Biomimicry Offers Bright Light in Climate Solution Space

Photo courtesy Ralph Ravi Kayden via Unsplash.

I have been bitterly aware of the climate crisis ever since I was a child.

It was a dark cloud of inevitable doom that always hung above me, constantly reminding me that our beautiful home is being destroyed, and that humans are the underlying cause.

When I attended UC Santa Cruz for Environmental Studies, this cloud became darker and more persistent. I took classes on ecology, evolution, sustainable development, and conservation biology. It became very clear that we are facing global challenges, and they are only going to get more prevalent in my generation and beyond. I desperately wanted to do something to create positive change, but the problems were so overwhelming and frightening. How could I actually make a difference? Would it really matter?

When I first found biomimicry, my entire perspective changed.

While at UCSC, I helped to organize an Earth Summit event at UCSC, and our keynote speaker talked about biomimicry — specifically about the Biomimicry Design Challenge. A team of students, some even younger than me at the time, created a refrigeration unit based on a series of organisms including insects, that could keep perishables cold for a few days without any electricity. This idea had the potential to change lives in rural areas around the world that do not have consistent access to energy. I was astonished that this incredible idea was created based on a few seemingly simple organisms. At this moment the proverbial light bulb turned on in my head. Everything shifted, and the cloud of despair dissipated.

We share Earth with millions of other species, and we have so much to learn from them. This hopeful and humble perspective changed my life. By learning about and from nature, we are better equipped to create life-friendly designs and become better neighbors — to each other and our non-human relatives — on this planet we call home.

All of the solutions we need to survive and adapt to the climate crisis already exist in the natural world. Nature has solved every challenge we currently face, and has had millions of years to refine and perfect these designs. From agriculture, architecture, transportation, communication, medicine, and everything in between, Nature has “figured it out” over the last 3.8 billion years of life. Since learning about biomimicry for the first time more than seven years ago, I have spent most of my waking moments immersed in understanding and translating nature’s design strategies.

While learning from nature is an ancient practice, the biomimicry methodology is a relatively new academic and professional field. There are now biomimicry education programs emerging all over the world, from K-12 lesson plans to undergraduate and graduate degrees. During my undergraduate studies, I was one of the lucky few who got to be part of the UCSC Education for Sustainable Living Program, where I spent one quarter developing course content for a biomimicry class that I proposed, and the next quarter facilitating this course for about ten other undergraduates. We spent many days in the redwood forest and at the arboretum, observing and exploring natural forms, processes and systems. This teaching experience was so transformative for me that I wrote my undergraduate thesis on “Integrating Biomimicry Into Higher Education: Designing and Developing a Biomimicry Minor for UCSC”. About a year after I graduated, I enrolled in the biomimicry Master’s program at ASU, and it was that same undergraduate thesis that landed me the Program Coordinator job at The Biomimicry Center. Here, I worked alongside Dayna Baumeister, a world-renowned biomimic and leader in the field, to design and launch one of the first undergraduate biomimicry programs… talk about full-circle.

I am now embarking on the next chapter of my journey. As part of my final capstone for the graduate program in 2020, I researched forest networks and ecosystem resilience to disasters (floods, fires, etc.). This sparked the idea for a disaster management platform that has the potential to revolutionize how human communities build resilience in the face of climate chaos. One of my committee members, Aaron Butler, and I co-founded Brilliant By Nature together and are now pursuing getting this project, NeighborNET, to market as soon as possible.

Here’s the thing I’ve realized: we don’t need to invent ourselves out of the climate crisis by using the same approach that got us here in the first place. Biomimicry encourages us to step away from the traditional doomsday, guilt-driven narrative, and instead invites us to “quiet our cleverness” (Janine Benyus), “tap into the genius of nature” (Dayna Baumeister), and look to the natural world for inspiration and guidance as we build, design, and create life-friendly and enduring innovations.

Biomimicry is a beautiful and impactful practice that will light our way on the path to a brighter future for all.

Brilliant by Nature Co-Founder and CEO

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Lily Urmann

Lily Urmann

Brilliant by Nature Co-Founder and CEO

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