What the tiniest creatures can teach us about adapting to life’s challenges

October 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

Comments Off on What the tiniest creatures can teach us about adapting to life’s challenges

John Steinbeck wrote that “all things are one thing and that one thing is all things—plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time.” He had a great big feeling about life, but spent a lot of time just poking around little tidepools to get it. Great minds–from Copernicus to Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein–have always done this, observing life’s tiny details and looking for connections between them. These little things add up to deep patterns that can sometimes change the world. Steinbeck’s gentle nudge to “look from the tidepool to the stars and then back to the tidepool again”–is actually an act of revolution. Little things trigger big changes–and that’s exactly how biomimicry can help us better adapt to the world around us. A lot of people don’t know that Steinbeck was also a biologist, or that his best friend was Ed Ricketts, the only scientist in history to have 15 animal species (and a nightclub) named after him . Before Ricketts, biology was a pretty Victorian affair. Gentlemen naturalists traveled around collecting specimens, dissecting them and pinning them on boards, categorizing and naming them. Most studied each creature separately, but Ricketts was compelled by the connections between them–he is widely regarded as the first marine ecologist. Ricketts and Steinbeck were having tough times in their personal lives, and decided to charter a fishing boat, and escape along the Pacific Coast. They went from Monterey to San Diego, along the length of Baja California, around Cabo San Lucas, and finally into the Sea of Cortez. Steinbeck’s book, The Log From the Sea of Cortez , is a cult classic for geeks like me, describing how the pair dropped anchor here and there, puttering around the tidepools they discovered, observing and collecting tiny creatures along the way. Inevitably, a group of little kids would gather round to see what they were up to. The kids had never seen scientists before, and didn’t know what to make of grown men poking around tidepools for something besides dinner. Exploring was strictly kid stuff, so they figured Ricketts and Steinbeck must be doing something else. “ What did you lose? ” they would ask. The men would look at them in surprise. “ Nothing! “ “ Well, what are you looking for then? “ Being a philosophical kind of writer, Steinbeck thought this was a great question. What exactly were they looking for? What were they expecting these tiny creatures to teach them? Quite a lot, it turns out, and many regard Ricketts’ book Between Pacific Tides as the Bible of modern marine biology. There were hundreds of small discoveries–and 50 new species–but Ricketts’ key contribution was the way he untangled complex relationships among ocean inhabitants, large and small. He saw that water temperatures affected plankton levels, which affected larger species, and that overfishing in warm years led to crashes in the sardine populations years later. He even predicted the catastrophic loss of the once-thriving Monterey fishery. Everything was connected, and small effects reverberated in unexpected ways through vast ecological webs. Ricketts made a habit of observing small details in the living world, and saw them build to deep patterns that suddenly changed everything. This process–studying nature’s little details, finding the connections between them, identifying deep patterns that stand the test of time, and abstracting them into solutions we can borrow—is the key to biomimicry , the art and science of innovation inspired by nature. Biomimicry is part of a profound change in the way we see the world, the way we make and do things, and the way we think about our way of life. When we really look, we begin to realize that humans face exactly the same kinds of problems other species do, and that the 30 million or so species that share this planet with us have their own solutions. “After 3.8 billion years of research and development,” writes biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus , “failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.” These strategies are the ultimate in sustainability—solutions that have worked for generations without diminishing the potential for future offspring to succeed. Sharks have cruised the oceans virtually unchanged for 400 million years, and the ancient Hawaiian concept of the octopus as the last survivor of a past universe is accurate, because their relatives passed through several major extinction events that wiped out almost all their contemporaries. These ways of life work, even as the world changes. 