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SUSTAINABLE TECHNOLOGY AND ENGINEERING: BIOMIMICRY

The Prince of Wales picks up, in particular, in his approach to nature and harmony, from a technological perspective, on an approach to engineering called biomimicry (11), which means the imitation of life. Life on Earth, in fact, has been in the business of solving the complex challenges of survival for more than 3.5 billion years. It seems to him, therefore, that the more we understand the innovations that have resulted from this process, the more we realize that many of the solutions that must be mobilized to meet the needs of our expanding population without destroying the natural world that sustains us, have already been invented – not by scientists and engineers, but through the aeons of trials and tests that have taken place in nature.

One example, close to one of the author's (Ronnie Lessem) Zimbabwean home, is the Eastgate Centre in Harari, designed by local architect Mick Pearce (12). Constructed in the early 1980s, this commercial building embodies design features developed over millions of years by termites. The remarkable thing about this ordinary-looking structure is that despite the tropical altitude at which it is built, it has no electricity-powered air-conditioning. It stays cool thanks to the ventilation system invented by the termite Macrtermes michaelseni. These little insects build mounds that are self-cooling and these maintain the temperature inside the nest to within one degree of 31 degrees centigrade day and night. Another of innumerable examples, which could reduce environmental pollution, is the development of alternatives to traditional paints. The next time you see a brightly coloured butterfly and give the graceful creature hardly a second thought, just remember that on its delicate wings it might carry, not just the body of an apparently insignificant insect, but also the means to do away with chemical pigments. Some butterflies contain an alternative to the kinds of pigments found in paints. Many of their brighter colours are not colours at all but the result of an illusion created by tiny layers of membrane, in the nano-structures of their wing scales, that interfere with the light. We now finally, in this vision of a harmonically inspired Renaissance, turn to sustainable economics and environment.

SUSTAINABLE ECONOMICS AND ENVIRONMENT

After many years of investigation, Prince Charles is now convinced that inspiration from nature could be the basis for a new industrial, and indeed economic revolution. Unlike the coal-powered one that began in the 18th century, this would be part of the Sustainability Revolution rooted in building harmonious relationships with our planet's life-support systems, her rhythms and her cycles.

In effect, nature holds so many of the real solutions to our crisis of sustainability, agriculturally and medically, technologically and economically, if only we take the time to look for them. Changing our approach to economics, and the environment, is a huge task, but it is a vital one, and a challenge we need to rise to. Perhaps, therefore, there is a need to move towards the kind of economic thinking that promotes quality of life, he says – drawing on the work of America's ecological economist, Herman Daly (13) – rather than simply the quantity of consumption. GDP growth was an idea in its time, as we have seen, a mid-20th-century concept that fitted the circumstances of the era in which it was conceived, but now the challenges are different, and, for Prince Charles, we need new economic tools to deal with them.

 
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