Mother Earth: Model, Measure, Mentor

Recently, someone who favors alliteration has chosen to coin nature as “model, measure, mentor.” This tagline stemmed from explaining the idea of biomimicry. Biomimicry simply is a way to copy nature after admiring its functions for maintaining itself. Most familiarly, it is applied to technology such as replicating the ability of a bird’s flight for human accessibility. A quick Google search will provide countless examples of how technology has replicated nature. But this article is not to discuss applications of biomimicry, but rather how this mindset can change the way we think about sustainability.

Mother Earth as a model is more than just a way to describe her beauty. It’s a way to value her ability to maintain the biosphere and learn from our greatest teacher. Mother Earth as a model is the same simplified idea of biomimicry, in which we can learn from nature and copy it. However, we must challenge small-scale applications of biomimicry to ensure that on a global level, the scale of Mother Earth, we truly benefit from her wisdom to ensure the existence of humankind. We need to understand that most technology is designed to run at maximized efficiency for a small scale, yet we live in a world that’s a large scale. Observing the energy flows through nature one learns that efficiency of individual processes is not her focus, but rather it’s the networking of processes. (Fun fact: overall photosynthetic efficiency of converting sunlight into chemical energy is only around 3–6%) Nature is the perfect model for us to learn that our world needs to work together to provide multiple solutions that push mankind to live within Mother Earth’s measure for our own good.

As measure, Mother Earth provides the only true metric of sustainability. The sustainability of mankind relies on homeorhetic control of natural systems as they ensure the availability of ecosystem services, a mandatory component of human well being. (What would you do without oxygen?) Observing Mother Earth’s reactions to our activity is one direct display of understanding her measure. Further, using Mother Earth as measure, we can rethink the way we define sustainability. Instead of constantly trying to do “less bad”, or arguing that zero emissions will help human well being, why not try to rethink what it means to live within the limits of nature? Let’s consider redefining sustainability as a comparison of human demand for ecosystem services with the capacity of ecosystems to provide these services. Take global warming as an example: we can compare the physical flows and mass transfers of greenhouse gases between technological and ecological systems and then strive to close these loops at different scales or service sheds. Industrial emissions (demand) may interact with ecosystems at different scales based on different molecular weights and limits of dispersion, but these ecosystems provide air quality regulation services (supply) through carbon sequestration, leaf adsorption, etc. Let’s strive to live on a planet where the supply of ecosystem services is greater than the demand so we don’t create debt for future generations. This could drastically change the value we place on ecosystems in economic markets affecting policies at the same time.

Finally, Mother Earth as mentor. Mankind must recognize that we need the Earth, it doesn’t need us. She is our mother because she cares for us and provides what we need to survive. Our actions won’t prevent her from existing, but they certainly can prevent us from existing. As our mentor, we must value her and fight to build and maintain a culture which continuously understands, appreciates, and protects the lessons of nature. Mother Earth has gained age, wisdom, and experience far past any of us so let’s stop polluting our planet, instead let’s learn from it.