Terrapass and Expedia now offer carbon offsets for commercial airline flights so you fly carbon neutral next time you take to the skies. You can also calculate the cost to offset carbon dioxide emissions when flying in a private jet, which typically burns as much fuel in one hour as a year of driving.
I am looking fifty years down the road, and I don’t like what I see. Genetic engineering has enabled us not only to reengineer ourselves, but our children and our children’s children. Farm animals are designed for maximum efficiency and profit, living creatures turned product. Our foods are altered—even the trees have been bioengineered to fit our needs. As we walk the city streets, merchandise screams at us through brain implants that link us to an internet on steroids, leaving us barely present, lost in a sea of information and artificial stimulus. Almost everything we see, hear and touch has been engineered in some way for human convenience.
Looking back from this future vantage point, I ask myself what went wrong. How did we come to live in a world where we can no longer tell the real from the artificial? Why did we choose to redesign almost everything that nature gave us, and what led us to believe the results would be better?
I can point to a time when it began, when we still had a choice—to restrain our newfound power that biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology gave us at the start of the twenty-first century; a time when the awesome power of these new technologies went to our heads, and we forged ahead unchecked, intoxicated with the power to create, to redesign according to our own needs the world around us that for so long we had accepted and adapted to.
Now the tables have turned, and instead of adapting to nature—running for shelter from the storm, silently enduring famine and disease—we command nature to adapt to us. Ours is the hand that guides evolution, if evolution still exists. Everything shows traces of the human touch. Nature has ceased to exist.
Turning back the clock to the start of the twenty-first century, I find myself at an intersection. Three roads lie ahead. One, just described, is paved with unchecked ambition and the overconfidence that we can design better than nature. I believe that if we choose this path we will not even recognize ourselves or the world we’ve made when we reach its end. Another road turns back, rejecting any technological advance. It is paved with fear. This road is also a dead end.
Between these two roads lies a third. Along this road, technology is applied according to ecological principles—neither rejected out of hand nor embraced uncritically. This blog is about this middle path—where it leads and how to get there. It is a roadmap for working with nature according to ecological principles, accepting the power of new technologies like biotechnology and nanotechnology but continuously evaluating them to ensure their responsible use.
In Science Business: the Promise, the Reality, and the Future of Biotech, Harvard business professor Gary P. Pisano questions the success of biotech business. Some of his findings: total operating income before depreciation for the industry as a whole is essentially zero; on average it takes a biotech company 12 years after its IPO before it sees its first profit; however, 1975-2004 the industry saw an increasing trend in sales.
Matt Gardner, president of BayBio, helped author BayBio: Impact 2007, a new report in which he discussed the progress of the life sciences industry and the challenges that lie ahead. Hear him discuss the future of the biotechnology industry. “I would call the biotech industry right now sunny with a chance of rain,” he said.