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‘Stop Bitching and start Pitching’ – Environmental NGO criticised for unhelpful Reporting

The latest Nanowerk Spotlight article takes issue with a recent report by Friends of the Earth (FoE), in which the NGO aims to analyse the level of implementation of environmentally beneficial nanotechnologies (report, entitled Nanotechnology, climate and energy: over-heated promises and hot air?).

Entitled Blowing hot air – how not to criticize nanotechnology, the Nanowerk Spotlight article points out that ‘[...] there is a lot of really good information in this report, well researched and referenced, and it provides a very useful overview of what's going on in nanotechnology research and development in the climate/renewables fields – albeit with a very negative spin on it’.

‘On the other hand,’ the Nanowerk interpretation continues, ‘there seems to be a monkey sitting on each FoE editor's shoulder that constantly whispers "Are you kidding me? Boooring! Too positive! Too balanced! Not scary enough! Traitor - think of all the drowning polar bears!’

In particular, the article focuses on three main issues discussed in the FoE report and aims to clarify the ‘misconceptions’ behind these:

  • Misconception No. 1: Just because it's nanoscale it is "nanotechnology"
    • Spotlight comment: ‘it is a questionable start to a critique of nanotechnology to point out that engineered nanoparticles can now be found in "cosmetics, sunscreens, clothing, paints, cleaning products, sporting goods, household appliances, surface coatings, agricultural chemicals, food packaging, 'health' supplements, industrial catalysts and building equipment." As a matter of fact, you can find lots of chemicals in these products, too’
  • Misconception No. 2: The performance of most nano-based renewable energy technologies lags behind conventional technologies
    • Spotlight comment: ‘[...] Nanotechnology applications are just emerging and there is no major field of technology ever that had a standing start. It took decades to build electricity or transportation infrastructures. [...] Where does the expectation come from that nanotechnology applications shouldn't follow this path? Why, all of a sudden, is this an area where it is not allowed to learn from mistakes and improve products and processes over time until they reach their full potential?’
  • Misconception No. 3: Redirecting public funding from nanotechnology R&D to other sectors would provide more effective tools to tackle climate change
    • Spotlight comment: ‘So you can't walk and chew gum at the same time?’ ‘Compared to their national budgets, the amounts of public funding for nanotechnologies (for instance about $1.3 billion dollars in the U.S. on a federal budget of over $3500 billion; the figures for Europe are similar) is but a drop in the bucket. If there was a political will to fund any kind of climate change relevant technology, the funding for it could be found’

The Nanowerk Spotlight article concludes by acknowledging that ‘Criticizing and lobbying against dangerous (potentially and real) and harmful developments in industry is an important function in our open societies. It provides the necessary counterpart to purely economic interests. But criticism has to be constructive to be effective,’ and notes that ‘FoE's alternative action proposals – instead of nanotechnology – for energy and climate change all make sense, even though, ironically, some of them would require the same decades-long time horizon to implement that they so criticize with nanotech – smarter town planning, re-localized agriculture, transition to a steady-state economy’.


Follow this links to read the full Nanowerk Spotlight analysis of the FoE report.

News item was produced by NIA in association with BREC Solutions.

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