Biomimicry: Most of the answers will come from nature. We just need to tune in.

Biomimicry is a new science. It is the study of nature's 3.8 billion years of design perfection: many of the answers we need as we create a sustainable future are already in nature.  We have learned so little of what nature has to teach. The wheel is present in the propelling mechanism of ancient bacteria. Every single leaf on every single tree creates energy from the sun at 95% efficiency: we can do up to 30%.  Mother of pearl (50 times stronger than our kiln fired ceramics) self assembles in the ocean.  Throuh biomimicry, a Japanese train engine has been designed in shape like the Kingfisher beak, to travel with greater efficiency through the underground system   Nothing sticks to a lotus leaf: we have now created a paint with the same characteristic. Biomimicry is an exciting science and will hopefully lead to a newfound respect for nature, beyond the aesthetic, emotional, awe inspiring, health, service and other reasons that nature is so important.

Reconnecting with the natural world is crucial to the creation of an ecologically sustainable human society

Obesity. Television. Computer games. Human constructed city environments.  Buildings with no natural light or air flow. Cars. Food ready made, processed and wrapped in polystyrene. Increasing mental illness, asthma, cancer and other health conditions.  Increasing poverty, homelessness and less full time employment.  A “Gross Domestic Product” that shows our economic wealth rising every year and a “Genuine Progress Indicator” that shows our happiness and wellbeing dropping every year.  Local and global ecological systems showing serious signs of collapse.  Our children are growing up into this world, which is also a world which thinks that nature bites, hurts, is wet, is cold, stings and is ‘unsafe’. 

There is now a defined health condition in our young people called “Nature Deficit Disorder” which describes how children are spending less time outdoors, resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. Indeed, many young people with Attention Deficit Disorder lose the symptoms when in nature. The father of “Biodiversity” E.O Wilson coined the term “Biophilia,” which describes our innate desire to be near and our love of, nature after millions of years of evolution IN nature.  And we are in nature.  Dr Suzuki says that as human beings we are created out of the elements of the earth ...

"There is no environment 'out there' and we are 'over here' needing to manage our relationship with the environment ," he said.  "We are in the environment. We take a breath of air and some of that air stays in us. We are the environment. We cannot draw a line that marks where the air ends and I begin. There is no line. The air is stuck to us and circulating through our bodies. We are air. It is a part of us and it is in us. Air is not a vacuum or empty space but a physical substance. We are embedded in a matrix of air and if you are air and I am air then I am you, we are a part of this single layer that encompasses the planet. We are embedded in that air with the trees, the birds, the worms and the snakes, which are all a part of that web of living things held together by the atmosphere or the air. Every breath we take has millions of atoms that were once in the bodies of Joan of Arc and Jesus Christ. Every breath you take has millions of atoms that were in the bodies of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Every breath you take will suffuse life forms as far as we can see into the future. So air, surely, deserves to be seen as a sacred substance.  We are air. Everything we do to air, we do to ourselves. Every one of us is at least 60% water by weight, we’re just a big blob of water with enough organic thickener added to keep from dribbling away on the floor.  When you take a drink of water you think it is London water.  But in reality the hydrological cycle cartwheels water around the planet and any drink you take, wherever you are, has [some] molecules from every ocean on the planet, the canopy of the Amazon, the steppes of Russia. We are water. Whatever we do to water we do to ourselves. We are the earth because every bit of our food was once alive. In North America over 95% of our food is grown on the land. We are the earth through the food that we consume. We are the earth, and whatever we do to it we do to ourselves. And we are fire because every bit of the energy in our bodies that we need to grow, move or reproduce is sunlight. Sunlight is captured by plants through photosynthesis and we then acquire it by eating the plants or the animals that eat the plants. When we burn that energy we release the sun’s energy back into ourselves. We are created by the four sacred elements, earth, air, fire and water and that is the way that we should frame our approach to ‘environmental problems’.”

We must reconnect. Humble ourselves a bit and realise that we are a part of some pretty amazing interdependant and interconnected and finite natural systems.  Reconnect personally: sit under a tree or by the river a bit. Take our kids to the bush and wonder at it. Let them jump in the muddy puddles and climb on the rocks. Reconnect professionally: we must relearn how to live on this planet using natures operating systems.  This means designing our products, services and way of life around reality (see Biomimicry above).

