Biomimicry: Looking To Nature For Innovative Solutions To Our Human-Caused Problems.

By: Magnus de Pencier

By: Magnus de Pencier

Nature, and more importantly humans’ complex and disingenuous relationship with it, is a topic that is contentious, frightful, and relentless. The quote, “We envision a world in which people view nature not as a warehouse of goods but as a storehouse of knowledge and inspiration for sustainable solutions.” By Janine Benyus makes me wonder about the true solution to peaceful coexistence with our natural world. How can humans attempt to restore and replenish ecosystems and species that are on the verge of extinction? 

An Eco-Modernist, for example, would tell you that humans’ mastery over and separation from nature through relative and absolute decoupling is fundamental to sustainable longevity. This, along with intensified agriculture, urbanization, and investments in modern day technologies they consider to be the only way for humanity to flourish while preserving the biodiversity of the natural world. A Deep-Ecologist/Eco-Feminist on the other hand, would thoroughly disagree, stating that the earth, along with all of her resources, should not be interfered or tampered with by human activity, which is inherently destructive. Agriculture, they would argue, and the mechanized technology and pesticides that accompany it today, must be scaled back to local and traditional farming methods.

Then, there is Biomimicry: Technologically innovative practices that are inspired by nature. Biomimicry imitates nature by emulating its models, systems, and elements in order to effectively solve human-made problems. The Biomimicry Institute, founded in 2006 by Janine Benyus and Bryony Schwan, state that the goal of Biomimicry is to “create products, processes, and policies-new ways of living-that solve our greatest design challenges sustainably and in solidarity with all life on earth”. (Biomimicry Institute). Here is an example of one of the more famous Biomimicry examples in the real world, and the positive impact it can have on the environment and human race. 

Eiji Nakatsu and Japan’s Shinkansen Bullet-Train. 

The Shinkansen bullet-train, stretching from Shin-Osaka to the ward of Hakata, was built to carry passengers at exceptionally fast speeds (167 mph travelling over roughly 300 miles). However, there was one issue that had to be dealt with. The atmospheric pressure buildup from the train rushing through a tunnel, and out the other end, resulted in a deafening and unpleasant sound that exceeded the maximum decibel limit in the residential neighbourhoods in which it passed. 

Eiji Nakatsu, the head of the engineering team that was delegated to solve this problem, was inspired by the aerodynamic characteristics of a number of birds that ultimately made the new 500 Shinkansen series quieter and more efficient. The trains pantograph wing was modeled after the feathers of an Owl, its pantograph base after the body of an Adelie Penguin, and most consequently, the trains nose very much mimicked the bill of a Kingfisher. Here are a couple of tables from Eiji Nakatus’ lecture on biomimicry.

Table 1:

ProblemAnimalCharacteristicApplication
The pantograph, a piece that connects the train to its power source, vibrated and made a loud noise.OwlThe owl has a concave face capable of absorbing sound. Its body has ample down to absorb fluttering sounds. Tiny serrations on its primary feathers minimize the vortex generated by movement.The pantograph was reshaped like an owl’s wing, including small serrations, which resulted in no vibrations and a quieter impact for residents near the tracks.
The supporting frame for the pantograph had a high degree of wind resistance resulting in aerodynamic noise.PenguinThe body of the Adelie Penguin is shaped like a spindle which allows it to move effortlessly through water to catch fish.The pantograph’s supporting shaft was reshaped like a penguin’s body to lower its wind resistance.
When the train would enter a tunnel, a loud bang would occur due to the fixed air volume of the tunnel and the sudden increase in pressure from the entering train.KingfisherThe shape of the Kingfisher’s head and beak allow it to glide through the air and precisely dive into water to snag fish. It is the most efficient animal on earth to transition from low pressure (air) to high pressure (water).The nose of the Shinkansen train was reshaped in the form of the Kingfisher to eliminate the sudden pressure increase. No more bang.

(“Eiji Nakatsu: Lecture on Biomimicry as Applied to a Japanese Train.” It Is Alive in the Lab, labs.blogs.com/its_alive_in_the_lab/2012/04/biomimicry-japanese-train.html.)

