Note: If you are looking for cutting edge scientific research ideas, Nature may be your best resource. These Bioneer folks are putting out a big database of the design talents of 1.5 million species…..studying Nature, learning from Nature, and imitating Nature, it feels like a very Taoist kind of science to me….
From the article….
“There?s a- there?s these four steps I think about in biomimicry. There?s that quieting human cleverness; that listening; that emulating what you hear, actually trying to do as a leaf does. Oh my gosh, is that humbling. But then there has to be this fourth part, and it?s the part in which we say thank you. It?s the part in which we put our tobacco out at the corners of our teepee. It?s the part in which we remember what it is to be mannerly towards the rest of the natural world, and to say thank you for the ideas that they gifted us with.”
Nature’s 100 Best: Top Biomimicry Solutions to Environmental Crises
Benyus: ?being with my flock again. Whoo! Love these fall gatherings we have.
I have to send you greetings from another gathering that I just got back from. In- every four years, the IUCN meets, they?re the world conservation union, and they?re the people who heartbreakingly have to put together the red list, you know, of endangered species. So there were 7500 conservationists, biologists, you know, the people tourniqueting Gaia?s wounds, tenaciously, tenderly, holding on to what is left. And it was like a pageant of cultures of the world, thanks to Christiansen Fund, there were a lot of indigenous leaders there, so it was a very powerful gathering. And as you saw people schooling around the hallways, you could see clouds of worry cross across all of their faces, the face of humanity, these clouds of worry.
At the same time that we were meeting, there was this economic quake going on, you know. All these crystal goblets going off the table and crashing. We?d wake up in the morning and come to our- from our hotel room and there?d be all these newspapers from all over the world, and they all had the same pictures, the triptych of pictures of people going and their heads in their hands and, like a Godzilla film. You know. That?s the sound of the old paradigm falling.
You know how forests grow. They?ve got these little pulsing bits of life where there?s a wind gap, where the old trees come down, and there?s abundant ideas underneath, right? That?s what it is.
I was so shaken, really, by this meeting. On the way home I could not sleep, and I got up. I was on the plane and I got up and I was searching for a window, and I went to this window, and I was looking down and we were flying over Iceland, you know. And literally at my feet was the financial times, and it said Iceland Going Towards Bankruptcy, you know. And I thought, It doesn?t look bankrupt to me. It looks beautiful! It looks abundant. So I thought right then, I?m not going to talk about scarcity, I?m going to talk about abundance. I?m going to talk about life?s ideas. I?m going to talk about life having not just one idea, but dozens of good ideas.
These are Ernst Haeckel’s drawings, 1904, art forms in nature. I mean, not just one frog, you know. I think Ernst might- there might have been some preserving fluid involved in these drawings. I?m not sure. In the best natural history traditions?not just one turtle, not just one lizard, not just one tubeworm, not just one idea, not just one way of spreading our seeds.
I want to remind you of the real world. This is what I come home to. This is the view out my window. And I know ? Hello, Montana. Hello Bozeman. They?re all watching at the satellite thing. And that?s St. Mary?s peak up there. And in the fall, an amazing thing happens. We?ve got to remember to look up. Miracles are aloft. You can climb up- that?s like our city park, only it takes you about five hours to get to the picnic bench. And there?s no picnic bench either, but when you get up there, in the fall, you see ladybugs ? thousands and thousands of ladybugs. Ladybugs migrate and they go up really high, and they do this undulating long, long migration, and they?re tired. And they rest on the top of St. Mary?s peak. And when you go up there when you?re tired, they cover you. And they fly around your face. And they?re amazing. They?re amazing. They?re abundant.
And there?s something else that?s relatively scarce right now that understands abundance, and that?s the grizzly bear. And in Montana, about 100 miles north of that peak ? St. Mary?s peak ? there?s the Mission mountains. There?s a flathead Indian reservation. They close the mountains to hiking at this time of year so that the grizzly bears can eat their fill of ladybugs. Dozens of- imagine it, guys! There?s miracles aloft. Dozens of grizzly bears finding abundance. It?s the little things that?ll get us through the winter.
Indigenous peoples have known for a long time that the models are here. But now we?re catching on too ? Western industrial culture. Here?s some of nature?s apprentices, the people that I have the honor of chronicling in my career ? the people who are looking to redesign everything, who realize the failed paradigm of our design is just the fumblings of a young species.
