Thursday, February 10, 2011

Learning from nature

Sometimes we humans think we are super smart. But compared with nature we have the creative powers of a gnat. Or maybe not, for all we know, gnats may be more creative and intelligent than we have ever noticed or imagined.

Consider the skyscraper.  Tens of stories tall inhabited by hundred or thousands of humans and our fellow travellers. Like cockroaches. Bedbugs. Or rats and mice.

A human invention? Nope.

The craggy river red gum which inhabits river valleys all over Australia must surely be one of the first skyscrapers (Image, Peter Halasz). On average, each tree houses 150 households, in convenient hollows where the wood has rotted. Each hollow is a high rise apartment for possums, birds, insects and other creatures. All courtesy of nature, designed so that what we think of as waste - rotten wood- is recycled for another purpose. The outputs from one life process become the inputs to another, the very same principles of natural capitalism that Amory Lovens, founder of the Rocky Mountains Institute applies to organizations, to achieve greater sustainability.

So here a workshop to explore this powerful natural principle:

1. Describe a system where waste outputs spoil our/your way of life.
2. Choose one of the systems and make a list of all the components and how resources e.g. water, gases, minerals, soil, paper, organic matter flow through the system. How does each component arrive, e.g. as raw materials, where does it flow to, and how does it leave e.g. as finished products in trucks,
3. Thinking about the total system, what components of the system are "waste" or "pollution" and how do we currenly deal with those components?
4. Consider each of the waste outputs, what could we do, so they are inputs to another system, and are re-used or re-purposed?
5. Thinking about what is left over, that can't be re-used, what other way is there to design our system, so this waste is not produced, or produced in a re-usable form, just like nature.
6. What other natural approaches could we ideally adopt, so that the waste can be reprocessed or reclaimed in more natural ways e.g. harvesting heavy metals in water or soil using plants that soak them up, using biomimicry to use H, C or O to peform the save role as more complex/dangerous elements.