Let’s Use Biomimicry to Take on Climate Change
By Gamelihle Sibanda
Certified Biomimicry Professional
Gamelihle Sibanda with a termite mound
The climate change issue has become so big, so complex, and so difficult to solve that many people have given up on even thinking about it. We need to look at this challenge with fresh eyes and simplify it using the lens of biomimicry.
Biomimicry is the conscious emulation of nature’s creative genius to solve human challenges. Example: observing how a leaf makes energy to design a better solar panel. It draws on nature’s time-tested patterns and mechanisms and translates them to address our contemporary challenges. Biomimicry can be found in many fields such as business, sustainable energy, architecture, education, and more. By studying natural systems, we can create products, processes, and policies that are more durable, efficient, and sustainable. Biomimicry can help us leverage natural models to develop innovative solutions for environmental challenges.
The UN’s Climate Champions have designated “nature” as today’s theme for discussion at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. I think we should let nature be our guide when it comes to designing interventions for addressing climate change.
A lot of multisyllabic words are bandied about by climate scientists and activists. I think one of the most useful of them is regeneration. People have different ways of describing regeneration, but here’s mine: Imagine a continuum. On one end we have business-as-usual ‘Brown” practices; improving to ‘Green Solutions’ such as renewable energy, then to true sustainability, where we are causing no harm. Thereafter, we move to restorative practices, where we begin to fix the previous damage and at the other end of the spectrum, we reach regeneration – where we are replenishing resources a rate faster than we are depleting them. We can use biomimicry as a guide as we move along the continuum of regeneration.
Here’s an example of biomimicry in action: Scientists studying termite colonies in Africa discovered that termites farm mushrooms for food, but mushrooms are sensitive to temperature variations, so termites have learned to create ventilation systems to regulate temperatures in their mounds. Following the principles of biomimicry, architect Mick Pearce mimicked termite ventilation systems when he designed the Eastgate Building in Harare, Zimbabwe. The building keeps its occupants comfortable without using air conditioning, using 80% less energy than buildings of a similar size in the area.
In order to address climate change we have to think about two separate but complimentary goals. One is mitigation—how do we reduce the harmful forces that we humans have unleashed on nature, whether it’s decreasing the amount of pollution we pump into the air and water or the amount of greenhouses gases our activities release into the atmosphere. The other is adaptation—how do we as individuals and societies change the way we live so we are more resilient to the harsh environmental changes that are coming.
Pivot Projects is presenting an event in Glasgow during COP26, It's Time to Pivot, an element of the Malin Group's Spotlight series. It will take place in person and online starting at 1:45 pm UK Time on Nov. 6. The event is a conversation and a call to action to individuals and groups who want to pivot to a more sustainable future. Please join us!
Here's a blog post about Pivot Projects and the event, with a link to registration.
Here's the registration page.
We can learn strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation from different organisms which have lived through extreme weather events and indigenous communities who live near and provide stewardship to natural resources that we depend on for ecosystem services.
Biodiversity is the backbone of our food chain. It provides us with ecosystem services such as food, water, and air. Humans have transformed our world through greenhouse gas emissions and destruction of biodiversity to create farms and to conduct logging and mining activities. Forests are the lungs of the planet. They produce half of all the oxygen on Earth. Deforestation can lead to the disruption of biodiversity and changes the hydrological cycle leading to climate change. Our responses to climate change can also transform it for the better or for the worse.
Climate change is likely to increase the risk of pandemics, with potentially disastrous effects on human health. Climate change is expected to cause an increased frequency of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, temperature rise, melting of the permafrost and drought. These impacts are expected to further disrupt important ecological systems. Natural systems can also influence the transmission, severity, and geographic distribution of infectious diseases, including the likelihood of emergence of new or re-emerging pathogens. For example, Increased temperatures are associated with increased transmission of several mosquito-borne infections.
Climate change can affect the spread of diseases, but it can also be affected by the spread of diseases. The alarming rate of deforestation and melting of the ice caps and permafrost may expose viruses that have never interacted with humans. It may take several years or even centuries for humans to co-evolve with such pathogens.
Now is the time for humans to use biomimicry as our core design principle so we can design solutions that are regenerative and can be adapted and replicated across the world. We need to change the way we farm, build, travel, use energy, do business and we live because climate change threatens our prosperity and peace. Sustainability of businesses is inextricable from the sustainability of the planet. Today, while people from all over the world are watching what’s going on in Glasgow, we can see the world through new eyes, through nature’s eyes, and begin the healing.