Speaking of young species, this is the team at Biomimicry Guild, and we embarked on this most amazing journey. A couple years ago, we were privileged to be able to have the resources to filter feed through the biological literature. Imagine natural history geeks reading natural history books for a year straight, okay? That?s the joy emanating from their eyes. Joy beams! Joy beams! We went through the biological literature. We had a list of life?s greatest sustainability challenges on our left hand, and in our right hand we had scientific papers. And we filtered through. We found over 21- well, and when we finally had to stop, we found over 2100 phenomenal ideas, things that- some of them have been mimicked, things that should be mimicked and have not yet been, invitations mimic this book is what I think we?re gonna call it.
Anyway, we didn?t find just one. I mean look at this. You know, I just went through it. I started to count things up. I mean, yes, do we need 146 ways to do water-based chemistry? You bet, ?cause that?s how life does it. We do it, you know, toxic solvents. Do we need 49 ways ? new ways, new ways ? to generate energy? You bet we do. Do we need 23 new ways to absorb water and 44 new ways to store it? Absolutely we do. These are- it?s- do we need 58 new ways to manage extreme temperatures? Unfortunately, we do. Do we need 42 new ways to cooperate? Yeah. Look at how many ways there are to sense signals. Life listens and pays attention.
So, anyway, it was a privilege and a pleasure, and let me in this brief time, let me try to show you some of these amazing things.
CO2 ? to mollusks, to corals, CO2 is not a problem. It?s a feedstock. Corals create, you know- we?re telling- now they?re doing CO2 sequestration. They use CO2 to make their corals. There?s a company called Cholera(sp?). There?s some companies and people who are actually doing this work down at the bottom who has studied biomineralization. They?ve- the scientist who started this company studied bones and corals and now is finding a way to make cement that uses half of the CO2 that we normally use.
Cement creates six to eight percent of all CO2 emissions around the globe. So this is a huge one. To think of CO2 differently, and to borrow the recipe of corals to put it into a building material. I know! I know! It makes perfect sense.
Plants don?t think of CO2 as a problem. They take it and they put it into long-chain polymers called starches, sugar, cellulose. Novomer has found a catalyst that takes CO2 and makes it into biodegradable plastics. I know! It?s simple.
Energy. It?s the sun. It?s not the economy, stupid. It?s sun, it?s sun. That?s the major energy system on the planet. And we?re finally- there?s actually thin-filmed solar cells now that are based on how photosynthesis works. They?re based on dyes, and they don?t have the toxic chemicals that other solar cells have. And they?re so thin they can be put into fabrics to make these ? these are beautiful reading blankets from Kennedy at Harvard. Aren?t they gorgeous?
Now, we ain?t seen nothing yet, because life, basically every single thing on this stage, I hope, yes, is alive is sunlight is splitting water ? hydrogen ions. Right? So where we need hydrogen for fuel cells, let?s not take it from fossil fuels. Let?s learn as plants do to split water.
It was only about ten years ago that we figured out what the water splitting complex inside a leaf even looks like. And now, as very young species, we?re trying to do the same thing. We?re trying to emulate that. These are some of the characters involved.
Humpback whales know how to move through water gracefully, and they?re teaching Whale Power how to have wind turbines move at very low speeds. It?s how you manage turbulence. And I think we had- what did we have? About 23 new ways to manage turbulence. By the way, folks from Whale Power are going to be here at a panel later on.
Biopower is a company from Australia that?s learning to harness wave energy the way kelp- the way giant kelp do, because holding yourself in a stream, especially if it?s an ocean, is a good way to get broken. So they?ve learned to create wave harvesting energers- wave energy harvesters that yield.
Electric eels ? 600 volts of electricity, okay? With no mercury. No lead. No taking your batteries to the recycling place and hoping that, you know, they don?t kill anyone in there as they get broken down. People are actually looking, how do you take materials, bodily materials, and create a charge? How do you store a charge with bodily materials? The first things they?re looking at it for is to have medical devices like artificial retinas powered your own juice. But, hopefully, I?m hoping that you could put your palm on your laptop and it?ll charge up. I burned out my power cord in Spain, so I literally want that.
Thermo electrici- thermal(?) [or thermo] electric effect is when you have a change in temperature and it creates an electrical flow, which would be great, say, in cars, like hybrid cars. You could take the heat of the engine and turn it into electricity. Right? It?d be great. Now, we can do that. But we mine all kinds of nasties to do the thermal electric effect.
This is a black-tipped reef shark who has to find a difference in temperature in order to find the places where the- two different currents are, and it has to find prey. So when it feels a temperature difference, miniscule temperature difference, [snaps fingers] boom, it gets an electric current, and it?s a gel, and it?s not made of nasties.
