Mimicking Nature to Fight Climate Change

Can nature teach us to how to mitigate the effects of climate change, or even to reverse it?

That’s the idea behind an upcoming competition created by the Biomimicry Institute, a nonprofit that helps people and organizations to create sustainable ideas inspired by nature. Sometimes that means looking at form—for example, the way water moves over a shark’s skin—while other times it involves looking at natural systems, such as how forests handle rainfall.

The competition is the latest iteration of the institute’s ongoing Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, which most recently asked teams to submit ideas for products composed of living elements. Earlier this month a team from the University of Oregon won $10,000 for creating a living filtration system that uses microorganisms to retain nutrients in the soil to reduce water and pesticide runoff from farming. Many of the previous winners of the challenge have also continued in a program organized by the institute to help entrepreneurs bring their products to market.

Biomimicry has a lot of potential in the area of climate change, said Megan Schuknecht, director of design challenges for the Biomimicry Institute. “We’re trying to foster disruptive technologies based on an inspiration from nature’s solutions, which of course have emerged over millions or billions of years of evolution,” she said.

The competition invites participants to look at the problems of climate change from one of three angles: reversal, adaptation, or mitigation. “Reversal is the most aspirational,” Schuknecht said, but she added that some efforts are under way in that area. “There are companies out there using carbon as a feed stock, just the way plants do,” she said. “Nature sees carbon as a very plentiful building material, while we see it now as pollution, which it is. But if we can discover more ways to utilize carbon, create some materials that we need, that would be a huge win.” For instance, a company in Southern California transforms carbon dioxide and methane into plastic to make furniture and other products.

Meanwhile, techniques for adapting to the effects of climate change are needed. “We know the oceans are rising,” Schuknecht said. “Even if we stop emitting carbon, the processes we’ve set in motion will continue for quite some time.” Mitigating those effects, she said, could play an important role for cities and coastal environments. “What are the lessons we can learn from how natural coastlines buffer us from storms, and are there things we can mimic or replicate in our cities and our shorelines to mitigate some of those impacts of rising sea levels and increasing storms?” she asked.

Read the entire article at TakePart.com