The planet can’t take any more. The time has come to create a new paradigm where prosperity takes place within sustainable limits
The bioeconomy is an opportunity to overcome the dichotomy between ecology and economy and create a new paradigm where prosperity takes place within the sustainable limits of our planet. Somehow ecology will be the economy. The planet can’t take any more. Not even in terms of slow motion awareness.
Throughout history, humanity has gone through various transformations, changes in the socio-economic, cultural and technological order that gave way to totally different eras. Europe has led many of these transformations and, in fact, was the epicentre of what may have been the most important of them all, as it laid the foundations for the modern era. This transformation, known as the Renaissance, although traditionally described as the moment in history when Europe reconnected with the classical world of Greece and Rome, was actually the connection of the world with its future. The Renaissance offered one of the best versions of Europe, it put people at the centre of everything, and science, thanks to the invention of the printing press, became the main engine of progress and the basis of a new culture.
300 years after the beginning of the Renaissance, Europe experienced a new transformation, which gave way to a new era, the Industrial Age. The Industrial Revolution was made possible by the capital of knowledge accumulated since the scientific revolution, which was progressively extended due to the emergence of universities as key centres of thought to replace the monasteries. But, as with the scientific revolution, it was also made possible by another important invention: the steam engine. This technology transformed the way and above all the scale in the manufacture of products. Production moved from workshops to factories. This also required a new scale of capital and energy resources to make it possible.
It was this new demand that drove the use of fossil fuels, first coal and later oil and gas. The Industrial Revolution not only meant a transformation of the energy model, but also triggered a change of paradigm in the field of materials, first with the development of the steel industry, later with portland cement and then with synthetic materials derived from oil, such as plastic. Thus, 200 years ago, the fossil economy based on the massive use of non-renewable energy and materials became the new economic paradigm. This fossil economy has allowed us to experience economic and population growth in two centuries, as well as social and technological development, without precedent in the history of humanity.
There is only one sustainable alternative to the massive use of fossil materials, the sustainable use of renewable materials of biological origin
But the fossil economy of the last 200 years has had other important implications, since from a thermodynamic point of view it has involved moving from an open system powered by solar energy to a closed system powered by finite fossil resources that are internal to the system. The second law of thermodynamics is very clear about the consequences of free energy in closed systems like the one we have created: they result in entropy, disorder and irreversibility. And this is precisely what we have generated: climate change, loss of biodiversity and degradation of natural resources. In short, we are crossing the limits of the planet’s resilience. At this turning point we must remember the words of Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our current problems with the same mental framework, the same way of thinking that we had when we created them”. And that is exactly what we need now, a new mental framework, a new Renaissance, as the basis of a new economic paradigm.
Life is the engine of development
A paradigm where economic prosperity takes place within the renewable limits of our planet. Therefore, an economy based on renewable energies and materials. A paradigm where the bioeconomy, bio means life, is the engine of sustainable development.
Why should the bioeconomy play a key role in the transformation of our economy? Because, while the transition towards renewable energies has already begun, we will not be able to face the great environmental problems of our century if we continue to use non-renewable materials such as plastics, concrete, steel… The production of steel and cement accounts for more than 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest in CO2 emissions. The plastic industry would be the fifth. These products are also one of our most serious environmental problems because of the amount of waste that reaches our seas and oceans.
And there is only one sustainable alternative to the massive use of fossil materials, the sustainable use of renewable materials of biological origin. Now, it is important to emphasize that biological resources are renewable, but not infinite. Therefore, their use and transformation must be more intelligent, efficient and sustainable than ever before! That is why the bioeconomy must join forces with concepts such as the circular economy, which seeks to maximize efficiency in the use of resources, as well as in the design of products and materials that are easily recycled and reused.
In addition, in a context of climate change, we must ensure that our biological resources are resilient to change. Therefore, investing in biodiversity and adaptation must be a priority for an ambitious, sustainable and resilient bioeconomy.
The good news is that building a symbiotic relationship between ecology and economy through a new bioeconomy has never been more feasible. This is due to the great advances that science and technology are experiencing as a result of the digital revolution. The Internet and computers are transforming society just as the printing press and books did in the Renaissance. The digital revolution has transformed the way we can use science and technology to understand nature and our natural ecosystems, enabling them to be managed sustainably and transformed into innovative new products and services. The digital revolution, therefore, and although it may seem paradoxical, will have a catalyzing role for the biological revolution that is coming. It is the sum of intelligences, of intelligent people and machines, which will allow a paradigm of increased humanity (as was somehow the Renaissance) compatible with the radical sustainability of the planet.
As Brian Arthur said: “Humanity always puts its deepest hopes in technology, but its deepest trust in Nature”. It is time that ecology and economics were recognized as two sides of the same coin. The currency of prosperity.