GOOD

The White House Is Backing the Bioeconomy—But What Is It, Exactly?

The bioeconomy promises to lengthen our lives, address environmental issues, and clean up manufacturing.


In theory, the bioeconomy sounds amazing. The White House’s Office of Science and Technology, which released a blueprint boosting the idea yesterday, says the bioeconomy can help us “live long and healthier lives.” It can address environmental issues, increase agricultural productivity, and free manufacturing processes from their dirty history. It can create jobs.

But what is it?


According to the White House, the bioeconomy encompasses “economic activity fueled by research and innovation” in the biological sciences, including biofuels, genetically modified crops, and medical treatments. The United States isn’t the only country interested in investing in this type of work; the European Commission developed its own bioeconomy strategy [PDF] earlier this year. But there was a notable difference: The European vision of the bioeconomy is closely tied to responding to climate change.

One of the clearest examples of the bioeconomy and its growth potential is the biofuels sector. That's also an example that shows up across multiple definitions of the bioeconomy—from universities, governments, and independent organizations. U.S. biofuel producers already have the potential to churn out more than 13 billion gallons of ethanol per year. The biofuel industry says it’s responsible for creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But for the government, the more interesting aspect of the biofuel industry is what’s going to happen next. Scientists all over the country are working to develop crops that provide better feedstocks for biofuels—plants that grow faster and contain a higher proportion of cellulose or algae that produce biofuels directly. They’re also working on creating enzymes or bacteria that secrete enzymes to improve the biofuel production process, making it faster and cheaper. In some cases, they’re doing this work using synthetic biology techniques—designing organisms to do exactly the task they’re needed for by tinkering with genetic code.

The bioeconomy also includes such innovative projects as biodegrable plastics, allergen-free peanuts, cancer-fighting antibody therapies, enzymes that improve laundry detergent, oil-eating microbes, and drought-tolerant corn.

There are two pitfalls that accompany boosterism for these activities. Because so many of these bio-based activities rely on plants, they’re accompanied by the concerns that they’ll degrade land quality, speed deforestation, and threaten biodiversity. But there’s also the more existential problem of trying to support a group of activities so hard to define. As with “green jobs,” it’s hard to measure exactly what the bioeconomy is, much less whether it’s growing and how.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user OakleyOriginals

Articles

In the category of "claims to fame nobody wants," the United States can now add "exporter of white supremacist ideology" to its repertoire. Super.

Russell Travers, acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, made this claim in a briefing at The Washington Institute in Washington, D.C. "For almost two decades, the United States has pointed abroad at countries who are exporters of extreme Islamist ideology," Travers said. "We are now being seen as the exporter of white supremacist ideology. That's a reality with which we are going to have to deal."

Keep Reading Show less

Since the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, whale populations have been steadily recovering. However, whales in the wild still face other dangers. In the summer of 2018, four Russian companies that supply aquariums with marine animals captured almost 100 beluga whales and killer whales (aka orcas). After a public outcry, those whales are swimming free as the last of the captive whales have been released, the first time this many captured whales have been released back into the wild.

In late 2018 and early 2019, a drone captured footage of 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales crammed into holding pens in the Srednyaya Bay. The so-called "whale jail" made headlines, and authorities began to investigate their potentially illegal capture.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

An anonymous White House official claims President Trump cruelly limited Hispanic immigrants in their new book, "A Warning."

The book, to be released on November 19, gives an alleged insider account of the Trump White House and paints a picture of the president as a chaotic man who lacks the mental and moral acumen required for the job.

The anonymous staffer says that Trump once feigned a Hispanic accent and made fun of women attempting to immigrate to the U.S.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

The 2020 election is a year away, but Donald Trump has some serious ground to cover if he doesn't want it to be a historical blowout.

A Washington Post- ABC News poll released Tuesday shows that Trump loses by double digits to the top Democratic contenders.

Vice President Joe Biden (56%-39%); Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (54%-39%); Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (56%-39%); South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (52%-41%); and Sen. Kamala Harris of California (52%-41%) all have big leads over the president.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
Yad Vashem

Since 1992, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous has been holding reunion ceremonies between Holocaust survivors and rescuers once a year. But the tradition is coming to an end, as many have died or are too frail to travel. What might be the last reunion of its kind took place when a 92-year-old woman met up with the two surviving family members that she helped hide during the Holocaust, and their descendants.

Sarah Yanai and Yossi Mor introduced Melpomeni Dina (nee Gianopoulou) to their almost 40 family members, all decedents of the Mordechai family, the family of seven that Dina and her two sisters hid during WWII. "There are no words to describe this feeling," Dina told the Jeruselum Post. "It is very emotional for us to be together again."

Keep Reading Show less
Culture