Jellyfish. This is not the jellyfish that does this, but it?s just a gorgeous one. There?s a bioluminescent jellyfish that you just add calcium and light is created, and that?s- bioluminescence has been a tough one for us, but people are finding some models now.
Dolphins are going to help us hopefully slipstream our way into sustainability, and keep foulants off the sides of boats without TBT.
Building- look at these. Look at these lace fungi. Aren?t they amazing? That Ernst. You see what I?m saying about the preserving fluid? Definitely. Imagine having the time to draw these. What a life! Almost like the Biomimicry Guild.
Termites are natural ventilators. There?s a building in Zimbabwe that is based on their channels inside their termite mound that uses ten percent of the electricity of conventional buildings because it has no air conditioning. It doesn?t need it.
Down the road here, if you buy kitchen cabinets, you will be buying a mimic of muscle glue, underwater glue that?s finally been mimicked. Again, not extracting the muscle, mimicking the recipe. There?s a big difference. Big difference.
Bees. Oh my god. Swarm ? Uh! I gotta tell you that- Check out range voting, okay, with bees. Bees vote in a very interesting way to find their next place where they?re going to put their hive, and 90 percent of the time, they find the very, very best place, and this is out of having 20 choices and having a hive of 20,000 bees. And I?ll give you a hint: It has to do with vigorous dancing for hours and hours and hours and hours. Anyway, check it out. There?s actually- there?s actually people who are trying to say maybe we should do range voting. You?ll see what I mean. Check it out.
Anyway, this- bees are all- swarm technology?s also helping reduce energy use in buildings because different appliances are communicating with one another and saying, I don?t need to be on right now during peak time. This is in large, large buildings. Re-gen energy.
Water. Gosh, water. Here?s my friend the Namibian beetle. And there?s all kinds of organisms that get water from fog and water from vapor. You know, they?re not digging into the Ogallala aquifer. You know? They?re not. Imagine, imagine gathering water from the fog in San Francisco here. Imagine purifying water with the, you know- here?s something that is you, that?s in every cell of your body, there?s these hourglass shaped pours, in every cell. And they let water through and they don?t let anything else through. It?s a very- it?s been here all along. And, finally, people are saying, can we make a membrane like that? Aquiforums(sp?) they?re called.
Cornell is trying to make something that will wick water with the absolute power that desert roots can. And this is for- imagine, someday, the walls, inside walls of the buildings having capillary tubes that pull the water up. No pumps. Yeah. Really interesting. And, of course, this is the thorny lizard, and he sits there and any water that?s in the sand right there, he?s able to wick out, pull it away from the sand grains, and then it moves against gravity up through these little channels into his mouth. He just sits there. Don?t you want to be like?see?
Life is hugely abundant. We are not bankrupt yet. No.
This is Jay Harmon?s here. This is PAX and one of his beautiful, beautiful designs based on nature?s perfect flow forms. If you let flow go the way it wants to go, it tends to reduce friction, noise, money. Right? And wear. Plus, it?s beautiful.
This is the tardigrade, which also is probably floating around in some of your water right now as you?re drinking it. Don?t be alarmed. This is an organism that if you spill that water and it dries out, it can last for a couple hundred years without getting another drink. And the way it does that is with an amazing ability to preserve its cells. And, you know what we use for preservatives. Right? Look at the little tiny print. That?s not what that has. It has a sugar called trehalose and, actually, it?s been used to encapsulate vaccines. Vaccines, 50 percent of the people who really need vaccines, from lab to village, there?s a break in the cold chain, and 50 percent of the people don?t get the vaccine. And a lot of people start saying to themselves, well, let?s just fix the refrigeration. Let?s have PV refrigeration. What if we didn?t need the refrigeration? How does life preserve without refrigeration?
Cambridge Biostability is making a completely thermally stable vaccine right now, vaccine storage device. You can put it in a glove compartment and carry it around.
Biosignal is learning from the red algae, which keeps its surfaces clean of bacteria without killing the bacteria. It jams their communication signals, repels them, doesn?t get them mad enough to have them hack in immunity, so there?s no antibiotic resistance. It?s a very, very subtle way, a very ingenious way, really, of managing bacteria. And there are- how many different ways were there to manage pathogens? It?s- the farther we look, the more we see. If only we had Ernst?s time.
Agriculture systems. The system-level lessons are just amazing. Some of the most interesting ones have to do with how do systems that don?t have a lot of pollinators, how do they time their flowering so that they don?t- you know, they don?t stress out the pollinators. Right? We?re in a time when our pollinators are low. There?s all kinds of things that we can learn from prairies, from forests in Costa Rica, three-story farming, from rotational grazing, from buffalo. These are systems that are teaching us how to be productive where they are.