99.9% of the species that have ever existed are now extinct, and those that remain are the survivors, the most successful 0.1% of all life. As I write in my new book, Teeming: How Superorganisms Work Together to Build Infinite Wealth on a Finite Planet (and your company can too) , we clever humans overthink our answers, forcing square pegs into round holes because we can. We invent one-off solutions—and new polymers–for every problem, and get heavy-handed about creating them. If we’re dealing with high impact—in the automotive or aerospace industry, for instance—we heat, beat, treat various raw resources into submission. If we need to stick something in place, we use toxic glues. Flooding? Build a giant dam. Drought? Build a very long ditch. Our solutions require huge amounts of energy and materials, and produce a lot of waste–things no creature can eat. Our chemical answers make us sick, and poison our planet, and are neither adaptive nor resilient. The creatures of the tidepools solve these same kinds of challenges every day, without fancy Research and Development teams or even—in many cases—brains. Big waves smash down and sweep across the rocks. Organisms are stranded in the baking sun, blasted with UV light. Tiny creatures are constantly flooded or baked, exposed to radical swings in salinity and temperature. Yet their strategies last, while our own industrial solutions have only been around a couple hundred years and seem to create more heartaches and headaches. What can these little beings teach us? Related: INTERVIEW: Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker on how biomimicry can improve happiness and creativity in the workplace Sea urchins thrive in pounding surf, because their spines are like shock absorbers, helping them wedge between rocks. Look through the scanning electron microscope, and you see an exquisite microstructure, perfectly designed to spread impact forces and stop cracks from spreading, with predetermined weak points that can fail without hurting the animal. Stiff and strong, yet flexible, these natural ceramics regenerate at surrounding temperatures from local minerals, powered by algal energy scraped from nearby rocks and grown from sunlight. Abalone and oyster shells offer stunning mother of pearl with remarkable properties. One deep-water oyster–the windowpane oyster—is nearly transparent and practically bulletproof. Nacre, as this material called, is incredibly strong, and yet chemically, isn’t much different from crumbly chalk. Look under the right microscope, and you’ll see it is composed of many layers of tiny hexagonal tiles, mortared with thin sheets of bendy, elastic protein. All of it is hyper-efficient, made from local materials, using life-friendly chemistry and conditions. Material scientists are working hard to 3D print analogous solutions. Barnacles filter tiny food particles from the water, protruding their highly modified legs to use as nets. But when the tide goes out, their homes seal perfectly shut, protecting their tiny, watery world. The microscope reveals four little French doors that open and shut. Each is hard and strong, but near the edges, they transition into a flexible, plastic-like gel, like the rubbery seal inside your car door–but intricately fringed to create an incredibly tight, interlocking seal. These are precision mechanics, grown from nanoscopic genetic blueprints, in microscopic cell factories. They self-repair when damaged, and respond intelligently and instantly to changing conditions. Sea cucumbers are soft and floppy, sliding through the narrow spaces between rocks. But when touched, tiny hairy whiskers in their skin enzymatically orient and bind into a firm, rigid net. When the predator is gone, other enzymes break the bonds and make the skin soft again. Scientists are copying this for electrodes (rigid for implanting, and soft in the body), and protective clothing like bulletproof vests. Seastars must stick to the reefs as they move around in search of prey, even as violent waves come and go. The solution is a reversible adhesive—a sticky glue that works underwater, even on slimy algae–that they excrete from their feet and turn instantly on and off with protein activators. Imagine if we could copy that! All these solutions work at ambient temperatures using locally available materials and water as a solvent. There are no toxic chemicals, no extreme heat, no carbon emissions. They don’t even need to be manufactured—they assemble themselves from the bottom up, powered (ultimately) by sunlight. These solutions adapt to local conditions on the fly and are made from a small set of universal building blocks that other creatures can eat and make new things with. These solutions are edible! They are smart, responsive, and flexible, and perform as well, if not better, than synthetic materials–while weighing 30 to 300% less. They are deeply efficient and sustainable, shaped by billions of years of natural selection, making our own synthetic solutions look distinctly amateurish. These solutions and many more have caught the eye of “mainstream” business and other organizations–Fortune Magazine called Biomimicry the #1 trend in business for 2017, and many institutions not traditionally thought of as “green”–including the military, NASA, and a wide range of industrial chemical, medical, and material science companies are eager to tap nature’s “open source” genius. It’s an exciting time, and little ripples of innovation are starting to add up to a tidal wave of change. Biomimicry is a profound change in the way we see the world, the way we and do things, and the way we think about our way of life. Small things build to deep patterns that have the power to change everything. For every challenge we face, we can ask ourselves how nature would do it, then look closely. The little things we see around us every day could one day change the world . + Teeming: How Superorganisms Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World lead image via Unsplash Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker is an evolutionary biologist, primatologist, and biomimicry pioneer with an extensive background in leadership, innovation, and sustainability. Her book Teeming: How Superorganisms Work to Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World is available now .

