Ethical Biomimicry

How are ethics and biomimicry related?

Any technology or approach inspired by nature can be used for good or bad. As author Bill McKibben says, our tools are always employed in the service of an ideology. If we are to treat the Earth with respect, our ideology  has to serve that ideology.

Our unique human capacity  to reason makes us often thing that we are the sole owners of the living Earth. But as put by Janine Beynus, we are not more than any other organism on Earth. If we look at the Earth’s history, we are not immune to the laws of natural selection and we have not necessarily been the best survivors. Overtime, overshooting the carrying capacity has led us to consequences that directly affect our own survival on Earth and we have respond to them through innovations.

The next question is How do we judge the rightness of our innovations? According to Benyus, we can look at the precedence of the innovation and ask ourselves: has it been time-tested long enough to wear a seal of approval?

“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.”

Source: Biomimicry 3.8
Life Principles in Biomimicry by Janine Beynus

How would a Biomimetic Revolution change our lives?

According to Beynus words, nature’s way has the potential to change the way we produce our food, our materials, harness energy, heal ourselves, store information, and conduct business. In each case, nature would be model, measure, and mentor:

Nature as model. would manufacture the way animals and plants do, using sun and simple compounds to produce totally biodegradable fibers, ceramics, plastics, and chemicals. Our farms, modeled on prairies, would be self-fertilizing and pest-resistant. To find new drugs or crops, we would consult animals and insects that have used plants for millions of years to keep themselves healthy and nourished. Even computing would take its cue from nature, with software that “evolves” solutions, and hardware that uses the lock-and-key paradigm to compute by touch. In each case, nature would provide the models: solar cells copied from leaves, steely fibers woven spider-style, shatterproof ceramics drawn from mother-of-pearl, cancer cures compliments of chimpanzees, perennial grains inspired by tallgrass, computers that signal like cells, and a closed-loop economy that takes its lessons from redwoods, coral reefs, and oak-hickory forests.

Nature as measure. Beside providing the model, nature would also provide the measure-we would look to nature as a standard against which to judge the “rightness” of our innovations. Are they life promoting? Do they fit in? Will they last?

Nature as mentor. Finally, our relationship with nature would also change. Instead of seeing nature as a source of raw materials, we would see nature as a source of ideas, as a mentor. This would change everything, ushering in a new era based not on what we can extract from nature, but on what we can learn from her. When we view nature as a source of ideas instead of goods, the rationale for protecting wild species and their habitats becomes self-evident. To have more people realize this is my fondest hope.
In the end, I think biomimicry’s greatest legacy will be more than a stronger fiber or a new drug. It will be gratitude, and from this, an ardent desire to protect the genius that surrounds us.

Biomimicry Explained -a conversation with Janine Benyus.

Center for Biologically Inspired Design