THE BLOG

Lies, Capitalism, Natural Nanotechnology and England

17/05/2015 18:24 BST | Updated 17/05/2016 10:59 BST

The peaceful tranquillity of the rural paradise of Southern England masks many lies.

The white horse of Westbury is visible as I travel along the railway beside the Kennet and Avon canal. This is Brunel's Country. There is so much greenery: fields, woods, hedgerows and copses. Small villages of stone are scattered among the trees in the strong mid-spring sun shine. I am filled with a deep love of my country as I catch frequent glimpses of rivers and streams, bridges and weirs interspersed with the hallmarks of the industrial revolution, like the tunnels, canals and the railway itself.

The first lie is simple. The natural beauty of the countryside is not natural. Since ancient times humans have lived in these lands and almost no acre is untouched. When the Egyptians built pyramids, the people of England made burial mounds and henges and traded with civilisations as far away as North Africa. Since then we have imported many foreign species and morphed our plants and animals with complex breeding programs. We have created strange structures of our own. The modern telegraph poles and fence-posts scar the land to delineate field after field of mono-cultures of crops that need external pesticides and fertilisers produced in satanic mills in far off places. We have disrupted the natural ecosystems and we must find the means to prop them up, hiding the sins of our ancestors with our arrogant ingenuity to feed our ever growing population.

The second lie is that biological systems are peaceful. The chaotic turmoil inside every cell changes so fast and furiously that it seems like a constant blur to us. We are oblivious to the furious battle for space and resource that happens beyond our perception of time. We see only the slow growth of plants and the movement of insects and animals, which are the average trends of trillions of molecules engaged in a complex dance. We think biology slow. We do not appreciate the vastness of the quantity of solar energy that powers the technologies driving the evolution of information in bio-materials.

As we approach the sprawling metropolis of London, one of the financial capitals of the world, the third lie of our modern world becomes clearer. Economics is an emergent property of human behaviour and it is founded on faulty assumptions. We believe we can consume more and more resources and grow ever richer. The luxurious veneer of modern life in Southern England will be the last veil to fall and when it does it will be too late. We can afford to hide behind the curtain of luxury and in this green and pleasant land we do not see or do not care about the rape of the oceans, the slave labour in far off countries and the ravaging deforestation which props up our economic growth.

The short sightedness of the free market and the blind delusion of those who believe in it will not comprehend why we need nature. During the industrial revolution, which began in this idyllic place, the discovery of how to quickly release vast amounts of energy, that took aeons to collect, to make crude structures of stone and steel lulls us into a false Victorian sense that we are masters of our destiny; a notion inculcated in the private schools of our new leaders. They cheerfully disrupt the infrastructure of our society to engineer more efficient ways to liquidate our natural capital and when the free market finally assigns an economic value to the hidden services in our biological ecosystems, our material intense technology will not have generated enough wealth to buy them back. The total capital of capitalism is insufficient to buy back the biological capital it consumes.

But perhaps another industrial revolution is on the way. As we learn more about biological systems and their nature in the context of the Earth as a single system, we begin to understand the natural nanotechnology involved. Just as birds inspired flight so the camouflage of octopi and the colours of butterflies inspire new levels of control over material. The rapid growth and strength of bamboo and other kinds of wood promises a new route for solar power to enter the manufacturing industry. Perhaps we can learn to engineer DNA so that cells can synthesise our chemicals from the waste materials we produce, instead of fracking or polluting the seas with oil spill after oil spill.

Delving into biology could reveal her secret manufacturing skills. Naturally inspired technologies may generate investment opportunities that render unnatural mono-cultures naturally sustainable or economically obsolete. The pipe dreams of capitalism might become reality and generate a naturally sustainable profit. Maybe the free marketeers are not deluded after all. Perhaps they just haven't been given the right opportunity. Could eradicating one lie convert the others to truths? Maybe the peaceful world of Southern England could slumber on naturally forever.