Most of our resources, especially materials, are treated by economics as if the supply were infinite, when demonstrably it is not for those that are non-renewable. In his engineering, use of materials and energy, man lets design takes second place, whereas nature treats materials as expensive and designs with apparent care and attention to detail. This results in durable materials and cheap structures that are easy to recycle under ambient conditions. Examples illustrating this principle, which are given here, are drawn from both animals and plants with comments on the underlying mechanisms such as self-assembly of liquid crystal systems, use of composite structures, and control of fracture properties.The natural world, of which we are a significant part, has many examples of survival with minimum use of energy. These examples range from the production and use of materials to the organization of entire populations. But not all organisms exist in a half-lit, miserly half-life. Their (that is to say, our) driving purpose in life is to reproduce, and no organism (that is, me or you) would be here unless our parents had a strong urge to reproduce, something which we, mostly, inherit. So any way that we can have the largest number of surviving offspring will be favored. In doing this we are in competition with nearly all the other organisms in the vicinity. The ones with which we are overtly friendly are our immediate genetic (or to a lesser extent, social) relatives, and much has been made of the concept that it is our genes, rather than ourselves, that crave dominance.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(02)01237-3