We need more than graphene

Ilan Kelman | December 27, 2012 | Leave a Comment

By Ilan Kelman, Senior Research Fellow, CICERO, Norway

At last, high-level political support for scientific research, backed up with reasonable funds. The U.K.’s Chancellor announces a £21.5 million investment fund for universities.

Will this solve world hunger? Will it cut our fossil fuel consumption by 90%? Will it recommend an effective humanitarian aid system? Will it improve subsistence livelihoods?

None of the above. It will research one specific type of material, called graphene, because it has “great commercialisation potential”.

Kudos to the Nobel Prize winning physicists for ingenious research. No one should begrudge brilliant science or a government willing to support those scientific achievements with serious money.

But money only because the work can be commercialised and produce sellable technology? What happened to science for a better humanity?

Graphene has impressive potential to support sustainability endeavours and for helping humanity out of the sustainability mess that we have created. Perhaps the U.K.’s Chancellor could highlight the need to achieve sustainability goals through graphene.

So certainly do not take money away from technology-inspired research that will reap corporate profits. Instead, match those funds for projects with goals for all of humanity now. The paybacks and profits for society will be immense.

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  • http://mahb.stanford.edu/members/stefanthiesen/ Stefan Thiesen

    The above question is easily answered: the people supporting the funding for commercially feasible product development do believe in earnest that supporting the development of commercial activity DOES better humanity. In the early nineties I first began to study business and economics but quit in favor of Astrophysics and Earth Sciences because economic sciences did not strike me as sciences at all – they were – and still largely are – acting in a closed artificially defined universe. Politicians usually have a background that socialized them within such artificial environments. Law/business/economics. It is deeply ingrained in their personalities that “it’s the economy, stupid”. And truly it is! Only in quite a different way than they think. In general society (I am talking developed and most developing countries here) the faith in economic growth is even deeper entrenched, owing to decades of repeating the dual mantra of growth-employment, growth-employment, growth-employment.

    What concerns me about research of the type mentioned above is that despite being funded by the public it will probably lead to products and processes patented by privately owned corporations. At least the profit from publicly funded applied research should also benefit the public financially.

    By and large I am convinced that no clever technology alone will bring about a sustainable planetary future, and for that we have to work with the mankind we have. People are as they are, so we cannot hope for sudden global enlightenment or Marxian dreams of the “Edelmensch” of some (if at all probably immensely distant) future. We need to stop our style of economy before that accelerating train hits the inevitable concrete wall. Sooner or later. We need more than Graphene. We need a different type of economy. The one we have is as risky as the cold war. The warnings against our style of money focused growth economy have resounded through the EONS. From Erisychthon over Midas and Chang Po Tuan to Goethe and many scholars of modern day. The production of money has become the soul focus of human activity. Money and its derivatives already are the main “products”, the main objects of trade, backed by nothing but illusions. A closed system severed from reality. In fact it is an algorithm, a machine, where reality is fed in on one side and processed into money on the other. environmental sustainability simply is not an incentive. A company making perfect products that last forever will soon go out of business.

    For the time being I see compound interest as the main culprit. Or interest in general. Besides being the main driver of the growth requirement and the main cause of crisis in times of slowing economies it also dilutes responsibilities and risk. So – what we need to better humanity is concerted global research into a different economic approach. We do have a global collaboration in climate change research, but the same fundamental causes underly the anthropogenic contribution to global climate and environmental change and degradation.

    Any such research will be met with much resistance from corporate lobbyists – even corporate secret agencies. A huge disinformation campaign, if not an outright private cold war is to be expected compared to which the faut campaigns against atmospheric scientists will look like sandbox games.

    Beyond this… science. Whatever happened to natural philosophy? Natural history? Science for the sake of knowledge as a noble endeavor of man, of self proclaimed homo sapiens? All to many scientists have become intellectual whores (I find the word appropriate) for corporations. Many do agree themselves. I do. One reason: there are far too many scientists out there to be absorbed in public fundamental research. Which also poses unknown risks and dangers: science brought about ABC weapons, ballistic missiles and just about every other tool of destruction and annihilation. The majority of that power nowadays is in private ownership with limited state oversight and control – or none at all.