See the rest here:
What the tiniest creatures can teach us about adapting to life’s challenges

Book Giveaway – Win a copy of TEEMING: How Superorganisms Work to Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World

July 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

Comments Off on Book Giveaway – Win a copy of TEEMING: How Superorganisms Work to Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World

There is so much that we can learn from the natural world.  ‘TEEMING: How Superorganisms Work to Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World,’   by Dr. Woolley-Barker reveals all the ways in which animals societies can helps us thrive in a modern world where resources are finite. We talked to Dr. Woolley-Barker about her book and you can read the fascinating interview here, but if you want to get your hands on your very own copy, we are giving away 25 of them to a few lucky readers. Enter to win below: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here is the original post: 
Book Giveaway – Win a copy of TEEMING: How Superorganisms Work to Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World

These ancient societies know the secrets of infinite growth on our finite planet

July 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

Comments Off on These ancient societies know the secrets of infinite growth on our finite planet

Once upon a time, there were three scientists––a biologist, an engineer, and a chemist. Each of them loved the ocean and liked nothing better than to walk its shores and study its inhabitants. They were curious and observant, and by watching how nature really works, with an open-mind, each of them stumbled on something radically new. And we can do the same! Hit the jump for a closer look at how to achieve infinite growth on a finite planet – nature’s way. Image via Great Ecology Australian Jay Harman grew up at the beach, surfing, playing in the waves, seeking shells. He was fascinated by the spiraling patterns he saw all around him. If the fastest, most efficient way to get from point A to point B was a straight line, then why did everything seem to spiral there? He was curious, and eventually found a way to freeze a whirlpool and cast it out of metal––the form yielded a fan, a turbine , and an impeller, all far more efficient than traditional ones—and quieter and cooler as well. Today, Jay’s company, PAX Scientific, is revolutionizing the way these technologies work. Dr. Frank Fish is an engineer, specializing in wind turbines. While traveling, he paid a visit to a local aquarium, and noticed a gift shop sculpture – a humpback whale. But the bumps on the flippers were on the wrong side, obviously hydrodynamically incorrect. Being an engineer, Dr. Fish was compelled to complain to the cashier, who was skeptical. The sculptor was a well-known marine artist who almost certainly knew his whale biology. This required further thought. Dr. Fish studied the flippers more closely, then he added similar structures to his turbine blades––producing a 40 percent gain in efficiency. His company, Whale Power , now operates across California. Image via Farm1 My last story is about a chemist, Dr. Kaichang Li, who works for Columbia Forest Products , a big lumber and plywood company in Oregon. He develops plywood glues – usually toxic ones based on formaldehyde. Dr. Li liked to walk along the beach near his home, and one day he found himself thinking about the blue mussels that coated the rocks along the shore. He tried to pull one off – impossible! How did they stick underwater? His curiosity led him to chemically mimic the anchoring protein, and today, all Columbia Forest Products plywood uses this formaldehyde-free Purebond® technology. Dr. Li’s curiosity led the company to replace 47 million pounds of toxic resins, reducing pollutants 50-90 percent, improving the health of employees and customers alike. Biomimicry — the art and science of innovation inspired by nature – is changing the way we think about everything we make and do. Even the most mundane problems can be tackled with fresh eyes by simply asking “how would nature do it?” which is not so odd as it may seem. Every species alive today faces the same kinds of challenges we do – and all of them are survivors. After four billion years of evolution, only the most winning solutions are still around, each honed over countless generations of ruthless selection. These ancient technologies work, and we can apply them to our own solutions. Fortune magazine recently acknowledged biomimicry as the #1 trend in business for 2017 , and not just because it is inspiring new products like plywood or fans – nature’s ancient strategies are generating new approaches to every facet of doing business. Like manufacture. Currently, we make many things from petrochemical plastics, and 95 percent of it is discarded inside of six months – and that’s not including the carbon emissions generated by the fuel used to power the manufacture process. This is a problem: by depleting raw resources and piling up waste, this runaway process threatens the long-term success of every company and country. Many companies are working hard to reduce that waste: reducing, reusing, and recycling it. But how would nature do it? What’s nature’s manufacture process? For starters, nature builds with infinite things – sunshine and atmospheric carbon, diffuse specks of water and nutrients. Green plants convert sunlight into energy, fixing atmospheric carbon into sugars. That’s how plants grow. Leaves, wood, fruit­­, roots – all of it is carbon negative manufacture powered by the sun. Ultimately, of course, it is all eaten and used to grow other creatures. We can do the same thing. Our photovoltaic technologies constantly and exponentially improve (with a little guidance from the plants), and one company, Newlight Technologies, is capturing methane-based carbon from the air and turning it into AirCarbon, Sprint’s thermoplastic iPhone case material. Meanwhile, Interface carpet just unveiled the world’s first carbon