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On April 9, 1998, an interview was broadcast on Bay TV (local cable channel 35 in San Francisco) between anchor John Kessler and Jeremy Rifkin, author and researcher. The following transcription was created by scott richie for Winky.
John Kessler: Can a little bit of knowledge be a dangerous thing? What effect will the new information and biotechnology age have on human beings? Joining us is science writer and researcher Jeremy Rifkin. His new book The Biotech Century, is a collection of thought provoking questions about where the new science is heading. Jeremy, a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for coming in.
Jeremy Rifkin: A pleasure to
be with you this morning.
John Kessler: So, the information age and the biotechnology age were kind of on parallel paths?
John Kessler: They're joining now, aren't they?
Jeremy Rifkin: Well, that's
what's really happening.
We're making a fundamental transition out of the industrial age into the biotech century. These two technology revolutions, computers and genes, are fusing, and creating a powerful new technological moment for the next economic era. The computer is the language, the management tool to decipher, organize, and manage genes; and genes are the raw resource of the next century just like oil and metals were the raw resource for the century just passing.
John Kessler: Now, we have seen - - we saw a picture of Dolly there. [referencing opening video shot of Dolly, the genetically engineered sheep] Implications in animals, implications in what we eat and who we are.
Jeremy Rifkin: Well, this is
a - - we are now on the cusp of the most dramatic technology revolution
in history where we can control the genetic blueprints for life on this planet
and even begin to reconfigure our own evolutionary future. You
mentioned the cloning. What's important about Dr. Wilmuts cloned sheep is
that - - he's the Henry Ford of the biotech century - - we can now mass
produce and customize living beings using the same kind of standards we did
with mass production during the industrial age. And so, he's really
brought us into this era of bio industrial design. It's quite
exciting and chilling at the same time.
John Kessler: Well, that's exactly where I wanted to go with this because you had mentioned the mass production in the industrial age and we now see the effects of that, there - - air pollution, water pollution, we're screwing up the earth.
Jeremy Rifkin: Well, in
The Biotech Century, I have a chapter on genetic pollution, which may exceed the
problems we've seen in petrochemicals, because when you introduce genetically
engineered organisms into the environment, they're alive: they reproduce;
the mutate; they migrate; and you can't recall them to the laboratory. And, the life science industries are talking about
introducing thousands and thousands of novel creatures, from bacteria and viruses, to plants and animals, to propagate
the planet with a second genesis, for agriculture, animal husbandry, energy, a
whole range of purposes. Now, if a small percentage of those
introductions turn out to be pests, we could have irreversible damage to our
biosphere and genetic pollution could loom as a major threat to the next
John Kessler: Yeah, that's why I was saying, no matter what religion you are or to which you subscribe, you've got to believe somewhat in a certain amount of natural order and if you're messing with that, it's -
Jeremy Rifkin: I think that's
right. I think you hit the nail on the head. We know very
little about the evolution of biology on this planet, but we now have these
powerful tools that allow us to move genes into totally unrelated species and
create new forms of life that have never been part of this evolutionary
scheme. How they will interact, we just don't
John Kessler: Wow! I'm just thinking of the possibilities.
It's amazing. The possibilities are exciting, at the same time.
Rifkin: Sure. We could have - - we're talking about new
pharmaceutical breakthroughs, new ways to deal with medicine. But
there's always an upside and a downside with a powerful technology revolution
like this. For example, we're going to be able to locate all one
hundred thousand genes that make up the human species within seven
years. Now, what the public doesn't know is virtually every one of
those genes will be the intellectual property of a life science company.
They're claiming each gene - - the DNA code, the blueprints of
life, as there own patented invention. Imagine the amount of
power this is going to give life science companies to actually direct the future
of our species in the 21st century. Yet there is almost no public
discussion on it, at all.
John Kessler: Well, isn't there some now starting, about who owns intellectual property; whether it should be in the public domain or whether these companies should be allowed to own this?
Yes. There is. There is increasing dis-
cussion in Southern countries, because that's where all the genetic resources are, and whoever controls the genes, controls genetic commerce in the biotech century. The Southern countries will say, look, this is our resources. You can't just take these genes and patent them and sell them around the world. We should be compensated; just like the Middle East has oil, we have genes. Northern companies will say, look, we add value, so we should be able to have a lock on this. I believe there is a third position that makes more sense. The genetic common should stay a common.
It should not be reduced to commercial property. It's the legacy of the human race; and we also have a responsibility to our fellow creatures. It shouldn't be reduced to commercial property. This is not anyone's invention.
John Kessler: Yeah, but the argument would be, the ability to manipulate that should be... this is a fascinating..
I'm sorry, we gotta go...but this is a fascinating and frightening subject, both at the same time
Rifkin: Yes. Absolutely.
John Kessler: The book is The Biotech Century. Jeremy Rifkin, thank you very much.
Jeremy Rifkin: My pleasure.
John Kessler: It was a pleasure to meet you.
Jeremy Rifkin: Thank you.
return to heal thy ways
...nothing new here in this part of the Universe since
7:56 P.M. P.S.T., Monday, July 19, 2010
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