Environmental speaker discusses eco-politics and reciprocal biomimicry

Ellie Hislop, Staff Writer

The majority of man-made environmental issues can only be mended by man-made solutions. There is no time machine to reverse the effects of climate change and global warming.

Jonathon Keats, an artist, writer, and experimental philosopher, met with faculty and students on March 7 to discuss rainforests and eco-politics, and later in the evening led a student workshop using reciprocal biomimicry to build prototypes and create models out of recyclable materials.

The University’s Center for Sustainability and the Environment hosted an event at Bucknell Hall on March 8, during which Keats led a discussion on reciprocal biomimicry. The Reciprocal Biomimicry Initiative will be exhibited at the Samek Art Museum’s Downtown Gallery from March 7 to June 4, 2017.

Keats described how biomimicry technology has been utilized to create drones to guide bird migrations, wave-powered LED lights to feed coral reefs, and modified turtle camouflage for an urban environment. Scientists are working to engineer these technologies in attempt to reverse the impact of temperature changes on local ecosystems.

“None of these are necessarily good ideas; in fact, they are all somewhat of a travesty to me,” Keats said.

One of the biggest problems of designing solutions for climate change, according to Keats, is that the environment never stands still.

“In a world of changing climate, one of the key problems that comes up is everything becomes less predictable. Therefore, we are working to create resilient structures to account for these irregularities,” Keats said.

For example, cloud cover affects plants’ access to sunlight, affecting the process of photosynthesis. As a result, scientists have invented ways of providing these organisms with an alternate energy source. He went on to explain how the entire planet is a singular system which should be be thought of holistically, and how the continuous cycle of innovation that fuels the capitalist system is only perpetuating the degradation of the environment.

“Technology is increasingly the thing we turn to in order to solve problems caused by other technologies,” Keats said. “My hope is that by focusing on which organisms invent these technologies, for example the kingfisher’s pointed nose being applied to bullet trains’ technology for entering tunnels, the designs for that technology can be patented by the organisms themselves.”

Keats questioned the possibility of stating that the kingfisher, rather than humans, helped patent the bullet train design.

“If these technologies could be licensed and the money then be given to the kingfishers, these organisms would then have an intellectual and legal stake in the world and be acknowledged by humans,” Keats said.

Those who attended Keats’ workshops reacted to the ideas of biomimicry and the concerns he presented about the environment.

“There are so many people on our planet and so many problems that it can be overwhelming to contemplate how we as individual people could effect any positive change. I appreciate Jonathon’s approach to creative thinking—using a combination of science, art, technology, and lived experience—to imagine what we might do,” Carol High, operations manager at the University’s Center for Sustainability and the Environment, said.

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