Table 2:

DesignBeforeAfter
Pantograph WingWing_beforeWing_after
Pantograph BaseBase_beforeBase_after
Train NoseBeforeAfter

(“Eiji Nakatsu: Lecture on Biomimicry as Applied to a Japanese Train.” It Is Alive in the Lab, labs.blogs.com/its_alive_in_the_lab/2012/04/biomimicry-japanese-train.html.)

Through these new “design” amendments influenced by animals we encounter in our daily lives, not only was the new 500 Shinkansen series bullet-train under the legal decibel limit when passing through neighbourhoods, it was also 10% faster and used 15% less energy (Vox). In today’s world, we have reached an unprecedented level of high connectivity and uniformity. Through just a click of a button, technological information and material resources can flow between people, companies, and markets. Similarly, manufacturing plants, garment factories, and financial institutions no matter where they are located around the world primarily use the same ideas, designs, processes, and product cycles that allow for a just-in-time delivery and an instant gratification way of life. This level of high consistency and connectivity around the world means that, if we have learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, things (whether it be a infectious disease or an ideal) can rapidly transmit and disrupt every corner of the globe. Design systems need to be diversified and more resilient to the shocks and disturbances of our natural world. Learning from nature’s models and ecosystems, that have been continually adapting and surviving the earth’s elements for 3.8 billion years, may be a necessary and practical solution to the longevity of humans on earth. 

For other cool Biomimicry projects check out these links:

  1. Learning from Prairies how to grow food in Resilient ways
  2. Learning from mosquitos to create “a nicer needle”
  3. Learning from dolphins how to send signals underwater
  4. Learning from termites how to create sustainable buildings

Make the Most of Your CEEC 2020 Experience!

Blog Post By: Julian Burger

CEEC 2020 is 2 days away! With this in mind, we thought it would be the perfect time to share some tips on how to make the most of your experience. I attended CEEC in my first year at Queen’s and it  was one of the best experiences of my university career to date. The biggest take away for me was that what you put into the weekend is what you’ll get out. So whether your coming alone or with friends, from Queen’s or elsewhere in Canada, here are some tips for maximizing your CEEC experience!

1. Branch out!

It may sound cliche, but getting out of your comfort zone is what CEEC is all about. I know it’s reassuring to go talk to who you know when you get thrown into a room of unfamiliar faces. That being said, CEEC is the perfect opportunity to meet new like- minded people and make lasting connections. Try to break out of your shell as much as possible and introduce yourself to new people! I can guarantee that within five minutes of conversation you will have a lot more in common than you’d expect. 

2. Attend as many events as possible

Morning yoga after a big night out may seem like a stretch but trust me, getting the juices flowing right away is the ideal start to the day. CEEC is a pretty busy three days with constant events going on. Of course, if you have a test or a mandatory lab to attend, school comes first, but I can’t urge you enough to attend as much as possible. A huge part of CEEC is learning a wide variety of perspectives through an array of diverse lenses. Each speaker, workshop or even case brings new insights and may just be what inspires you to pursue a specific career! 

3. Bring your ideas to the table

While everyone at CEEC shares the same passion for sustainability, it is your background and ideas that set you apart! When watching a speaker, ask questions. When participating in a workshop, put forth your ideas. At dinner time, ask your table their opinion on a subject and present yours. You have a unique background whether it be your degree, your work/life experiences or even some cool vacation you went on (Insert exchange). Bring your insights and ideas to the table and you may even leave the weekend with some new ones to share with your friends. 

4. Talk to company reps

In the passed CEEC hasn’t traditionally been a full on recruiting conference. That being said, the conference  is an incredible opportunity to network with a plethora of cool sustainability focused companies and organizations! If you see a representative from a company you’re interested in, go and talk to them! It can seem daunting, but striking up a simple conversation, asking what they do and what got them interested in their job can lead to a future connection and even potential job opportunity. Many CEEC delegates and executive members have landed their jobs through connections at the conference so make the most out of it!

In Better News – The Happy Broadcast

Blog Post By: Jessica Oliver

Blog Post By: Jessica Oliver

The Earth is warming, arctic ice is melting, species are going extinct, fires are burning, and coral reefs are dying. These are just a few of the headlines we see daily. It’s daunting, I know. Sometimes I’m curious to read the whole story and other times I can’t seem to bring myself to, as it makes me feel helpless. It is important to understand the issues our world is facing and to take action, but it is also important to step back and recognize our successes.

