Academics Slam Claims Biotech Could Solve the Climate Crisis

Essay by Eric Worrall

University of Canterbury academics Tessa Hiscox and Professor Jack Heinemann think claims biotech could rescue us from the climate crisis are delaying real progress.

Chasing future biotech solutions to climate change risks delaying action in the present – it may even make things worse

Published: November 29, 2022, 6.04am AEDT

Tessa Hiscox Microbiology PhD Candidate, University of Canterbury
Jack Heinemann Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics, University of Canterbury

Published: November 29, 2022, 6.04am AEDT

The world is under growing pressure to find sustainable options to cut emissions or lessen the impacts of climate change. 

Technology entrepreneurs from around the globe claim to have the solutions – not just yet, but soon. The biotech sector in particular is now using climate change as an urgent argument for more government fundingpublic support and fewer regulatory hurdles for their industry.

But the urgency of climate change creates greater risk of superficial claims and actions. In our new research, we describe how the current “technology push” cycle perpetually promises to rescue humanity from climate change, and in doing so, delays real progress.

The pipeline for salvation technology is long and the benefit is hypothetical. Like the character Wimpy from Popeye, technology developers want their hamburger today but will pay back society with climate solutions on some future Tuesday.

Biotechnologies could make valuable contributions to halting or ameliorating the impacts of climate change. Contributions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or better adapt plants to the changing climate would help. However, these address the symptoms, not the cause of environmental degradation. 

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In my opinion claims any problems from global warming aren’t solvable by technological adaption are absurd.

We know Earth’s ecology can adapt to much warmer temperatures, because it has already done so many times in the past. For example, one of my favourite periods, the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, 5-8C hotter than today, was a world of tropical forests bursting with fruit, and abundant animals and fish. Perfect conditions for our Primate ancestors, who notably thrived and colonised much of the planet during this period of extreme warmth.

Every species alive today is descended from ancestors which survived and likely thrived during that period of extreme warmth.

If biotechnology professors cannot help us replicate changes, we know nature is capable of performing on its own, maybe we need some new biotechnology professors.

via Watts Up With That?

November 30, 2022

Academics Slam Claims Biotech Could Solve the Climate Crisis — Watts Up With That?