77% of American voters say that the nation is not doing enough to promote and utilize green technologies in order to reduce our reliance on foreign fuel sources.
There’s an interesting discussion going on between Nigel Cameron (pictured), Director of the Center on Nanotechnology and Society and President of the Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future, and George Dvorsky, President of the Toronto Transhumanist Association.
Cameron kicked the discussion off with Choosing tomorrow: some problems of "transhumanist" approaches to emerging technologies in which he observed:
There is nothing so troubling as the near-absence of healthy public engagement on the social and ethical implications of emerging technologies.
Perhaps the gravest challenge to democracy in the 21st century is how to build policy and develop accountability to frame the advance of technologies that promise to be disruptive on a wholly new scale.
And whether some of the highly optimistic assumptions that run through transhumanist thinking are ultimately justified.
Dvorsky responded in an interview with the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies called Nanotechnology Will Reshape Humanity. His comments included:
The idea behind these technologies is to reduce suffering and to foster meaningful lives.
The goal for future societies will be to make these new technologies as widely accessible and affordable as possible.
To me, Dvorsky is betraying the highly optimistic assumptions that run through transhumanist thinking that Cameron alluded to. The desire to reduce suffering and to foster meaningful lives, for example, may be an attribute of transhunmanism, but it is by no means the idea behind nanotechnology which, like most technologies, is driven more by economics than altruism.
I would say the same about Dvorsky’s claim that the goal for future societies will be to make these new technologies as widely accessible and affordable as possible. It is more likely that the goal will be to make as much money as possible with these new technologies.
Dvorsky could be seen as confusing the aims of science and business, and assuming that nanotech development will be led by science. I believe it will be led, as all technologies have been, by business, so to claim nanotech will be driven by altruistic aims is wishful thinking.
And although I disagree with some of Dvorsky’s assertions, he makes many good points. And if we accept the textbook definition of transhumanism as a philosophy supporting the use of new sciences and technologies to enhance human cognitive and physical aptitudes, I guess that makes me a transhumanist.
The World Health Organization has released its list of top environmental risks. Topping the charts are unsafe water, urban air pollution, indoor smoke from solid fuels, lack of housing, lead exposure, climate change and transportation.
Nanotechnology development in Denmark - environmental opportunities and risk aims to identify the eco-opportunities and eco-risks related to nanotechnology as perceived by Danish nano researchers. Developed by the Risø National Laboratory, the 71-page report explores how environmental issues can form a part of the research process.
When asked directly about nano-related eco-innovation potentials, Danish nano researchers particularly pointed out three areas:
- energy production (hydrogen society).
- catalysis as a source of gas cleaning as well as resource and energy-efficient chemical production.
- sensors as a source of more resource-efficient production processes or products.
Of the three, researchers attributed the greatest environmental impact by far to energy production. More detail from the report:
Smart tailored products
The eco-potential of smart tailored products relate, roughly speaking, to the following research areas:
- Functional surfaces (making strong, self-repairing, anti-fouling, self-lubricating, bio-compatible, energy-preserving/-producing, selective surfaces)
- Catalytic efficient production of chemicals (less energy and waste)
- Polymer electronics/photonics (particularly less energy)
- Monitoring and diagnostics (e.g. pervasive, highly sensitive sensoring and tags – based on cheap, disposable, organic electronics and bio-sensors)
According to professor Hviid Christensen, Centre for Sustainable and Green Chemistry, DTU, who is among the environmentally most competent nano researchers in Denmark, the biggest eco-potential of nanotechnologies lies in the possibility of making completely new nano-structured materials. All modern materials science today is based on nanoscience, so in this sense the innovation potential attributed to nanotechnology is considerable. The three material areas are:
- Nano-particulate and nano-fibrous materials (eco-efficient production and materials with new properties)
- Nano-porous materials – (potential for membranes, electro-osmotic pumps, con-trolled release, insulation, thermoelectric materials for efficient cooling and energy production)
- Nano composites (lighter, stronger, degradable, renewable raw materials…)
There seems to be a shared long-term interest in realizing a hydrogen economy in which possible environmental benefits play an important role. The technical problems remain considerable, however, and prospects are long term and uncertain. The catalysis case below illustrates recent innovations here. Other potentials within the energy area are improvements in energy conversion, the mentioned improved materials for windmill wings and an interesting new niche in polymer-based solar cells. The latter is an example of a nanotechnology at a very early experimental stage, but which could have a huge innovation and eco-innovation potential if commercialization is realized. The high uncertainty as to the scope of this technology makes it very difficult at present to assess possible environmental benefits.
This area represents what professor Hans Christian Bruun Hansen at the agricultural university calls “environmental nanotechnology”, where nanotechnology is used directly to reduce the amount and handling of pollutants. The techniques pointed to are catalytic efficient cleaning of gases, remediation through use of functional nanoparticles, more efficient bio-separation through tailored membranes, and controlled release of e.g. pesticides, nutrients and growth regulators into the soil (less resource use and emission.) The latter shows how understandings of nanoscale processes in the soil may be used to find novel environmental solutions.
The most novel suggestion is the use of functional nanoparticles (synthetic particles or modified minerals) for binding and degrading pollutants in soil and water, water-works, waste treatment facilities, nuclear waste storage areas etc. Such technologies are to a limited degree already in use. Here, the importance of new, nanoscience-based understanding (rather than devices) of vital nano-scale processes in the environment are emphasized for finding optimum solutions to environmental problems and the construction of risk assessment models (according to Susan Stipp, GeoNanoScience Centre, University of Copenhagen).