As a start to the new year 2020, I want to recognize the positive impacts that occurred in 2019. I follow an Instagram account and blog called “the happy broadcast”, which reports on all the positive occurrences in the world. Here are a few examples from https://www.thehappybroadcast.com/

  1. “Italy to become first nation where students in every grade will be required to study climate change and sustainability.”
  2. “Costa Rica has doubled its tropical rainforests in just a few decades thanks to a continued environmental focus by policy makers.”
  3. “Scotland produced enough wind energy to power all its homes twice over in first half of 2019.”
  4. “Thailand supermarket says no to plastic packaging and wraps produce in banana leaves.”

In the midst of overwhelming headlines spurring anxious feelings, these positive reports serve as examples of the power of collaboration and demonstrate what we can achieve. Although recognizing our downfalls may motivate some, emphasizing our successes is equally as valuable to empower and encourage action. Let’s keep the ball rolling in 2020.

Traveling During the Climate Crisis: How to Be a More Eco-conscious Explorer

Blog post by: Maggie Tuer

Last January, I embarked on an eight-month adventure around Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and Vietnam. The time that I spent exploring these incredible countries was without a doubt my favourite thing that I have done in my life thus far. Travelling to new places every week, living out of a rental car, and booking flights the day of was the exact kind of lifestyle that I had always craved.  Being able to finally set out on this adventure felt truly remarkable. However, being an environmental science student and someone who is passionate about sustainability in all aspects of my life, I could not rid myself of the ever-increasing guilt that my travels were having a negative impact on my carbon footprint and my overall contribution to the climate crisis.

         I would find myself looking around and be absolutely horrified by the waste and emissions associated with my explorations. As a result, I began to document a number of the issues that I found most problematic…

1. Airplane Waste

         On the majority of my flights, meals were served in disposable, plastic containers. Almost all of these meals were accompanied by disposable water bottles. A number of times when I informed the stewardess that I did not need a bottle of water, it was simply thrown out. On top of this, many airlines lacked adequate vegetarian options, with many failing to offer them on the menu at all.

2. Airplane Emissions

         Of course, one of the most detrimental environmental impacts of travelling is aviation emissions. One round trip flight from New York to Europe creates a warming effect equivalent of 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. To put this into context, the average American generates an average of 19 tons of carbon dioxide per year. I knew that this would be an issue going into my months of travels, but I have to say that I was disappointed by the number of airlines that failed to offer a carbon offset program.

3. Disposable Water Bottles

         This was particularly an issue in countries in Southeast Asia due to their lack of access to clean drinking water. Unfortunately, as a result of this situation, almost all water that was provided on tours, in hotels, Airbnb’s, or in restaurants and cafés, came in plastic disposable water bottles.

4. Tourist Impacts on Environment

         I spent the majority of my time away in New Zealand, as I was studying abroad there for almost 5 months. I genuinely have never seen such a pristine and beautiful place – after all, the country’s slogan is ‘100% Pure New Zealand’. Unfortunately, however, I noticed that the onslaught of tourists in National Parks and other conservation areas often led to a significant impact on the natural environment through traffic on hiking trails, wilderness campsites etc.

5. Inefficient Hotel Operations

         This is a critical issue no matter where you are in the world. Many hotels clean their linens every single day, have air conditioning in operation 24/7, and lack effective recycling programs. This was no different in the Southern Hemisphere. Particularly in Southeast Asia with its viciously humid climate, the air conditioning in hotels was constantly on full blast.

         It was certainly easy to feel disheartened by all of these issues, but rather than simply accept this as a sad reality, I tried my best to do everything I could to reduce my own personal impact as a traveller. Here are some of the ways I dealt with these obstacles…

  • Airplane Waste

         When it came to airplane food, I tried to reduce my waste by bringing snacks in my own re-usable containers. I also got in the habit of requesting vegetarian meals 24 hours in advance of the flight. Airlines such as Quantas are much better about using sustainable and re-usable packaging for hot meals, and I made sure to take this into account when booking flights.

  • Plane Emissions

         While aviation emissions are fairly hard to avoid when you need to get from point A to point B, there are a number of things to keep in mind in order to lessen your footprint. Planes expend the most fuel when taking off and landing, so the eco-friendliest decision is to take the most direct flight possible (even if it costs a little more). I also found that travelling by car is not only a sustainable decision but leads to some of the best adventures. Particularly in New Zealand, every glance out of your window provides an entirely new landscape, and any backroad or beach can easily become your home for the night or week.

