Nature’s secret to evolutionary success

By: Jaime Brown-Hansen and Yael Marantz

As we reflect on the current ecological, societal, political, economic and spiritual circumstances in the present day, it is clear that the need for reorganization is upon us.  A time of creation, of course, is equally a time of destruction.  We breathe life into new models by stepping into them, and old model dissolve as we step out of them, though for a time we may have a foot in each as we shift our weight from one to the other.  Either that, or the old model dissolves before we’ve found a new one to step into, which is the scarier projection, but we step forward anyway once we find we’re still here even after everything we knew before is not.

Either way, the breakdown of established constructs is a stripping away of the inessential, and beneath it all remains what has truly stood the test of time: the natural world.  Nature has built thriving, adaptive, regenerative systems for 3.8 billion years and continues to do so all around us.  Our biological species is as natural as any other, yet we are largely embedded in a social order that was shaped by our longstanding lack of conscious identification with nature.  This became especially obvious since the Industrial and Scientific Revolution when we learned, in Francis Bacon’s words, to  “torture nature for her secrets”. Science has led us in turn to a rational appreciation of the enormous degree to which we are in fact interconnected with the rest of nature, making it just as obvious today that the new order must be fundamentally premised on a re-connection of human and natural systems.

The recognition that we can also learn from nature’s designs to achieve regenerative human systems further supports the shift in our relationship from torture to nurture, from extraction to symbiosis, from valuing nature as a source of commodities to valuing her as the source of life.  Faced with our great global re-design challenge, there are simple and elegant solutions to be found all around us in the structures, patterns, strategies and organizing principles that have stood the test of time.  Nature already has the answers for regenerative design.  We just need to ask the right questions and learn how to listen again.
Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature's time tested patterns and strategies.  When we take our inspiration from nature, we are borrowing blueprints that have been through billions of years of research and development and the most rigorous proof of concept.  By listening to the wisdom of the living systems that have evolved over eons, we can channel our human creativity to solve design challenges not only sustainably, but regeneratively.

Despite the pervasive predator-prey relationships that keep populations in balance, living systems are fundamentally cooperative.  A living system is a body. We ourselves are a superorganism species, designed to evolve in community.  Like ants, we cannot survive separate from our colonies for long.  Drop the whole colony in a new habitat, however, and it will have a good chance of adapting to thrive.  Community is the mechanism of our adaptation and the reason both ants and humans thrive in every habitat on earth.  The superorganism community is a powerful evolutionary model.  All species, moreover, are part of a larger planetary superorganism.  We evolve in community not just with each other, but with the entire body of life.

Acting in small communities was the original secret to our evolutionary success, and we are reclaiming it. Thousands of communities all over the world, some traditional and emergent, some contemporary and intentional, are cultivating direct interdependence with each other and their local ecosystems, both inside and outside urban contexts.  This is known to many as the global ecovillage movement, and it is the model of social organisation most fully reflecting our evolutionary process as a biological species today. With our material dominance comes a responsibility. As human beings, having taken over the globe, our job is to re-imagine our systems to support the body of life.  Human and natural systems are now mutually interdependent, and evolution is an inescapable partnership between human and biological intelligence. 

Biomimicry is the translation between human and natural systems. Applied to modern social organisation, the biomimicry approach points to a bottom-up model of networked communities rooted in local ecologies. This concept is consistent with the ecovillage movement––a colourful array of communities, internationally networked into a permaculture landscape of global development. Like the rest of the natural world, ecovillages are diverse, decentralised, locally attuned and adapted, self-organised, and premised on cooperative relationships.  

As bioinspired solutions to social organisation, ecovillages reflect the most elegant, efficient and sustainable strategies for living within the operating conditions of this planet. They constitute a foundation of social organisation for the mature human species and a way forward through our evolutionary knothole. 


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