Is opposing nanotechnology really being Friendly to the Earth?

Friends of the Earth Australia has published a special issue of their magazine titled Nanotechnology: Small Science, Big Questions! (4.3 MB PDF). It includes over 17 short pieces opposing or questioning the endeavor.

On the upside, the group does appear to appreciate the magnitude of the changes that will eventually come from the more advanced nanotechnologies, including atomically-precise manufacturing. On the downside, they focus strongly on potential negatives, both near-term and long-term. The last article states: “…Friends of the Earth [Australia] is calling for an immediate moratorium on all commercial research, development and release of nanotechnological materials and products.”

A detailed critique appears at David Berube’s blog NanoHype.

One key point to keep in mind. The publication makes it clear that the group’s agenda is not just environmental, but political as well:

We recommend an assessment process to ensure the development, application and control of nanotechnologies do not reinforce or create new forms of socio-economic inequalities, concentrations of wealth and power, means of social control and oppression, or weapons of destruction.

I agree that it would be good to try to head off social control, oppression, and (maybe) new weapons, but the other goals look unrealistic and maybe even undesirable, depending on what was tried. Though there may be some leverage in reforming the intellectual property regime, and possibly the laws governing corporate liability.

Regarding the environmental implications of nanotechnology: it was the promise of super-clean production and thorough environmental remediation that first drew me to this field, and it remains an inspiration. The benefits could far outweigh the downsides if we work hard at making that happen. —Christine

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