Yesterday a Japanese train company apologized for running 20 seconds ahead of schedule. How did Japanese trains get so fast?
The answer for how their famous bullet trains move so quickly is thanks in part to biomimicry, the study of using animals as a source for design. The front of the bullet train was inspired by the beak of a kingfisher which allows for more efficient airflow and thus less of an environmental impact. This is merely one example of the interesting world of using the evolution of animals to design the world around us.
Japan’s Shinkansen doesn’t look like your typical train. With its long and pointed nose, it can reach top speeds up to 150–200 miles per hour.
It didn’t always look like this. Earlier models were rounder and louder, often suffering from the phenomenon of “tunnel boom,” where deafening compressed air would rush out of a tunnel after a train rushed in. But a moment of inspiration from engineer and birdwatcher Eiji Nakatsu led the system to be redesigned based on the aerodynamics of three species of birds.
Nakatsu’s case is a fascinating example of biomimicry, the design movement pioneered by biologist and writer Janine Benyus. She’s a co-founder of the Biomimicry Institute, a non-profit encouraging creators to discover how big challenges in design, engineering, and sustainability have often already been solved through 3.8 billion years of evolution on earth. We just have to go out and find them.
Since the Occupy movement in 2011 there has been conversations about the 99% versus the 1% of wealth holders. The idea then was to show the massive inequality between those in the top 1% of society and everybody else – sadly that inequality has only grown. The rich get richer and everybody else gets left behind.
In order to see real change we need to change the discourse from targeting the 1% to talking about the top 20%. Richard Reeves writes in the New York Times that if we’re going to address income inequality we need to look at all the ways society is structured to help the top quintile at the expense of everybody else.
There’s a kind of class double-think going on here. On the one hand, upper-middle-class Americans believe they are operating in a meritocracy (a belief that allows them to feel entitled to their winnings); on the other hand, they constantly engage in antimeritocratic behavior in order to give their own children a leg up. To the extent that there is any ethical deliberation, it usually results in a justification along the lines of “Well, maybe it’s wrong, but everyone’s doing it.”
Progressive policies, whether on zoning or school admissions or tax reform, all too often run into the wall of upper-middle-class opposition. Self-interest is natural enough. But the people who make up the American upper middle class don’t just want to keep their advantages; armed with their faith in a classless, meritocratic society, they think they deserve them. The strong whiff of entitlement coming from the top 20 percent has not been lost on everyone else.