Monday, July 9, 2007

Following Nature's Example To Reduce Pollution And Energy Waste

If human beings learn to behave more like swarms of insects, schools of fish, flocks of birds, or herds of animals we could make better progress with reducing pollution and taking care of our planet.

There are an increasing number of reports in the news related to climate change and pollution. It's becoming more and more clear that we need to take large scale action in order to optimize what the future holds for us and our world. There have been a few articles recently which illustrate clearly that we're jeopardizing the welfare of many people throughout the world already.

Back in May, a BBC article, "Oxygen supplies for India police" announced that police stations across Calcutta in India were equipped with oxygen devices to enable police to offset the effects of pollution. The article says that a recent report showed that 70% of the people in the city suffer from respiratory disorders, such as lung cancer, breathing difficulties and asthma, and that the police were among the worst hit by poor air quality. Doctors have cautioned that the oxygen may not help the policemen because "many of the pollutants are too deeply lodged in their lungs".

Another BBC article, published earlier this month, says that a report was quoted in a Financial Times article to say that "High levels of air pollution in China's cities leads to 350,000-400,000 premature deaths...Another 300,000 die because of poor-quality air indoors." There seems to be some dispute over the figures, but it is apparent from reports that increasing numbers of people are dying due to pollution.

Health problems all over the world are increasing as a result of pollution. Climate change is also becoming more noticeable as a result of our actions. A Greenpeace article "Expedition documents melting Himalayan glaciers" says that climate change is threatening the glacier source that provides water for one-sixth of humanity. The article says that scientists predict that 80% of the Himalayan glaciers will disappear within 30 years at the current warming rates.

Pollution and climate issues are clearly becoming more pronounced with every passing year. The key to reversing, or at the very least, slowing the progression of these problems is to raise general awareness to the severity of the problems. It seems there's still quite a ways to go to convince the majority of the population, as can be seen in the BBC article: "'Scepticism' over climate claims".

Seth Godin makes a great point in his blog post "Times a million". He says: "The way to sell the distant is to make it immediate." Be persuasive by presenting an argument that's personally meaningful by making sure it's something relevant to the person's experience. If the majority of individuals become convinced that these issues are important this could lead to a huge change.

The Live Earth concerts held this last weekend were a great way to combine pleasure and fun along with drawing people to a venue that raises awareness of what individuals can do in their own daily lives.

A couple of days ago I came across an article, "Swarms", at the Patagonia blog, which drew my attention to an article in National Geographic entitled "Swarm Theory". This article discusses the behavior of large groups in nature, such as bees, ants, schools of herring, herds of caribou. It looks to answer how the collective group can act as one unit in the best interests of all of them as a whole. Vijay Kumar, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania is quoted as saying: "In biology, if you look at groups with large numbers, there are very few examples where you have a central agent."

For animals traveling in large numbers, coordinating their movements with one another is vital to their staying alive. No one animal is in charge. The overall behavior relies on communication between individuals, while each individual follows a set of simple rules, each one acting on local information. The individual doesn't know what's happening throughout the entire community. The sum of these relatively simple actions by each individual adds up to a complex behavior of collective intelligence.

Software programs have been modeled on this simple behavior and are being used to successfully create management strategies for complex business processes, such as routing trucks and scheduling airlines. Using this type of behavior model is making the businesses much more efficient than they were when a centralized intelligence dictated what was to be done.

This emphasizes that one of the most effective ways for human beings to make a difference in any endeavor is for each individual to act according to a basic set of guidelines, according to what is possible or needed in their local vicinity. Swarm theory shows us how vitally important and effective it really is for each of us to make each small effort towards reducing pollution and energy waste, even if we don't understand or know what everyone else is doing.


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