Everyday Enviro with Elise: what nature can teach us

Everyday Enviro with Elise: what nature can teach us

By Elise Catterall  September 15th, 2023

Elise asks what we can learn from the resilence and adaptability of the natural world that we can apply to modern environmental challenges


We often talk about how much there is to celebrate in nature – diversity, beauty, etc. Personally, something I marvel over, and feel we all should celebrate, is just how much nature has to teach us.

Nature teaches us big concepts and small. The big concepts are things like interconnectedness, balance, resilience, sustainability, circularity and adaptability. In nature we see symbiosis and cooperation – whether it be sharing resources or protecting one another, the cooperation we see in nature demonstrates that we need to live in harmony and work together to solve problems and build a better world.

We see balance - between predator and prey, between living and nonliving - and that when things are out of balance, there is a ripple effect that travels through entire ecosystems (because everything is connected). We can learn from the resilience that nature shows to all sorts of challenges, its adaptability that allows it to survive in new conditions and environments –these can be used to build our own resilience and adaptability, being open to change and finding new ways to thrive in a changing world.

Nature is also a master of sustainability – resources aren’t wasted, materials are repurposed (leaves are a good example – they are shed, then decompose to provide nutrients for soil which allows them to grow again), behaviours are purposeful. We can all definitely learn from that.

Along with these big concepts, there are dozens of small concepts that nature can teach us. The amazing text, Industry of Nature, explores biomimetics, and details the many ways nature offers solutions to humans needs. A simple example is the early development of flying machines, which were, of course, modelled on birds.

Some other examples of biomimetics include the following:

  • The exceptional adhesive quality of the bacteria Caulobacter crescentus has applications for medicine due to its resistance to salt water (and therefore body fluids).

  • The flower heads of burdock have hook-like structures that grip readily and strongly. Imitating these flower heads is what lead to the invention of Velcro.

  • The aerodynamics of the beak of the Kingfisher inspired the design of the Japanese high-speed train, the Shinkansen.

  • The eyes of a bee cover 300 degrees and allow it to fly without collision. By mimicking this, Nissan has developed a crash avoidance system that imitates a bee’s ability to avoid obstacles during flight.

  • In response to rising sea levels, technology has been developed to produce floating cities that can hold thousands of residents. This technology was developed based on the Victoria amazonica – the giant water lily.

  • The torpedo ray (Torpedo nobiliana, also known as the electric ray) helped develop an understanding of the production, conduction, and distribution of electricity. In fact, it is believed that the Torpedo ray inspired and informed Alessandro Volta’s invention of the electric battery.

  • By mimicking the behaviour of King Penguin, great improvements in agro-food preservation techniques could be realised. Male King Penguins have the ability to conserve food in their stomachs, without digestion, for months. The mechanism to achieve this has been identified and now a patent has been registered.

  • The humble sunflower inspired a system of solar panels that follow the sun, vastly increasing their capture of solar energy.

The examples go on and on making it very clear that by paying attention to, and protecting and revering nature, we can find solutions to many of our problems and ultimately live in a more sustainable and harmonious way.

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.


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Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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