Economies are Natural

First off, reading the first two chapters of Jane Jacobs’ The Nature of Economies was slightly off-putting due to the choice of using a dialogue to explain her take on economies. The personal backgrounds and the interaction between the characters was very distracting when trying to comprehend the actual point and concepts that were constantly interrupted by the fictional novel taking place. I really don’t care if one of the characters can sense a book in the making or how many shrugs or grins were produced. I also don’t care for how many times the word “said” was used. I would take a dry textbook or peer reviewed article any day for learning more about an already abstract and complex topic such as economy over a creative writing assignment gone bad. At least they have illustrations and figures that make sense. I understand trying to make a dry subject like economics fun, but I felt this method was poorly executed.

However, I do have an interest in how economies are actually part of nature. I had taken a course last quarter, Economic Geography, and it was drilled into our minds that the concept of an economy is, as one of the characters describes, artificial and abstract. The concept is completely man made and separate from nature. Yet Jacobs explains how we focus so much on the things (the production and consumption of goods and services) that we forget about the process as a whole. Economy is defined as the wealth and resources of a country in terms of production and consumption, however it can also be defined as “careful management of available resources”.

An example of the management definition Jacobs uses is how early ecologists were actually botanists, who studied the  interdependence within plant communities and noticed how these communities functioned in a way that closely resembled an economic relationship. This reminds me of polyculture. Some plants are providing “services” such as shade for soil level plants  or stalks for vine plants to take hold in return for management of nutrient resources and water. Perhaps this is an avenue environmentalists can use to connect with economists when discussing issues that mix the two fields, such as the problem of consumerism culture. Environmental specialists and economists often do not get along due to greatly differing opinions, however if an environmental specialists are able to use economic terminology with an environmental twist, perhaps economists can take a step back and realize through the plant example that economies are part of nature therefore effects on nature must be considered.


Biomimicry: Improving Aerodynamics in Aviation

Biomimicry. It is defined as “the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes”. I had not previously heard the technical term for this concept until recently but was aware of the general notion as aviation and the very idea of flight was inspired by birds.

After viewing Janine Benyus’ TED Talks on Biomimicry, I explored the website she mentioned in her “Biomimicry in Action” called I came across an interesting short article that presented a compelling new design of an airfoil (a structure on aircraft wings to induce drag without losing too much lift) in a turbine type aircraft engine based off of a seal whisker, of all things. This design helps decrease the chance of the air coming away from the airfoil at high angles (stall), thus allowing the blade to have functionality at higher angles with more controlled airflows, creating more efficient and safer operating ranges. Although aircraft are generally part of the pollution problem, they are not going away anytime soon. A good starting point for making the machines more efficient, therefore using less fuel, is to perfect the aerodynamics. In fact, Airbus has a section of their website dedicated to biomimicry and how they incorporate these concepts into their designs. The best role model and source of inspiration is nature.

Comparison of sea lion and harbor seal whiskers.
sample airfoils
Airfoil blades

Sources: Janine Benyus: Mimicry in Action

Janine Benyus at the Circular Economy 100 Annual Summit

Janine Benyus:12 Sustainable Design Ideas from Nature

Seal Blade Low Drag Airfoil

AIRBUS Biomimicry