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Pushing the Limits Interview with Janine Benyus.
Herman Daly [professor at the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, College Park] helped me understand that, at one time, a Type 1 strategy made a lot of sense for us. We were a species small in number in a large and empty world. It was an opportunistic world. At that point, the colonizing behaviour made sense. Now we have a large population in a small, full world and Type 1 behaviour no longer makes sense. When you have a full world what makes sense is a Type 3 strategy. Type 1 behaviour has become harmful or maladapted because it has gone on too long and there are too many of us.
How does Biomimicry fit into creating a sustainable society?
To create a sustainable society we have to be sure that we have the products, the processes and the policies in the pipeline. Biomimicry is an innovation tool that helps us to pragmatically borrow blue prints, recipes and community strategies from the natural world that have proven themselves over three billion years. It helps designers and engineers, architects and policy makers, and people who are redesigning our world. It helps us to leapfrog. There are designs that use minimal amounts of materials to create amazing strength, like a spider’s silk or the inside of an abalone shell. All of these miracle materials are found in the natural world. This is where you mimic process, form and ecosystem.
You may mimic the design, say, of an insect’s exoskeleton in order to make a breathable building skin, but if you make that with eat-beat-and-treat processes [referring to the way we have used high temperature, pressure, and chemicals to produce product] you are back to the old paradigm.
Is it possible to have economic growth without decreasing consumption?
I would use the word development rather than growth. In my lexicon, growth means in size or number. Development means increasing complexity and information content, and increased design. That is actually what systems do, they tend to complexify over time. The story of life has been a story of development rather than growth. It is possible to fulfill needs and even an increasing diversity of needs without using more stuff. That is what life does. It complexifies in a world of finite resources.
What you can do with both energy and materials is substitute design and information for more stuff. When you do that you allow yourself to work smarter. To do more functions with less.
Life adds information to matter. It takes a chunk of material or building blocks and it arranges those building blocks into a particular shape. Take a bone: you could build that bone to be a solid column of concrete. But life does not choose that route. Life chooses to build that bone as a porous structure. You don’t need much of the mineral if you have a porous structure. You have scaffolding that takes shape and handles stress by the way it is shaped.
The next trick that nature does is to multifunction. A leaf is not just a solar harvester. It is also the plant’s breathing apparatus. It produces the chemicals that help to protect the plant from herbivores. It is a pump. We could put up solar panels on our roofs and try to maximize the efficiency of that one product. As we move towards an economy that uses less stuff we will find ways to have those panels incorporated into a building skin in a way that will breathe in oxygen, exchange gasses, gather water, gather sunlight, and keep themselves clean the way leaves do. They will perhaps pump water throughout the building. So you will move towards multifunctional design to replace using more stuff.
How do we get the population at large to buy into a new economy that is more sustainable?