Environmental education is defined as being “About” the Environment, “For” the environment and “In” the environment.  The “In” may be the most important driver for change. We can be given a million pages of ‘sustainable living tips,’ hear constantly about global ecological breakdown, be bored or agitated by government policy wrangling, but unless we are in the natural world and feeling, engaging, valuing, wondering and imagining – we may not act. 

 "If we all grew our own vegetables I reckon we would not have our major environmental problems as we would all have our hands in the soil and be connected to the seasons and the natural rhythms of life.”

- Peter Cundell, Gardening Australia

Let's drop the 'greenie' tag already

We are all on the path to ecological sustainability. Everyone in every home, workplace, school and community simply must make ecological sustainability a major part of their life.  The opposite is unthinkable.  We each make hundreds of decisions every day that have an impact on water, waste, energy and biodiversity through our food, our homes, our transport, our purchasing and our work.  The days of the token, extra environmental project or person are gone.  It is about survival. It is about the business bottom line. It is core to success. CEOs in suits, mums and dads, truck drivers, students, grandparents, yuppie couples and milk bar managers must pull out all stops to create a sustainable future. So let's get over the old adversarial 'greenie' label and just get on with it.  Next time someone at your workplace tries to raise an ecological sustainability idea – let's not label and marginalise: promote them!

Ecological sustainability education: wisdom v's information

The 'Community Based Social Marketing' mob from Canada have studied the behaviour change impact of 'informational brochures' delivered to a community. Guess what, there is no behaviour change. Zero. As John Cleese once said, 'nothing, not a sausage.' The same goes for the "Sage on Stage" lecture: we retain 5% of what we hear.  Frank Ryan, (founder and principal of Vox Bandicoot and creator of the best community environmental education program in the world, Sustainability Street: buy the Sustainability Street book online, free for communities and students and too cheap for others!) says, "today's information is tomorrow's fish and chip wrapper."  What we need is human scale "Guide Beside" education that inspires, engages, empowers, motivates, excites and captures the heart. Education focussed on people and where they are at. That is built upon relationships, respect and values.  That is participatory, collaborative, open ended and enables everyone to be a teacher and a learner.  Frank Ryan also says that we need experts "on Tap, not on Top"! And last, but not least - it must be fun. Brochures, lectures or adverts in the paper have to try very hard to be fun! Yes, it is more expensive. Yes, it has greater risk. Yes, it requires a solid understanding of education, of communication, of presentation skills and of people. And yes, the result is powerful.

On hope ...

Let me say this. We have a wonderful opportunity to recreate the way we live on this earth in the next twenty years - starting now. The science is clear - we must eliminate waste and pollution. The writing is on the wall. It requires thoughtful and fast change from global protocols to playgroups to the individual.  The opposite of an ecologically sustainable future is unthinkable. The challenges in creating an ecologically sustainable future are clear and huge. 

And what is that future? Imagine your home or workplace creates excess renewable energy, collects,  treats and celebrates its own water flows, has eliminated the concept of waste and now produces inputs for upcycling into industry or the soil, creates habitat for local native plants and animals, celebrates natural light and air flows, releases oxygen, sequesters carbon and gains insulation from the grass roof.  Walking, cycling and hydrogen fuelled public transport are the main forms of transport as our local places are designed for people and connection. The buildings and the people in and around them are completely connected to local place and culture. Goods and services come from an effective and inspired local economy that is about growth - growth of what is good - human and ecological health, connection, diversity and delight. This entire vision is possible now and all elements are happening this minute somewhere across the world.  What dont we like about this? Let's just do it. As Jane Goodall says, there are reasons for hope: we are very clever. There are now more than a million community groups working on solutions; nature is resilient and, her greatest reason for hope, the indomitable human heart.

Speaker - Spirituality in the Pub

November 2, 2011 - This talk one was a bit out of the ordinary! My grade 3 and 6 teacher at my catholic primary school, my year 12 religion teacher, my godfather uncle and auntie and mum and dad were in the crowd to hear my thoughts on the links between sustainability and spirituality. I was asked to put some notes together on what I said. I don't use notes, so this is what I remember about what I said, in shorthand, for what it's worth, here it is for the whole world to see ...

