Biomassters Battle to Control the Green Economy

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Around the turn of the millennium, the vision of an environment-friendly, post-petroleum future began taking shape. Industrial production would depend on biological feedstocks transformed through high technology bioengineering platforms: the capture and conversion of living (or recently-alive) matter, referred to as biomass – food and fibre crops, grasses, forest residues, plant oils, algae, etc. – into chemicals, plastics, drugs and energy. This nascent bio-based economy quickly acquired a patina of ‘green’ and promised to solve the problem of Peak Oil, to arrest climate change and to usher in an era of sustainable development.

More recently, in the lead-up to the June 2012 Earth Summit (Rio+20), the notion of a “great green technological transformation” enabling a “green economy” is being widely – though not universally – accepted. Some governments, corporations, venture capitalists and NGOs are also promoting the technologies – including genetic engineering, synthetic biology and nanotechnology – that make (or will make) it possible to transform biomass into commercial products. The quest to secure biomass for feedstocks is creating new configurations of corporate power. The push for a bio-based economy comes with a call for market-based mechanisms for the financialization of the Earth’s natural processes, re-branded as ‘ecosystem services’ (the cycling of carbon, soil nutrients and water, for example), which also encourage land and water grabs. Companies are no longer focused narrowly on the control of genetic material found in seeds, plants, animals, microbes and humans; they’ve widened their scope to include the reproductive capacity of the entire planet.

This analysis discusses whether the "green economy," proposed as a main concept for Rio+20 and beyond, is in danger of turning into the "greed economy" driven by multinational corporations.

Visit our North America Office to download Biomassters Battle to Control the Green Economy (18 pages, pdf, 2.27MB)




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