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FEATURES/Environment Special | Jun 15, 2012 | 4033 views

Surrounded with Solutions From Nature

The problems of today can be turned into opportunities. The key is to draw inspiration from nature

The mega industries are stuck in the straitjacket of ‘core business’ and large coffee processing companies will claim that they are not in the mushroom business and, therefore, forego this opportunity to produce food cheaply. If all 25 million coffee farmers in the world were to convert their waste to food then we could generate an additional 50 million jobs (two per farm) and generate as much cholesterol-free food for human consumption as the whole fish farming industry today. And that is only coffee!

The key is to inspire ourselves by nature. There is so much knowledge and wisdom, it is embarrassing how the industrialised modern ‘homo sapiens’ behave. It looks more like we belong to the ‘homo non sapiens’ class.

Once people are exposed to the opportunities, they will quickly convert these into the industries of tomorrow. Of course, do not expect this to happen in the industrialised world, in the centres of power, but do expect the shifts to occur in the periphery.

Take the example of slaughterhouse waste, converted by maggots into protein and high-quality wound treatment products. Just in Africa, this would represent 5,00,000 jobs while eliminating the health hazards related to the inappropriate management of animal waste. The project was first started in Porto Novo, Benin by the Songhai Center; now the first extension is being implemented in Cape Town and hundreds will pop up in the next few years just like it happened with the coffee/mushroom farms.

I am often asked whether humanity can survive climate change. Of course, we can. We will need to change our mental framework, evolving from seeing excessive carbon dioxide or CO2 as a problem and turning it into an opportunity.

We need to shift from looking at substituting one product with another less polluting one. It is only when we make a fundamental shift in our production and consumption behaviour that there is a chance to reverse the trends.

It means we have to change the business models. If we substitute 1,00,000 tonnes of metals and titanium with silk as has been demonstrated scientifically and commercially, then we need to plant two million hectares of mulberry trees. These trees replenish topsoil and permit barren land to start farming after about 10 years. Then we substitute a massive net emission of CO2 by a massive net sequestration of CO2, while increasing performance and turning non-renewable products into renewable ones.

If we embrace the standard of coal, oil and gas, and rely on mining for our economic development then the developing world will also tire out alongside the industrialised nations. We embrace a simple principle: Use what you have. Now at first that seems to imply that there is no future and no opportunity, but that is because we do not see, we are myopic and do not realise that there are multiple energy sources.

In order to break through this blindness I always start by sharing with children how the whale succeeds in pumping 1,000 litres of blood with every heart beat using just six volts of power and keeps up the performance for 80 years without maintenance. If the whale can outperform all pumps that our engineers designed, who will inspire children—the whale or the engineer?

We need to shift our thinking from what is reality today to what is the vision for tomorrow. And in order to shape that vision we need to source ourselves in the world of nature. While adults will classify this as fantasy, reality is different indeed.

(As told to Dinesh Narayanan)


This article appeared in the Forbes India magazine issue of 22 June, 2012
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Comments (1)
Oscar Ayala Jun 16, 2012
Gunter ideas are simple and basic, yet very powerful. Greed and the lust for power have deviated goverments, companies and people from the essence of life. We must learn to live and be happy with what we have, not competing and struggling for having more and more. Lets look where we and our planet are now and lets go back to basics and find new, cooperative ways to work together, in peace, sharing, adding up, not competing. This is the message that THE BLUE ECONOMY conveys to the world.
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