And, finally, the economy, back to the financial time- Oh, there was a headline in this financial times paper when I was looking at Iceland, bankrupt Iceland. There was a headline that said, Bush tries to inspire confidence. He was giving a speech. Bush tries to inspire citizen confi- this is the financial times. This is not The Onion, okay? Bush tries to inspire confidence. And then the second headline was, ?Says plan will stabilize markets,? and the third headline was, ?Stocks plunge during speech.? I could not make that up. October 11th, financial times.
This is a food web of?a mature forest that works. Who eats whom(?) and nothing is lost? That?s the way our economy needs to look. One company- one company?s discards being hungrily gobbled by the next company, right? Sharing resources in a food web that considers everything precious. When you look at the water coming out of a very mature forest, it- there?s hardly anything in it in terms of nutrients. I mean, it?s been pulled up. It?s been pulled up by this forest and used over and over and over again. That?s where we have to be, as well.
These are my favorite today. Now, you gotta know that that?s a really cool graphic up there. It?s a picture of all the water, including ice and salt water, compared to the volume of the Earth, and all the atmosphere that we can breathe, compared to the volume of the Earth. Life has sweetened those balls, inside those balls, and made that water sweet enough for us to drink and that air sweet enough for us to breathe. Life does that in the process of meeting its own needs and raising its next generation and its generation- 10,000 generations from now. Life?s most innovative design is that it creates conditions conducive to life.
For me, and this is what I was saying to the folks at IUCN, this is a new way of viewing and valuing biodiversity. I told them, I said, you know, when I give talks like this and then I turn to the audience and I say, “Do you think we should conserve biodiversity?” Yeah. And I tell ?em, “You know, people laugh in that sort of tears-in-your-eyes kind of laugh.” Of course. You know? Of course.
There?s a- there?s these four steps I think about in biomimicry. There?s that quieting human cleverness; that listening; that emulating what you hear, actually trying to do as a leaf does. Oh my gosh, is that humbling. But then there has to be this fourth part, and it?s the part in which we say thank you. It?s the part in which we put our tobacco out at the corners of our teepee. It?s the part in which we remember what it is to be mannerly towards the rest of the natural world, and to say thank you for the ideas that they gifted us with.
And so, we, at the Biomimicry Institute, we?re starting a program called Innovation for Conservation in which we ask the companies that are doing this work to donate a percentage of their proceeds to conserve the habitat of the organism that inspired them.
So, check it out It?s a good idea. I mean, it?s a- it?s just the thanksgiving loop(?). It?s just saying thank you. And we need to practice that as a culture.
The other thing that we?re up to is something that you guys can get involved in, I hope. It?s called Asknature.org. It?s not out yet. It?ll be out in November at Green Build. I?m going to talk with E.O. Wilson at the end of Green Build and announce this and show it, and I?ll show you a sneak preview. What it is, is all biological information ? this is our dream ? all biological information organized by function so that designers, the people who are making our world, or remaking our world, when they have a prob- when they say, How do I adhere without toxic glues, they put it in here and up comes geckos and up comes muscles and up comes vines and tendrils and?
And we?re cooperating with E.O. Wilson of Encyclopedia of Life and so they?ve got all the scientists in the world doing a website for every species on Earth, and as they upload their data, there?s going to be a field that says, What can we learn from this organism. So we?re going to have 1.5 million species, and we?ll take that information, we?ll put it on our website for the people who make our world. It?s going to be very, very cool. Here?s a little sneak preview.
Yeah, check it out in November. Anyway, my time, my time is precious. And so are you.
And let me just leave you with one more vision of who we can be as a species. I also just got back from New Zealand, my first time in New Zealand, and I met a woman who works for the Department of Conservation, and she told me about what she does in her volunteer time. There are all these birds that have predators that have come on, you know, invasive species predators like opossum, and they?re really, really fragile. They?re in tough, tough straits. And sometimes, you know, they?re down to 21 birds. What they do in their free time is they go out camping and they- they?re nest sitters. They go out and they have infrared wire set up at the nest, and when the mother bird or the father bird, in the kiwi?s case, gets up from the nest and leaves, it wakes them up, the person. They get up out of their sleeping bag, they go over to the nest, and they watch. And sometimes they pull these little blankets that don?t quite touch the egg, but they have these little blankets to keep the down drafts. That?s who we are. That?s who we are, you know?
So, whatever your kiwi is, tuck it in for me.