Vail Daily column: Working with nature, not against it
The Industrial Revolution gave humans unprecedented power over nature, more than ever before. People became less dependent on natural forces. We gained the ability to override nature to accomplish what we needed to get done — a very selfish mindset that persists to this day.
Nature operates according to a system of nutrients and metabolism where there is no such thing as waste. Humans essentially created this idea of waste through our linear, cradle-to-grave system. Nature doesn’t have a design problem — we do. The infamous Titanic was designed to pour waste into the water and put smoke into the sky. The Titanic, along with most products we see today, tried to create its own rules contrary to those of nature. Industrialists did not view this design, as well as many other designs, as part of a larger system. Natural systems take from the environment, but they also give something back. A lot of what we do today takes from nature, but we can’t keep taking without some sort of consequence. It’s time to start giving back.
Nature’s Beautiful Design
This is where the book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” by Michael Braungart and William McDonough, comes in handy. This book focuses on what we can do to work with nature rather than constantly designing products that go against natural systems. As scientists, we are usually focused on the problem, not the solution. We are trained in analysis instead of synthesis. We can tell you all about the potential negative effects of a problem, but we lack the environmental knowledge to be able to work with nature’s design as it exists. This book acknowledges and describes this intricate and complex design, as well as nature’s cradle to cradle cycle.
This book was designed with the cradle to cradle mindset. The material used to create the pages and book cover are made of polymer material which also makes the pages of the book waterproof. The ink can be washed off the page by using a simple safe chemical so the paper can be reused for another purpose. The ink on the page is also non-toxic and doesn’t smudge. Even the glue is made of compatible ingredients so that the book can be recycled in one step.
Transferring to a cradle-to-cradle system as our basic design system would enable us to mimic nature’s biological systems which have nourished this planet for millions of years. It was once the only system on Earth and every living thing on the planet was an integral part of it. Growth was good. It meant more trees, more species, greater diversity and more complex resilient ecosystems.
We need to go back to a system that works in harmony with, instead of against, nature’s rules. In order for this to happen, we need a paradigm shift in the way we think about how we design, distribute and use products. Right now eco-efficiency is the solution, but this is just a temporary solution. Currently, our goal is to add more value to goods and/or services while using fewer resources and releasing less pollutants; but this is only prolonging the greater existing problem because waste is still a factor in the equation.
There are many examples of cradle-to-cradle solutions, and some that this book offers include:
• Instead of banning incinerators, make products in such a way that they can be burned safely without harming the environment.
• Produce biodegradable soles for shoes.
• Take advantage of roofs by creating green roofs. Green roofs help stabilize temperature to keep a city cooler, are more attractive, save money, provide habitat for wildlife, could potentially grow food and flowers for aesthetics, and help create carbon sequestration.
We need to acknowledge that solutions such as these will take time and that change is difficult. But once we start putting the right foot forward, giving back to nature and restoring the natural world around us, instead of exploiting it, we will begin to contribute to the feedback loops around us in positive ways. This represents a dramatic shift in how our culture functions. For this to happen, we need to begin by fostering a sense of humility and by learning from and respecting nature instead of dominating it.
Emily Brown is a naturalist and sustainability intern at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon. She loves inspiring all ages to understand and appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds them.