We are not heading for the biobased society as a part of the sustainable economy because the fossil era is nearing its end, or because we would be short of alternatives. We are heading for the biobased society because that is where the opportunities are. Opportunities for new, sustainable industrial activities. We need people who take the lead in heading in the right direction: we particularly need political leadership because the technologies appear to be available.
No more thinking in scarcity
Decarbonization of society is a slow process; the reason being that as a collective, we do not make clear choices. Democracy is a great asset but it is quite clear that the transition would be much faster in a crisis economy and legislation tailored to it. We started using coal (C), then we moved to oil (CH2), next to natural gas (CH4), and now solar energy is knocking at the door with, in principle, three pathways for its deployment: photosynthesis and biomass, wind, and solar panels. In this era with its shale gas glut, we do not need to move further on because of scarcity. Therefore, we should no longer think in scarcity, but in new opportunities which will take us to a more sustainable world.
Precisely this is what we try to accomplish at the BioRenewables Business Platform. For instance, we study many opportunities for biobased substitutes for fossil. We always look for good business cases, for we cannot ignore that our economies are based on money. Again and again, we run into companies that make new discoveries and see opportunities. Biorefinery of crops like grass, potato, sugar beet and maize delivers new insight again and again, not merely in bulk but also in specialties. The potential of the biobased economy has not been mapped by far; but we have started moving in that direction and the trend cannot be reversed, because of the many discoveries made on that road. The moving force behind this trend is that we want to go there; we want to buy such products voluntarily, because we want to create a more sustainable world for ourselves, and for future generations.
Cause for optimism
There is a strange thing going on. Abstractly, everyone agrees that we will have to evolve into a sustainable economy, and that such a trajectory is feasible. But in practice, obstacles keep popping up: buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere continues at a steady rate of 2 ppm annually, and there is no indication that this trend will slow down in the next few years.
In the ‘70s there was a terrible energy crisis; oil went up from 1 to 90 dollars per barrel, without alternatives being in sight; as an answer we did not drive cars in the weekend in order to save energy. Back then, society was concerned, too, but the really scary thing was that there were no alternatives. Back then, whoever had the oil, had the economic power. Right now that holds much less, there are many alternatives for energy supply. Yet, fear pervades the general mood. And why? The sustainable economy seems to be far off, and we must pioneer, by trial and error. But we do move forward and I feel that there is much room for optimism. We will not develop because of sheer necessity, but we want to go there and do so together as global citizens, because after all the sustainable economy is the global consensus.
We need political leadership with optimism and vision, politicians who clearly translate these goals to opportunities for our economies and communities.