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Bioneers

By Kenny Ausubel

bioFIAs forest fires raged this summer near our New Mexico mountain home, I set about securing valuables. Because my truly valuable possessions are my books, files and papers—knowledge and records—I undertook a massive purge to winnow and protect the keepers. That’s when I came across a letter from 1997 from Janine Benyus, who identified herself as “writer” on a home-printed Montana letterhead.

Since Bioneers’ inception in 1990, technology modeled on nature had been a primary inspiration and perennial cornerstone of the conference program. Benyus wrote us: “After finding your page on the Internet, I feel sure that you will appreciate Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. It’s a report from the birthing rooms of a new science inspired by nature. Biomimics, like bioneers, are studying and mimicking nature’s designs and processes to solve human problems.”

Benyus wondered if she could speak at our 1997 conference. She did, and the rest is history. Although we had been using terms such as “biomorphic” and “mimicking nature,” Benyus gave this emerging design science the name “biomimicry.” Today she is rightly regarded as the godmother of the field, which is now starting to go mainstream and will transform the entire paradigm of design science by asking the deceptively simple question: how would nature do it?

Benyus will join us as part of the biomimcry superstar lineup at the 2013 National Bioneers Conference. She’ll share her cutting-edge research into how biological networks can inform human networks. Networks are nature’s primary form of organization, and global action networks are today emerging as the best organizational human design to address the failure of our current institutions to meet the magnitude and complexity of the challenges we face.

Benyus will also illuminate the astonishing tipping point that biomimicry has reached in educational systems—more than 200 colleges and universities now have departments—in no small part because of the brilliant work of her nonprofit institute Biomimicry 3.8. She’ll also give an eagle’s eye view of which sectors the business and science breakthroughs are occurring in.

bioneers

Another dear colleague and old friend, Jay Harman of PAX Scientific, will present the business case for biomimicry. Harman first spoke at Bioneers in 2006, transfixing the room with how he applied nature’s favorite form—the spiral—to technology and industrial design. Harman’s new page-turner of a book, The Shark’s Paintbrush: Biomimicry and How Nature Is Inspiring Innovation, depicts how rapidly business is embracing nature’s designs. He’ll describe some of his latest innovations for cleaning up wastewater from gas fracking, as well as introduce a potentially sane biomimicry geo-engineering approach to slowing down climate change.

As green building started to go mainstream, Jason McClennan launched the Living Building Challenge to raise the bar to where it ought to be—meeting or exceeding nature’s own services. He first presented the challenge at Bioneers in 2009 when it was just beginning to get interest from architects. Now it’s well-known around the world, provoking jaw-dropping creativity and blowing away the limits of our own imagination of what’s possible. The latest gold standard is the Bullitt Center in Seattle, a six-story commercial office building that’s now the greenest building in the world. In the least sunny city in the U.S., it will generate all of its energy from photovoltaics, has no need for a sewer connection, and gets normal commercial rental rates. McClennan and the challenge won the 2012 Buckminster Fuller Challenge Award for helping popularize these kinds of projects.

Which brings us to David McConnville, chairman of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, who will expand the frame to the outer limits with “Cosmomimicry.” Inspired by Fuller’s dictum: “start with the universe,” he’ll illustrate how our sense of our place in the cosmos has evolved over the centuries, as well as our ways of thinking. Co-founder of The Elumenati, a design and engineering firm that creates custom installations for clients from art festivals to space agencies, McConnville has developed extraordinary immersive visualization environments inspired by Fuller’s Geoscope.

At the conference you’ll want to experience the Whibey Geodome McConnville helped design, which makes a return appearance to Bioneers thanks to the New Stories Foundation, Lynnea Lumbard and Raz Ingrasci. Combining interactive storytelling with immersive visualizations of the latest scientific data from NASA, NOAA and elsewhere, the Geodome provides a big picture context demonstrating the profound interconnectedness and interdependence of ecosystems at multiple scales, and inspires participants to reflect on humanity’s function in the cosmos at this unique time in history. It’s designed to facilitate dialogues about what it takes to increase the resilience of communities and bioregions. It’s invaluable for educators and students—and every one of us.

In the realm of “social biomimicry,” Nalini Nadkarni is another world-renowned figure who has drawn profound lessons from nature applicable to human affairs. Director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at the University of Utah, she’s widely known as “The Queen of the Forest Canopy” for her groundbreaking research on the ecology of tropical and temperate forest canopies. A powerful communicator, she has reached out to people from all walks of life—children, urban youth, doctors, athletes, artists, religious leaders, policy makers, legislators, and incarcerated men and women—to share her insights about the invaluable lessons the natural world can offer our species.

These biomimicry superstars will electrify us as we witness the paradigm shift live in real time right before our eyes. This field has moved from a gleam in the eye in 1990 to action and now to traction, in no small part because of the brilliant vision and dedication of these courageous visionaries. To hear all these gifted speakers all in one place, register for the National Bioneers Conference.

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

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