I was introduced to the work of Janine Benyus by a student of mine about a year and a half ago, and have been meaning to read this book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, ever since. This summer, I decided it was going to be a priority for my summer reading list, and it is the first one that I get to cross off.
The first thing I have to say about this book is that the concepts behind it are fabulous... if you want to learn more about Janine Benyus and what she does, check out her ted.com talks: Janine Benyus shares nature's designs and Biomimicry in action. The second thing is that this book is a little outdated; no fault of the author, just my fault for not reading it until 13 years after it was first published. This means that some of the ideas she has or predictions she made never did pan out the way she hopes, which almost puts the reader into some new reality where the present is still the future.
Anyways,... the whole premise of this book is that our society and our globe would be so much better off if we would model our actions after the natural world (mimicking biology = biomimicry) instead of doing things how we currently are (which is completely inefficiently and with lots of waste). The book is split into several sections, each answering a question of how we will tackle an obstacle of our life if we no longer follow the rules of a modern society, but instead follow only the rules of nature. The sections include: How will we feed ourselves?, How will we harness energy?, How will we make things?, How will we heal ourselves?, How will we store what we learn? and How will we conduct business. These are all questions that we will likely be presented with in the forseeable future if we continue to pollute and use resources at current rates.
The first section I absolutely loved, especially as I am really into sustainable agriculture. She mentions permaculture, the way of farming that tries to mimic a nature ecosystem, as well as Masanobu Fukuoka's One Straw Revolution (also on my summer reading list), which is a farming method that involves little human manipulation. The second section which focused on harnessing energy, however, made me realize that she is a biologist (and I am not), and although the overall information was interesting, there was a whole lot of detail on the process of photosynthesis (way more than I care to remember). I started to feel like this chapter was long and drawn out and found my attention span waivering. The section on how will we make things again had some interesting ideas again had some fascinating concepts, like talking about how mussels adhere to rocks underwater and how spider silk is stronger than steel yet made without intense heat, pressure, or nasty chemicals. However, I once again started to feel bogged down by the overload of biology that went with the concepts.
How will we heal ourselves was awesome. My favorite chapter of this book. It talked about finding natural medicines by watching how animals heal themselves; what they eat when they have a parasite infection for example. There is even a section on a certain type of monkey that seems to be able to choose the gender of their offspring by eating alkaline or acidic food during mating season. Amazing stuff. The section on storing our ideas basically focused on using a carbon based system instead of a silicon based system to "compute" ideas... so in essence, replacing computers as we know them by living organisms that could produce similar results, and even better results because these biological computers could "think" more than today's versions. This was where I started to feel like I was in a time warp, as she talked about the biological computers and suggested that early version may be available in the next 5 years or so.... that would have been 7 years ago from today, and the idea still sounds kooky to me. The last section on conducting business was again a bit outdated. A lot of the concepts that were talked about clearly haven't worked, as here we are 13 years later, and we are still destroying our environment at a sprinter's clip. The book mentions the buying and selling of pollution permits (which had just gone into effect when the book was piblished) as the ah-ha moment that was going to change industry, and now, looking back, we know that is not the case.
Anyways, despite this book being a bit outdated, and despite a few sections of way-too-drawn-out-biology for my liking, I still really enjoyed this book. Benyus writes eloquently and presents many ideas to learn from. Ecosystems are completely efficient role models and after reading this, I am certainly questioning how we got so far off the right path, and what it will take for our development to get back on the correct path and to follow the designs of nature.
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