Extinction Rebellion ‘may have blind spot when it comes to solutions’

Extinction Rebellion ‘may have blind spot when it comes to solutions’ Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

Extinction Rebellion may have a “blind spot” when it comes to understanding some of the solutions available to address climate change, experts have said.

Engineering biology techniques could accelerate the UK’s ability to develop sustainable options to many of the current climate challenges, they explained.

These include fabric made from spider silk, meat alternatives, engineered drugs and genetically engineered microbes to capture micropollutants in water.

Steve Bates, CEO of the BioIndustry Association (BIA), said: “Extinction Rebellion (XR) have been very important this year – I think we are the extinction solution business.

“We are in the business of solutions for challenges that face society today, just as real changes in technology have made a difference in past generations.”

Henrik Hagemann, is co-founder and CEO of SME Puraffinity – which uses material engineering to produce selective absorbent media that can harness hazardous chemicals, and can be used to treat land that is contaminated by water pollution.

Discussing whether XR is too pessimistic, he said: “They are aware there is an emergency happening, but I think they are lacking exposure into the sort of solutions that are being developed.

“They may be rightly pessimistic but they might have this blind spot of there being solutions available where if you can bring some of that momentum, that interest, that real deep-rooted dedication to change into solutions, then you can start to see perhaps more of these iGem (International Genetically Engineered Machine) teams turning into companies.

“And there is a real challenge in scaling up. One of our recommendations is to grow funding for these businesses.”#

The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) is a worldwide synthetic biology competition.

The experts were speaking ahead of the launch of a report from the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) – Engineering biology: A priority for growth.

Academy fellow and working group chairman Ian Shott, said: “Henrik (Hagemann) has said they (XR) are maybe right to be pessimistic.

“On the other hand, they are in danger of being somewhat disruptive rather than creative and supportive of the solutions that are available, and if some of that energy could be directed, that might be helpful.”

A spokeswoman for XR said: “We have identified an absence of political will to make the necessary changes to our way of life as the major obstacle to change, and so creating the political space for change is our focus, as opposed to promoting the many possible solutions to this mess.

“We also believe that how we adapt our economy away from dependence on fossil fuels is something that should be decided by those who will feel the effects of those changes most.”

In the report published on Wednesday, the RAEng calls for urgent action to be taken by the UK to capitalise on the potential of its engineering biology research and research base.

Otherwise it risks losing its world-leading position in the field, the report warns.

The paper calls for various business sectors to accelerate commercialisation of UK research that is on the verge of rapid expansion.

It also recommends building better connections between well-established biotechnology companies and synthetic biology start-ups.