Monday, September 15, 2003

For greener planet, remove people; results may vary

From: Robert J. Bradbury
To: Doug Parr
Cc: Howard Lovy
Subject: Greenpeace and HLovy web comments

This is my comment on Doug Parr's comments on Howard Lovy's web log:

You may both want to be aware that Robert Freitas and Landes Bioscience will be releasing Nanomedicine Volume IIA very soon. It is devoted almost entirely to the topic of biocompatibility of nanotechnology. I have reviewed much of it and was also a reviewer for Nanomedicine Volume I.

I would *seriously* doubt that anyone who has not read both of these volumes can comment authoritatively on the biosafety issues of nanotechnology.

I will acknowledge that there are potentially dangerous aspects of nanotechnology -- i.e. the production of fibers of a size smaller than, particularly if stiffer than, asbestos fibers will clearly be dangerous. Some of this Robert Freitas discusses, some of it he says requires further research.

However, any citing of a "strong" version of the "precautionary principle" (I have not read the Greenpeace report, but have read the ETC group report) is completely wrong-headed.

It is absolutely impossible to prove that something is completely safe. For example, to prove the safety of each "drug" (i.e. nanomolecules) produced by extracting them from natural organisms or invented using computer aided drug design one would need to know the complete genomic sequence and genetic mutations for every single human on the planet, potentially every single organism if one goes to the extremes that Greenpeace typically does, and then be able to perform computer simulations of the interactions of those drugs with the products of those genes in those many billions of individuals and species. That cannot be done at this time and not anytime in the near future -- so any proposal regarding a "strong" precautionary principle that delays things like GMO or nanotechnology is essentially passing a death sentence on large numbers of individuals.

Doug (and perhaps Howard) should bear in mind that the annual death count for human beings on the planet is greater than 50 million individuals per year. That is approximately equal to the number of individuals (military and civilian) that died in WWII. It is already reasonably clear that Nanomedicine will eliminate most of those deaths (perhaps > 80-90%).

So for every single year that the ETC Group or Greenpeace delays the development of robust molecular nanotechnology the cost will be nearly the death toll of WWII. And for people who are informed about the technologies it is relatively clear that the deaths will have been unnecessary.

This is the problem of having a focus on the negative side of a technology without also looking at the benefits. For Greenpeace not to have blood on its hands it needs to come out with a very strong statement in support of nanotechnology rather than hiding behind the "precautionary principle."

You two may also want to be aware that the Foresight Institute's Senior Associates group had a meeting last year where individuals got to break off into focus groups. I got to participate in a focus group on environmental topics. The general conclusion that we reached was that the only way to have a really "green" planet Earth was to remove the people from it. This can easily be accomplished using nanotechnology to produce a combination of space elevators and O'Neill type space colonies. That would allow all humans to be removed from the Earth and allow it to return to its natural state. So if Greenpeace is to live up to its name, it seems as if it should be promoting nanotechnology.

In addition, the Earth gets toasted by the sun in a few billion years. The chances of solving that problem (and saving the ecosphere) seem remote using conventional technology. It seems (to me) to be a rather pointless exercise to save the ecosphere now when it is toast in the long run. That problem can be solved but it requires fairly massive engineering capabilities to do so. Those in turn probably require nanotechnology.

So, even though I have not read the Greenpeace report and I am not familiar with the principles on which Greenpeace bases its opinions, I strongly suspect they do not completely understand and have not thought through the implications of robust nanotechnology and what they *really* want to achieve.

Best regards,
Robert Bradbury


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