom. Perhaps I can get some ideas on how to better present the concept of green chemistry to high school teachers. Sometimes, it is a tough sell.

        Btw, you might be interested in reading my article on biomimicry, “Inspired by Nature” in The Conservationist magazine. Here is the link:

      • sagarin permalink*
        August 10, 2012 12:00 am

        Deborah, Thank you for your interest and for sharing your article. We have just submitted a paper on our adaptable classroom ideas, but they’re not all that complicated–just some simple techniques for giving ownership of the class to students and outlets for them to continually share their knowledge. Stay tuned for details. Best, Rafe

  2. Rob Russell permalink
    August 8, 2012 12:57 am

    My wife and I attended your talk at the Portland Powell’s Hawthorne store. We really enjoyed listening to you and how your responded to the audience questions. I’m looking forward to digging into your Octopus book. I’m a quotes fanatic and have compiled what I call a “Thoughts about Life: One Humanist’s Bible.” (It is something of a personal mania.) It currently includes some 3,500 quotes. The first section is titled “Our Journey” and includes sections titled “Uncertainty” and “Tack and Tune.” I have a feeling your book may add a quote or two to the work.
    Thanks again for visiting our fair city and sharing your ideas.
    Rob Russell

    • sagarin permalink*
      August 8, 2012 3:26 am

      Thank you for coming to the talk – it was a great audience at my favorite bookstore. I’d love to take a look at your quote book sometime! Best – Rafe

  3. John permalink
    December 29, 2012 4:27 am

    I am about half-way through “Learning from the Octopus” and I have to say, I’m enjoying this excellent and thought provoking book.

    I picked up your book as some light reading to keep my brain working over the holiday break and got so excited by your ideas that I found myself taking notes and developing an annotated bibliography entry before I even finished! Your outside-the-box approach to problem solving (as spoken by someone very much “inside” the box) is refreshing and inspiring. It is also extremely encouraging to see the value that you have created by engaging people from so many disciplines in discussing problems that are relevant and contemporary.

    I’m nearing the end of my Master of Public Administration degree. My concentration is in emergency management. I’m hoping to go on study homeland security in the future and perhaps pursue work in research or policy making. Your book has already earned a place on my bookshelf as an important work to inspire critical thinking in my future studies.

    Thank you for this important contribution to the discussion of our nation’s safety and security.

    John L.

    • December 30, 2012 7:21 am

      Thank you, John. Some of the most interesting stories and insight in “Learning from the Octopus” came from practitioners in Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Good luck with your studies and please share the book widely.

  4. Angi permalink
    March 5, 2013 9:49 pm

    I so enjoyed your talk last week at the ELP program in Monterey. I am a big believer in learning from the natural world. Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains, I spent most of childhood out in the natural world observing many of the great connections you talked about last week. I loved your book and after visiting your site, I enjoyed your artwork as well. Thank you for taking the time to make the connections so clear for us… we can apply Nature’s adaptable solutions to emergency management and homeland security. Such wisdom is vitally important.

    • March 5, 2013 9:56 pm

      Angi, Thanks for your comments. I was fortunate to live in NC for a few years and the Appalachians were definitely a highlight of living there. You may also enjoy my recent book, “Observation and Ecology” which is more directly about how we observe the world and how it teaches us. Thank you so much for your valuable work helping to keep us all safe!

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