negative carpet tiles . Imagine if human consumption was good for the planet? Why shouldn’t it be? Similarly, millions of tiny sea-anemone-like animals cluster into the world’s coral reefs, aided by an intimate algal partnership. The algae photosynthesize by day, feeding the corals. At night they rest, which lowers the ambient pH enough to allow the corals to secrete a protective cement home around the algae – much like our own cement structures. Calera, a California company, is making cement in exactly this way , gradually accreting calcite from the elevated carbon dioxide dissolved in our oceans. To most of us, CO2 emissions are a problem — accumulating at an alarming rate, irreparably changing our planet’s atmosphere. But these emissions are basically just carbon – the same stuff all living things grow from. What if we grew our materials this way as well? What if we made things the way the plants do, or the reefs? Imagine, if we reclaimed our carbon waste from the atmosphere, and put it back in the world of the living – into the biosphere? It’s easy to be cynical, convinced that humans are evolution’s terrible mistake. But there is no reason why this must be so. Plenty of societies thrive on this earth, some with the same biomass and metabolic needs as us. Some are incredibly ancient and wildly successful, in fact, and they don’t have small footprints, either. Leafcutter ants work together in teeming underground colonies, with tens of millions of strangers in vast, elaborate chambers – yet, we don’t see them choking on smog or stuck in traffic. They’ve done it this way for 70 million years, or more. Similarly, the fungal networks below ground collect diffuse molecules of nutrients and water, shuttling them to each other and the trees above them. They aren’t counting carbon credits or worrying about the Pacific Garbage Patch, and yet these densely networked individuals make up a quarter of all terrestrial biomass. What’s the difference between them and us? They succeed by building with infinite things, and feeding the life that feeds them. My favorite example of these ancient societies is the macrotermites of Botswana’s Kalahari Desert . These colonies build huge towering mound, poking as much as 30 feet above the dry plains. The termites don’t live in this structure—this is just their clever air conditioner. The termite nest itself lies far below – these creatures don’t like the heat any more than you’d like to be stuck in the Mojave Desert naked without a water bottle. Nonetheless, they thrive. Here’s how: each night, some individuals venture out onto the plains to collect scraps of grass and twigs to bring down into the nest. Like the leafcutters, they make a compost which they feed to their carefully tended fungal gardens. The fungus consumes the plants, the termites eat the fungus. It’s a partnership, and over time, it fertilizes the surrounding grass, and makes it softer, richer, and more nutritious. Antelope gather to graze it, fertilizing the soil with their droppings. Big cats and wild dogs hunt the antelope, leaving carcasses that enrich the soil further. Meanwhile, the mounds poke above the yearly floods like snorkels, sheltering all kinds of plants and animals, while soaking up precious moisture for the long, dry season ahead. Superorganism societies like these are all around us, surviving and thriving sustainably – regeneratively ––for hundreds of millions of years, through radical waves of change that have turned countless other populations into fossils. These creatures make more each generation without poisoning their world, by spilling collective value out into the larger ecosystems they inhabit. They have to do it: it’s the only way to compound their value for the future. As an evolutionary biologist and primatologist who spent nearly 30 years studying social systems, I know we can do the same – because it‘s been done before. The math is simple and universal. Botanical philosopher Michael Pollan expresses it well: “our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum… as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.” The difference between ancient superorganism abundance and our own impending scarcity is simple: they compound their wealth by building with virtually infinite things—sunlight and atmospheric carbon, diffuse specks of moisture and nutrients, trust and transparency, and the complexity, diversity, and interconnectedness of networks. There are always more of these things. Their organizations are no pyramid schemes. This is a new and deeply biological way for us to do business – and organize our entire global society – as we do the hard work of adapting to a finite Earth. This is not a recipe for despair, scraping by, or doing less harm while delaying the inevitable death spiral, nor does it require us to become an army of faceless automaton clone ants or assimilate into the Borg. Quite the contrary—this is a recipe for unbounded optimism, abundance, individuality, personal freedom, and creativity. Image via Biomimicry Institute Our success depends on staying curious and observant, studying what stands the test of time. The solutions are all around us. By feeding the life that feeds us, and building with infinite things, we can create our own regenerative cycles. We have to: it’s the only way to compound our value for the future. + Teeming: How Superorganisms Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker is an evolutionary biologist, primatologist, and biomimicry pioneer with an extensive background in leadership, innovation, and sustainability. Her book Teeming: How Superorganisms Work to Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World is available now . Forward your receipt to TeemingTogether@gmail.com to receive an exclusive TEEMING toolkit for implementing the bio-inspired changes our future success requires. Lead image via Wikimedia Commons

Read the original:
These ancient societies know the secrets of infinite growth on our finite planet

Bad Behavior has blocked 1255 access attempts in the last 7 days.