MusslesIf only we lived like mussels. Or maybe termites. Scientists, architects and engineers are looking to creatures and plants in the natural world to figure out how humans could live more gently on the Earth. The Oregonian today has this fascinating story on “biomimicry”—the study of “nature’s best ideas and imitating them to solve human problems” such as pollution and energy over-consumption.

The researchers admire mussels for the super-strong adhesive that binds them to rocks. They’d like to use “mussel tech” to replace carcinogenic, man-made products. Termites are being studied for their energy-efficient abodes. Their tall desert mounds are marvels of passive air conditioning in which the outside temperature can top 100 degrees while it’s 20 degrees cooler in termite town.

Could biomimicry be our salvation?

At a lunch Thursday with the staff of Sightline Institute and Bullitt Foundation staff, Bullitt president Denis Hayes raised this very question. Hayes, a long-time environmental leader and champion of solar power, contrasted humanities’ largely wasteful, consumption-oriented, resource-intensive lifestyle with thrifty natural ecosystems. (Full disclosure: the Bullitt Foundation funds some of Sightline’s work.) What can ocean coral ecosystems or old-growth Douglas fir forests teach us? Stay tuned.

In Canada, residents are taking steps toward a more sustainable lifestyle thanks to the weaker economy. A new survey found that people are buying less and having cheap fun by spending time with their families, reading, and eating in. The hunch is that the changes will be lasting.

Many of today’s stories featured efforts to improve urban living, including the promise of $75 million in federal support for expanded streetcar service in Portland; continued work in Vancouver, Wash., to create a vital, livable downtown area; and a plea from an Alaskan cyclist to approve a visionary plan to build bike paths and trails throughout Anchorage. 

Check out the rest of the Northwest’s top 10 sustainability headlines at Sightline Daily, or get the news delivered via email each morning by clicking here. All of today’s news can be found here.

Mussel photo courtesy of flickr user Maggie T under the Creative Commons license.