1. We are the earth

The Earth in Space Pic: The most published picture. All we can see is air, water and soil. That’s all life needs to survive. Life is interdependent and interconnected.  Let's redefine what life is ...
Air: The atoms from one breath today spread around the globe so that a breath taken in one years time contains atoms from that breath the year before. Take a deep breath and hold it in. We just breathed atoms from the breath of every human being who has ever lived. Breathe out - atoms from that breath with be breathed by every human being who is yet to live.  The surface area of our lungs is the size of a tennis court.  There is no one point where we can say the air ends and our bodies begin. We are air. (David Suzuki on Harlow Shapley's air maths)
Water: Our bodies are 70% water by weight. That water is the same water that has cycled the earth for millennia. 
Soil: The structure of each of every cell in our bodies comes from the food that we eat, which comes from the soil. We are what we eat!
Sun: Our bodily energy comes from the sun through our food.
Life: Paul Hawken says that the human body is made up of 1 quadrillion cells, 90% of which are bacteria, microorganisms and fungi. So 90% of what makes us human is not human. Our bodies are a community of living organisms. Every second 1 septillion cellular events are taking place in our bodies - that is a number greater than the total number of planets, stars and asteroids in the known universe - in our bodies, in this instant - that is what life is.
Can you feel that?
Who is in charge?
(For more on "we are the earth" see David Suzuki's Legacy project, including movie and incredible book)

2. Being There
We shared a story of personal connection in nature to remind ourselves of why we go to the river, the ocean, the forest and the beach on our holidays.  This is a brilliant Vox Bandicoot environmental education activity best summed up by Peter Dombrovskis:
“When you go out there into the wilderness you don’t get away from it all, you get back to it all. You come home to what’s important. You come home to yourself.”
Jane Goodall is often asked how she manages a 300 talks a year schedule. She replies that she carries the peace of the forest inside her.

3. Making the Connections
If we are the air, water and soil and that is what life needs to survive, then surely we should view these things as sacred.  This certainly puts a different light on that weekly chores, like putting out the recycling. If we look at the earth in space we have to admit that there is no "AWAY". Everything we throw in landfill ends up in the air, the water or the soil.  There is no away.  Our use of energy, water, our creation of waste and our pollution of the air, water and soil are destroying life.  We need to make the connections.
Richard Louv's book brings these lost connections into real focus. "Last Child in the Woods" pulls together the research about an entire generation of children that are not going outside. They are bombarded with instant gratification on theTV, video games and plastic.  Social skills, mental health, wellbeing and personal development are all suffering. Aldo Leopold once said that "we will never save what we do not love and we will never love what we do not understand." We need to reconnect.
We also need a bit of humility. Nature has already solved a lot of our problems. The new science of Biomimicry is now sweeping the world. We are learning that while we make bullet proof vests at 2000 degree temperatures and sulphuric acid, spider silk is a stronger product and it is made while looking after the place that will look after the spiders offspring.  This is what all other species of life do. Life creates the conditions conducive to life. What other maxim do we want? If what we are doing is good for life, we should keep doing it. If not we need to change.

4. The Golden Rule
In Paul Hawken's 2007 book Blessed Unrest he documents the size and scale of the biggest human movement in history. Over 2 million community groups across the world in every city, country and political system on earth are now reshaping our relationship with each other and the earth (click Blessed Unrest above to watch Paul talking through the list of groups I played at the talk).
Media and politics don't get it because it is not about taking power and media and politics are owned by the current power paradigm. It is spreading from group to group, from person to person, from conversation to conversation. It is leaderless, classless and varies hugely in it's goals. When the mission statements of 1000 of them were arranged on the walls of a gallery, the amazing thing was that none of them contradicted any of the others.  Paul Hawken talks about how they are all really on about the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. The earth included (Karen Armstrong on the Golden Rule).
I am not a "greeny"! I just want to keep living here. I want my children to keep living here and I do not want to do harm to any one or any thing.

5. The Bottom Line

Relating to the human spirit and the earth, money and stuff and power are nothing. They are in fact vacuous and soul destroying. That is not to say that business cannot save and make a lot of money from the path to sustainability. They are. It is that money for it's own sake is nothing and the real purpose of business is to serve. Business needs to put the meaning into the money.  
Indeed, media and politics and the old economy don't get sustainability precisely because it is about the human spirit.  
Life, love and community are everything: they are the real bottom line.

