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Perspectiva Ambiental 45 - Biomimicry (2009)

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Cover of the environmental education issue dedicated to biomimicry. Cover image by Anssi Koskinen, kindly provided by The Biomimicry Institute.
Biomimicry is technology inspired by nature. It's a come back to the earth in which, humble and fascinated, humanity can learn how to live within the limits of this planet and in balance with the other species. From efficient buildings inspired by the natural cooling strategies of termite mounds to self-cleaning paints emulating the loto leaf, we may already find hundreds of examples of how biomimicry may change our world.

Nature is imaginative out of necessity and by a trial and error process has already developed effective solutions to complex problems that we've tried to solve using only human inventiveness. But animals, plants and microorganisms are accomplished engineers that have been able to discover what's working, what's appropriate and what may last here on Earth.   

Biomimicry states that Evolution is the wisest designer; when we search for technological solutions and products for human societies, the logical thing to do would be asking: how nature would do this? In this new approach, full of humility, a respectful attitude towards life and biodiversity would be inherent to every human innovation. This is why biomimicry is a strategy for the survival of humanity, a way towards a more sustainable future. The more our world functions like the natural world, the more we will last here in this home in which we are only ephemeral inhabitants.

Biomimicry can be applied to every human activity, from political science to automobile design or computing. We can approach the technological solutions that we try to find in biomimicry in three different ways:
     
  • First level: mimicking the natural form or mechanism found in nature. An example would be copying the design of the white owl's feathers that fit together to form a fabric (wing) that may get open in every part, or emulating the adhesive capacity of the gecko's feet. This is only the beginning, as this imitation may lead or not to a long term sustainable way of doing things.
  • Second level: mimicking natural processes, or how nature "does things". The owl's wing is self-assembled, at room temperature and without toxic substances or high pressures, thanks to nature's chemistry. An example for this would be green chemistry that tries to replicate the natural methods for the production of chemical compounds by plants and animals.
  • Third level: mimicking natural ecosystems. The white owl's wing fits naturally in its environment: it is part of an owl, which is part of a wood, which is part of a biome, which is part of the biosphere that sustains life. Then, our owl's wing inspired fabric should be part of a wider economy that works to restore - instead of depleting - the earth and the people.  If we manufacture a bioinspired fabric using green chemistry but workers are over exploited and we distribute it at great distances in polluting trucks, we are not imitating nature. An example of this would be imitating the organizational principles of species such as bees or ants. In any case, if we want to mimic a natural system we have to ask ourselves how every product fits in: is it necessary? Is it beautiful? Is it part of a nutritious food web of industries and can it be transported, sold and reabsorbed in a way that leads to an economy that is as sustainable and self-sufficient as a wood?


If we can biomimic at these three levels (natural form, natural process, and natural system), we'll start to do what well-adapted organisms in earth have learned to do, which is to create conditions conducive to life.

Download Perspectiva Ambiental, 45 in PDF format (in Catalan 1,5 Mb)

Index

Biomimicry
Getting inspired by nature
History
Defining biomimicry
Examples and applications of biomimicry
Biomimetic solutions against climate change
A more natural water cycle
Biomimicry for building different
Agriculture in balance
Products for life
A different medicine
Thinking, operating, and organizing like an ecosystem
A society inside nature
Towards a biomimicry based way of doing things
Apprentices of Nature
The history of life
Getting out
Wondering and learning form the other live beings
Becoming scientists inspired by nature
A movie to be moved with the Earth
Buildings that imitate nature
Art in nature
Bibliography and Internet