BIOMIMESIS: LA NATURALEZA COMO MODELO, MEDIDA Y MENTOR
"The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone."
~ Janine Benyus
What will prevent humans from, as you say, "stealing nature's thunder and using it in the ongoing campaign against life?"
That's a good question, because any technology, even if it's a technology inspired by nature, can be used for good or bad. The airplane, for instance, was inspired by bird flight; a mere eleven years after we invented it, we were bombing people with it.
As author Bill McKibben says, our tools are always employed in the service of an ideology. Our ideology-the story we tell ourselves about who we are in the universe- has to change if we are to treat the living Earth with respect.
Right now we tell ourselves that the Earth was put here for our use. That we are at the top of the pyramid when it comes to Earthlings. But of course this is a myth. We've had a run of spectacular luck, but we are not necessarily the best survivors over the long haul. We are not immune to the laws of natural selection, and if we overshoot the carrying capacity of the Earth, we will pay the consequences.
Practicing ethical biomimicry will require a change of heart. We will have to climb down from our pedestal and begin to see ourselves as simply a species among species, as one vote in a parliament of 30 million. When we accept this fact, we start to realize that what is good for the living Earth is good for us as well.
If we agree to follow this ethical path, the question becomes: how do we judge the "rightness" of our innovations? How do we make sure that they are life-promoting? Here, too, I think biomimicry can help. The best way to scrutinize our innovations is to compare them to what has come before. Does this strategy or design have precedence in nature? Has something like it been time-tested long enough to wear a seal of approval?
If we use what nature has done as a filter, we stop ourselves from, for instance, transferring genes from one class of organism to another. We wouldn't put flounder genes into a strawberry plant, for instance. Biomimicry says: if it can't be found in nature, there is probably a good reason for its absence. It may have been tried, and long ago edited out of the population. Natural selection is wisdom in action.
In the business chapter, you talk about the need to "shift our niche." What do you mean by that?
A "niche" is a profession in the ecosystem. Right now, we humans are filling a pioneering niche. We are acting like the weeds in a newly turned farmer's field. These weeds move into a sun-filled space and use nutrients and water as quickly as they can, turning them into plant bodies and plenty of seeds. They are annuals; they don't bother to put down winter roots or recycle because their moment in the sun is short. Within a few years, they'll be shaded out by the more efficient, long-lasting perennial bushes and shrubs. That's why they produce so many seeds; they're always on to the next sun-drenched horn of plenty.
Back before our world was full, and we always had somewhere else to go, this colonizing "Type I" strategy allowed us to stay one step ahead of reality. These days, when we've gone everywhere there is to go, we have to forget about colonizing and learn to close the loops.
Closing the loops means trying to emulate the natural communities that know how to stay put without consuming their ecological capital. Mature ecosystems such as oak-hickory forests are masters of optimizing, rather than maximizing, throughput. They recycle all their wastes, use energy and materials efficiently, and diversify and cooperate to use the habitat without bankrupting it. Ecologists call these Type III communities.
Industrial ecologists are trying to glean lessons from natural communities to actually shift our economy from Type I to Type III. From ragweeds to redwood forests.
The latest business consultants in this field are people fresh from gorilla counts and butterfly surveys. I never thought I'd see the day, but it's true: the Birkenstocks are teaching the suits."