6. The Song
To conclude I played "Don't Give up on Us", by Shane Howard

Did Civil Disobedience Change the World?

This is a story I tell a lot. It's about how the world is changed, told via one book and it's journey through major historical events. The ideas come from a few places, but mostly from the 2007 book "Blessed Unrest", by Paul Hawken, which incidentally, was given to me by my closest friend and wife Claire.

- Ian McBurney

In 1836, following a trip to a natural history museum in Paris, Ralph Waldo Emerson published "Nature" his seminal essay that argued that everything in nature is
connected. One of his students was Henry David Thoreau, who took Emerson's idea and applied it equally to human society.  In 1848 Thoreau published an essay called "Resistance to Civil Government". The driving idea behind the essay is that "citizens are morally responsible for their support of aggressors, even when that support is required by law".  Martin Luther King Jr later described the concept as follows: "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."  Thoreau took this idea very seriously. He was jailed for refusing to pay his Poll tax, because it was being used to pay for the Mexican war, which he viewed as immoral. According to Thoreau, everything is connected and everything we do matters.

But the book's contents are somewhat of a side story here. After Thoreau died someone at a publishing house changed the title to "Civil Disobedience" and it's ideas immediately entered popular culture. We do not know the name of that person. The word 'disobedience' had not even appeared in the original text. But their simple act helped to change the world.

Fast forward 50 years and a young Indian lawyer in South Africa was part of a movement that was beginning to resist the racist authority. They had voted to burn their identity cards and risk jail, rather than obeying the law.  Someone (we do not know their name) at the Indian Times newspaper gave him a copy of Civil Disobedience, which helped solidify and explain his own passive resistance ideas. That young man was Mahatma Gandhi.

Fast forward to 1956 and another young man had just had his house bombed and had stationed armed guards outside. A friend arrived with a copy of Civil Disobedience and Mahatma Gandhi's biography. We do not know this person's name in popular culture either and yet a few days later King was espousing the concept of non violent resistance in his sermons for the first time.

We also do not know the name of the woman who set up the “Montgomery Progress Association” that elected Martin Luther King as the leader of the civil rights movement.  She stayed up all night to print the flyers for the Montgomery Bus Boycott that kicked off the American civil rights movement.

We know Rosa Parks. What we don’t know is that she was the fourth black woman arrested in the lead up to the Bus Boycott. An 18 year old woman had four
police officers drag her off the bus three months before.  Few know that Rosa herself had been previously assaulted by a bus driver. Following this, a white couple she worked for sent her to night school to study ... you guessed it; Civil Disobedience! Most of us have not even heard of this couple.  That night, December 1st 1955, when the bus doors opened, she was faced with the driver who had assaulted her. Not only did she get on the bus, but she refused to give her seat up to a white person, was arrested and the world changed again.

None of these people changed the world by themselves. The book Civil Disobedience didn't change the world either.  And this story is far too simple: thousands of other actors are unknown and left out.  We would not know the famous people in this story if many other people had not acted. Bad things happen when good people do nothing.  The world is constantly changed by many everyday people who do ordinary things. Every decision we make and every action we take matters.

Fast forward another 50 years and a phd by the name of Nicholas Christakis writes a book called "Connected: the surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives". He shows that when we have a friend who is obese we are 45% more likely to be obese ourselves. If we have a friend of a friend who is obese, we are 25% more likely to be obese. Even more amazing is that a friend of a friend of a friend (think about it: you probably don't know the person) who is obese makes us 10% more likely to be obese. The same is true for happiness and a range of health issues.   Nicholas's research demonstrates that “everything we do affects not just ourselves & not just our friends and relatives ... but also dozens, or hundreds & sometimes possibly thousands of other people.”

If we are to create a sustainable future we need to understand that every conversation, every purchase, everyreport, book, song, laugh and opinion is influencing change in the people around us and spreading far and wide through our community.  Mahatma Gandhi had a particular take on this. He said "be the change you want to see in the world".   He went further to describe how change becomes accepted over time:

“First they ignore you, 

then they laugh at you,

then they fight you,

then you win.”

As Paul Hawken said in Blessed Unrest "What distinguishes one life from another is intention, the one thing we can control. Individuals start where they stand and, in Antonio Machado's poetic dictum, make the road by walking. For Thoreau there were no inconsequential acts, only consequential inaction: 'for it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever."