Posted on in Healthy Living by Erin Connelly

The Solutions to Climate
Change Are All Around Us


We hear the bad news every day. Whether it’s about an animal or plant species on its way to extinction, extreme weather patterns, or predictions about rising sea levels, it’s clear that climate change is altering our world in frightening ways.

As we scramble to limit greenhouse gas emissions and keep our planet’s temperature from rising further, we’re going to need approaches that allow us to thrive while living within planetary limits. But how? It’s easy to feel somewhat hopeless about how to reverse the damage.

Luckily, potential solutions are right outside our window.

Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. The goal is to create products, processes, and policies well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul.

The core idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are consummate engineers with billions of years of research and development behind them.

In that spirit, here are just a few strategies that reveal the myriad ways nature captures greenhouse gases and creates renewable energy.

Carbon-Gobbling Cacti

The Saguaro cactus uses some of the carbon dioxide it removes from the atmosphere to make compounds called oxalates. These oxalates then combine with calcium ions taken up from the soil by the plant’s roots. After the cactus dies, the calcium oxalate slowly transforms into solid calcium carbonate (calcite), and sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide into the soil.

Carbon-Storing Habitat

According to scientists, wetlands are powerhouses for sequestering carbon. Since they’re primarily covered in water, oxygen can’t reach the soil underneath, which slows bacterial decomposition and releases less CO2 into the atmosphere. On the other hand, scientists caution that methane production by wetlands could be a problem. Can we mimic wetlands’ carbon storage properties to devise strategies to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere?

Food-Producing Prairies

Developing agricultural systems that mimic the way natural ecosystems function can not only reduce our agricultural carbon footprint, but also create soils that act as storehouses for atmospheric carbon. Natural systems like prairies are resilient, self-regulating, and diverse, with healthy soil ecosystems that act as carbon sinks. The Land Institute in Kansas has been researching a perennial agricultural system that produces edible mixed crops in a way that nourishes the soil, instead of the traditional monoculture practices that require soil-damaging irrigation and fertilizers.

Solar-Powered Hornet

The Oriental hornet is a solar-powered marvel. This hornet is most active during the middle part of the day, when the sun is at its brightest, and scientists think the hornet is harvesting solar energy to power its physical activity. It does this by directing sunlight toward yellow pigments in its outer layer (cuticle) that absorbs ultraviolet radiation.

Sea-Floor Sediment “Batteries”

There is growing evidence that some bacteria in ocean sediments can form a chain and transport electrons between chemical reactions in the sediments and the water above, creating a “biogeobattery.”

Low Light–Loving Solar Cells

Certain alpine species of pine trees have a waxy coat on their needles that enables them to convert UV light into blue light, which can be used to enhance photosynthesis in low light. This approach could be used to develop solar cells that work better in low-light conditions, among other uses.

There are also a number of carbon sequestration, clean tech, and energy management innovations. Here are examples of companies and designs that can point us in new directions.

Novomer carbon dioxide–based plastics

Novomer takes waste carbon dioxide and transforms it into polymers. This process for producing carbon-capturing polymers was modeled after the Calvin cycle in photosynthesizing plants.

Blue Planet cement

This carbon-capturing cement production process was modeled after hard corals using CO2 and calcium to biomineralize their calcium carbonate skeletons in seawater.

Newlight Technologies AirCarbon

This company creates carbon-negative plastics made of methane-based greenhouse gases, inspired by carbon-capturing processes in nature.

FLOWE Wind Farm Design

Engineering professor John Dabiri is researching a new way of designing wind farms where vertical-axis wind turbines are arranged so that individual turbines can capture downstream airflow produced by neighboring turbines. This design was inspired by fish reducing the energetic costs of swimming by using energy in water flows produced by upstream objects or other fish—essentially capturing free energy.

Encycle Swarm Logic Energy Management System

This is a smart microgrid energy management system inspired by how groups of organisms use simple rules of interaction to self-organize, producing collective, intelligent behavior. Encycle’s Swarm Logic system wirelessly connects a building’s power-consuming appliances to each other, enabling them to detect each other’s power cycles and communally determine the best times to turn each appliance on and off. The result is lower, smoothed-out energy demand, which reduces costs for building owners and reduces strain on central electrical grids during peak demand.

These examples just scratch the surface of how we can apply learnings from nature to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, capture carbon already in the atmosphere, and protect our planet from climate change. Above all, realizing that nature holds clues to climate solutions makes it even more crucial that we act quickly and decisively in order to protect the living organisms that offer us design inspiration for a socially equitable and ecologically regenerative future.

Adapted from an article in AskingNature, the Biomimicry Institute blog. To learn more about biomimicry, visit and

Erin Connelly is director of communications and outreach at the Biomimicry Institute. Adiel Gavish is the Biomimicry Institute’s social media lead, and Jeanette Lim is AskNature’s content manager.

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