Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired By Nature
by Janine M. Benyus
William Morrow & Co., 1997
New York, NY
308 pages, $25.00 hardcoverBuy this book from Powell's, an independent bookstore
From looking at the cover, I assumed this was a book about such biological mysteries as how insects have evolved the capacity to camouflage themselves to look like the leaves they hide among. I discovered Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature really is about how humans could have a fantastically high-tech and still sustainable civilization that could blend seamlessly into the Earth. That's right – no contradiction between hi-tech living and sustainability. To achieve such a world, Janine Benyus credibly explains, we have only to respect, study, and emulate nature.
Benyus (re)defines biomimicry as “a new science that studies nature's models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems.” And Benyus shows that this is a science that already has some very creative practitioners.
Biomimicry brings us portraits of cutting-edge research into growing food like a prairie, gathering energy like a leaf, weaving fibers like a spider, computing like a cell, running a business like a redwood forest.
Are you a hi-tech farmer in hock over your ears to seed, fertilizer, and pesticide companies and stuck with obsolete equipment? Check out the vision of a practi-cal nature-based agriculture as detailed by Wes Jackson, who shows how a prairie-based, chemical-free form of agriculture will benefit farmers and their ecosystems – as well as all of us who eat.
Are you a graduate student envisioning a career at the forefront of computing, while repressing terror at the poor prospects of the human future? Imagine the excitement of biocomputing research using protein molecules that recognize patterns and find solutions to problems unimaginably faster and more efficiently than the most sophisticated silicon chips of today.
We have, of course, always copied nature in our technology: our looms were inspired by spiders, our aircraft by birds, our “chunnelers” by moles, our computers by our own brains, and so on. But we did things mechanically, often paying little attention to nature's style.
Today, much of this century's infrastructure is in need of replacement – including outmoded highways, energy and communications networks, water treatment facilities, factories, and even economic models. Nature's blueprints could provide a foundation for their replacements. As Benyus tells us, there is no reason why we cannot develop a technology with far greater complexity and sophistication than anything we have yet invented that also supports a healthier, happier future for both humans and nature.
“For too long we have judged our innovations by whether they are good for us, which has increasingly come to mean whether they are profitable,” Benyus says. “Now we have to put what is good for life first, and trust that it will also be good for us.”
Reviewed by Elisabet Sahtouris, evolutionary biologist, eco-philosopher, and futurist. She is the author of EarthDance: Living Systems in Evolution and co-author with Willis Harman of the forthcoming Biology Revisioned.