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Biomimicry Superstars to Speak at 24th Annual Bioneers Conference
As 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.
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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A new report by Greenpeace International pinpointed the world's worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, an irritant gas that harms human health. India has seized the top spot from Russia and China, contributing nearly 15 percent of global sulfur dioxide emissions.
The huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about donations to the Amazon Fund. LeoFFreitas / Moment / Getty Images
By Sue Branford and Thais Borges
Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:
Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."
According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.
The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.
But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.
The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.
Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.
An Uncertain Future
The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.
Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.
There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.
Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).
Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.
One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).
Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."
Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.
The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.
The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."
Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.
Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr
Alternative Amazon Funding
Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.
In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.
Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."
Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."
Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.
Council of Hemispheric Affairs
Looming International Difficulties
The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.
In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.
But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."
The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."
Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.
Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.
Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY
Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."
Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.
Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."
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