In a luncheon speech at last months BIO Conference in Chicago, former President Bill Clinton said that two of biotechnologys main tasks in the immediate future will be to continue to improve food production and to come up with novel energy solutions.
“The first obligation of society is to feed its people,“ noted Clinton. “Biotechnology can help us feed more people while addressing environmental concerns such as global climate change.“
Citing his Administrations support of the development of biotech crops and the creation of science-based regulations, Clinton explained that biocrops “reduce inputs, allow us to grow more food on less land, and easily transfer technology to people in the developing world.“
Clinton further tied the issues of food production and global warming together by pointing out that advances in agbiotech will be important because if the climate continues to change, “we will see a continued erosion of the top soil, more dust storms, and, in the Northern Hemisphere, agricultural production being pushed North and the Southern Hemisphere being pushed South.“
He also told the audience that “the most important thing [that] you can do is to give us a different energy future.“ He called climate change and global warming “the only existential security threat we face“ since they will bring drastic changes to everyones way of life.
“Just in the last six months we have seen an avalanche of evidence that the ice caps all over the world are melting quicker than we thought; that the climate is warming more rapidly than we thought; that extreme weather events are picking up. In the last decade, insurance losses from extreme weather events were three times what they have been in any previous decade since the advent of insurance as a global system. So we have to deal with this.“
Clinton stressed that it was important for biotech to develop a wide range of alternatives to both reduce the rate of global warming as well as to cut the human contribution to it “by restricting greenhouse gas emissions.“ The Former President believes biofuels are the way to go.
“We need to move to a biofuel future based more on cellulistic fuels than corn, which is a principal contributor to ethanol now. Why? Because the conversion ratio is better. If the goal is not only to have clean fuels but to reduce greenhouse gases, then you want stuff thats lying around anyway, that you didn't have to burn oil to produce in the first place. And theres all kinds of agricultural waste that can be used. Theres wood waste thats lying around.“
He also maintained that the move to a clean energy future would reverse the declining wages trend in America because it would be driven by high job growth in the private sector.
“Ninety-two percent of the new jobs that came into being in the United States when I was President came in the private sector. We actually reduced the size of the Federal government to the size that Eisenhower had when he turned the government over to President Kennedy. So youve got to have a source of private sector growth.“
Ultimately, Clinton believes that biotechnology can replace energy as the main source of new jobs “because it will take us about a decade to reach the full implications of the sequencing of the human genome, so that we will be able to apply it to all kinds of diseases and conditions, develop vaccines, develop preventive strategies, and produce all kinds of products and services that we never even dreamed of before.
“But first weve got to get the energy thing right.“
The Former President sees a huge role for biotech in healthcare. For example, he views the rapid growth in obesity rates among young children as an extremely serious problem that is not being properly addressed.
“The explosion for the first time in our history of Type II diabetes, what we used to call adult onset diabetes, [is taking place] in our children. Now there are many reasons this happened. For one thing, food is still a great bargain in America. In some ways, some of you farmers in the audience may have done your job too well.“
Responding to Clintons speech, Nalini Motwani, Ph.D., president and founder of ApoLife (www.apolife.com), said she liked his passion for biotechnology and globalization and how he interconnected the science, humanity, and taking care of poverty in Africa—all in one topic. “He is very effective in convincing an audience about his vision.“