From Buy Buy Buy Economy to Bio-Economy by Cylvia Hayes

January 14th, 2016

Biomimicry butterfly      3EStrategies recently co-sponsored a screening of Love Thy Nature, a moving film by Sylvia Rokab, narrated by Lim Neeson. The film beautifully and lyrically illustrates how many of the big issues confronting humanity are a result of our belief that humans are separate from, above, the rest of nature.

One of the things I most appreciated was that rather than the doom and gloom common in so many environmental films, this one celebrates the beautifully adapted, uniquely creative species that we humans are. I also loved the perspective that getting to our current point of crisis might actually be a gift. Perhaps, now that it is becoming so obvious that our separation behavior is dangerous not only for other species but for ourselves, we may finally begin to deeply value the wholeness of life on Earth.

One of the primary solutions the film highlighted is biomimicry, creating products based on nature itself. I have been an intrigued student of biomimicry since grad school. I have studied Janine Benyus, the Biomimicry Institute, EO Wilson and others.

Most of this work has focused on creating products/ technology based on nature’s designs. A famous example is Velcro, which sprang from the observation of how burrs stick to dog’s fur or one’s socks. They attach via numerous, slightly prickly furled fronds. When pulled loose, the stretched fronds unfurl, release the fabric, then snap back into their original shape, ready to stick again. Other examples include LED screens based on colorful, chameleonic cuttlefish and super efficient wind turbines based on the amazing qualities of humpback whale fins.

These naturally intelligent innovations are hopeful. However, moving beyond our currently unsustainable trajectory requires taking biomimicry beyond products to processes and systems.   Homo Sapiens is a young species relative to most others on our planet.   Many, many species have survived millions of years longer than we have existed.   None of the successful species create waste products that the planet cannot process. Successful species have not piled their by-products in massive, non-biodegradable, toxic heaps. The materials they consume and produce stay productive in the overall system as fertilizer or food for other creatures. There is no “waste” in non-human nature. In contrast, even biomimicked products made from non-biobased materials are not a solution. For example, Velcro’s design is based on nature’s genius but it’s usually made from non-recyclable plastic that still winds up in landfills.

Going deeper still, biomimicry, or in many cases mimicry-avoidance, could also apply to human behavior. As nature has proved time and time again whenever a population of organisms consumes resources faster than those resources can replenish that population dies off. Humans should learn from those examples rather than follow in their ill-fated hoof prints. Our currently dominant economic model requires continuous escalation in the consumption of natural resources. That model is fundamentally unsustainable since our planet has limited supplies of natural resources. No successful species has ever defied the laws of physics. Homo Sapiens means wise man. We would be wise indeed to learn from our fellow travelers on this small blue planet.

Cylvia Hayes 


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