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Biomockery: let's study nature so we can kill ourselves!

Biomockery: let's study nature so we can kill ourselves!

I am a fan of biomimicry, but as I have posted before (here and here) and fear I likely will be forced to again (since we are, in fact, we humans, The Smartest Monkeys) I am NOT a supporter of twisting this noble practice for nefarious deeds.

I’ve unearthed from the unsavory depths of humanity’s dark underbelly the latest example of what I am calling “Biomockery”: innovations based on nature’s lessons and guidance used for ill (i.e. weaponry, poison, habitat destruction, havoc-wreaking, and general death-dealing). This one, like my previous post on the topic, comes gift-wrapped from our grinning friends in the U.S. military.

Yes, the Office of Scientific Research of the U.S. Air Force is studying bats (and birds and insects) that can fly in all kinds of difficult weather and still maintain their balance, agility, and adaptability. Why? Why else?! To mimic the characteristics of these supreme fliers in new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) – you know, flying robots the military uses to perform reconnaissance as well as attack missions.

But wait! Our fly-boys are getting help from researchers at Brown University and the University of Michigan, so they’re not going it alone. College can kill, too, you know.

My source material states: “Bats, the only mammals that can fly, have fluid wings that are nearly as dexterous as human hands. They are also able to withstand very strong wind gusts. The research teams are studying these two areas in particular…Wing flexibility will be a key component of the future UAV’s.”

Cool. Let’s copy it so we can kill some other people with different colored skin without putting our own skin at risk. Yes, I know this research and implementation may eventually trickle down to the private sector and be used for more peaceful, more mindful, more ecologically sound endeavors – and I know the military has more money than, well, God, so they get to do the research first. But, I’ve said it before and will say it again – “Scientists: please use your biomimicry powers for good!” – and if you decide not to, please don’t call it “biomimicry” – call it what it is: biomockery.

An Adbusters "One Flag Competition" entry from Rory Brady of London.

An Adbusters "One Flag Competition" entry from Rory Brady of London.

Here’s another clearly subversive yet wholly inclusive idea from Adbusters: design a flag that represents global citizenship. The “One Flag Competition” combines individual creativity with global community to powerful effect. Here’s the call to action:

“We invite you to create a flag – free from language and well-worn clichés – that embodies the idea of global citizenship. A symbol that triggers pride and cohesion, whether worn on a backpack, displayed on a door, or flown on a flagpole. A symbol for anyone to declare membership in a growing and vital human cooperative. We invite you to prove that design has a real role to play in the fate of our world.”

I’ve looked through the flags and voted. It was a tough choice as they are all provocative and compelling. Looking through the gallery made me long for a global flag that would fly over us all, reminding us to pledge allegiance to our fellow humans, our fellow creatures, our glorious ecosystems, our potential evolution here together – and to stop kneeling before economies, military might, and the trappings of empire. Go vote and be inspired!

(photo by David Gonzales, New York Times)

After my last post I went surfing (swimming?) around to learn more about pools, New York City and big community ideas. It led me to yet another example of looking to the past for inspiration, finding multiple uses for a single space, bringing people together for recreation and camraderie, and, yes, heavy doses of creativity and persistence.

Case in point: the floating pool. Based on the floating pools of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that were moored in the East and Hudson rivers in New York, the 21st Century version came to life last year.

It promotes community (free recreation for New York City neighborhood residents). It’s shell and framework is an old barge (sustainable reuse). It encourages use of public space and our park system (it is part of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy). It solves land use limits (Real estate for public use too expensive or non-existent? Create “land” on the water!). The innovations of this approach go on and on.

Come on in! The creative water’s fine.


I saw this Treehugger post recently and thought it was a fine example of creativity meeting sustainability and a truly third way – head on in a perfect blend.

Much of what the Works Progress Administration (WPA) did in the 1930’s involved building and renovating new parks and public pools. For many years I benefited from some of those programs every time I hiked through Devil’s Den State Park in Northwest Arkansas. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), part of the efforts of the WPA, built Devil’s Den (just as they did for so many other parks at that time) and each time anyone steps on the trails or sleeps in the cabins in the park they are enjoying the work of the CCC – over 70 years after those paths were cleared and those stones were set.

The idea that caught my attention in the recent Treehugger piece involved pools. Specifically the massive public pools built during the Depression. The people who designed the pools clearly thought about how those public spaces could be enjoyed all the time, not just during the summer months when it was warm enough to swim, wade and sun bathe with neighbors (or your whole neighborhood – simultaneously, in fact – by the look of these huge facilities).

The architects developed designs that allowed the pools to transform when drained. The empty pools became fall and winter spaces for paddle tennis, shuffleboard, volleyball, basketball, and handball – even roller skating rinks. The indoor locker rooms and changing areas for the pools were adapted for boxing instruction and evening dance halls for teens. Mind you, this was before skateboards, or they might have turned them into off-season skate parks.

Space and resources were not wasted. Year-round community-building was encouraged. A sense of having created something worthwhile and versatile was instilled.

Our country has just passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It is very much like the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 that funded the Works Progress Administration. This time around will we use our resources wisely? Will we come up with flexible solutions that work for our citizens in all seasons – and for decades to come? Will we invest in projects that build community and culture in innovative, practical ways?

I hope so because that’s the kind of stimulus we need.