  • Water Bottles

         This was probably the hardest wasteful obstacle to manage. While it went against every fibre in my being to purchase multiple disposable bottles a day, I quickly found that my guilt was leading me to be extremely dehydrated. It was difficult to find an alternative, sustainable solution. After returning home, however, I spoke with my peers about how they dealt with this issue while travelling in developing countries. I was told that purchasing a life straw or another form of effective water filter can be a great option. Using one of the products, you can simply fill your own reusable water bottle when there is access to running water and can say no to disposables.

  • Tourist Impacts

         In order to avoid being simply another adventurer making a mark on an already significantly altered landscape, I always opted to take the road less travelled. Staying clear of the most heavily utilized paths not only lessens your impact on the environment, but it also makes for a much more enjoyable hiking/trekking experience. At the same time however, I was conscious about always remaining on marked trails, and only staying the night in areas where camping was permitted. While exploring the backcountry can be thrilling, it is not acceptable to put your own adventure ahead of the conservation of the ecosystem that you find yourself in.  

  • Inefficient Hotel Operations

         This one is fairly easy to avoid if you are travelling on a budget. I stayed almost exclusively in hostels and Airbnbs as opposed to hotels, and while occasionally the heat became too much to bear, I predominantly opted for ‘fan only’ rooms to save energy. Additionally, I only did laundry when I felt it absolutely necessary – although I’m sure some of my travel companions would have preferred otherwise!

         I encourage absolutely everyone to get out there and explore everything our incredible planet has to offer. In doing so, however, always try and be as mindful and considerate as possible of the fragility and complexities of our natural world. Happy travels!!

The Future of Data is Green!

Our future will be built on data. Of that there is no question. With this immutable destination in mind, it becomes incredibly important for us to realize the risks and benefits of our path we take as society progresses.

Data centres in the United States consume 2% of the electricity produced nation-wide. This seems shocking, yet it’s common knowledge that large information and technology corporations such as Google and Microsoft have massive warehouses full of computers optimized for data storage. Although it stands that these computers should be optimized for another factor: sustainability.

Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon have all pledged to run their data centres on sustainable energy, with Microsoft in fast pursuit. It’s this corporate responsibility and dedication to the environment which will set high industry standards that will only benefit our growing sustainable goals.

Click here to find out more!

Sustainable Living: How to Grow Pea Shoots, and Other Things I Learned on a Farm

Longspell Point farm covers a cliffed section of the Bay of Fundy coastline. A winding dirt road borders the farmland, and across the street small cottages and summer homes dot the steep cliff down to the beach. If you stand in the right spot in one of the upper fields you can look one way and see the Bay of Fundy stretching out before you with the picturesque outline of Blomidon marking the horizon. On the other side the Annapolis valley spreads out, like a quilt made of green and brown patches. This view ceases to amaze me each time I go out to the farm; regardless of my mood. Read more

Cape Town Is Running Out of Water!

Did you know the Cape Town is precariously close to running out of water! The second largest city in South Africa is experiencing the worst drought in recent decades. The city is working on mass water recycling programs to push back the current 100 days of water they have left.

Click here to find out more.

The Age of Environmental Discrimination

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day to remember his brave actions and those of others, actions that have allowed marginalized peoples in the western world to have a better chance at prosperity and the pursuit of happiness. It is crucial to reflect on how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go. As we reflect on historical discrimination and injustice, a new age of discrimination is being erected, the age of environmental discrimination. Read more

The Smartest Cities Are Green Cities

How do you convince 93% of your population to walk, bike, or take public transportation? You build a city that prioritizes energy conservation and clean energy generation. Check out this week’s Green Feed article to learn more about the innovative smart-city technologies that let the top green cities in the world lead the way to self sustaining urban life. Click here  to read more!

 

 

 

5 Products Every Environmentalist Needs

 We cannot ignore that large-scale change is necessary to mitigate the effects of climate change, but the reality is that we can’t all be full-time environmental activists. What we can easily do is make informed decisions about the products that we choose to engage with on the daily Because of this, I want to share some of my favourite eco-friendly products that are simply incorporated into daily life.

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